Sunday, 26 April 2015

Progress on Civil Rights

With regular news from America over protests surrounding the death of an African-American in police custody, its like the next stage of the Civil Rights Movement is gathering steam. Who will be the next Martin Luther King to emerge? The result of the Presidential election next year will determine the way civil rights progresses in USA.

SJP @DigitalAsian

Digital Payments Disrupting Financial Services

Times of India reports that more than a year ago, activist-investor Carl Icahn pushed for a split of eBay and PayPal, saying the payment business on its own could grow to $100 billion. eBay eventually agreed to the split and now some valuation estimates floating for Paypal put it at around $40 billion.

As a business, Paypal is now growing faster than eBay's e-commerce business. That's the writing on the wall that several investors are looking at in India, as action in the payments business hots up.

In India, Naspers, which has several Internet investments, backed entrepreneur Nitin Gupta to set up payment firm PayU in 2011. Early this month, mobile wallet firm One Mobikwik Systems announced a $25-million funding round, with Cisco Investments and American Express coming in as new investors. It has said it will raise another $100 million in the latter half of 2015. ET recently reported that private equity fund TA Associates would grow its holding in payment gateway firm Billdesk with a Rs 450 crore infusion.

Globally, the entry of Apple Pay and Google Wallet into the payment business has only added more heft to the story, underlining the huge potential and opportunity for Internet disruption. In India, where most of the population doesn't have credit and debit cards, and the mobile phone is fast becoming a tool that brings that and as e-commerce takes off, payment could be next the big business.

Mobile technology, digital payments and digital currencies will allow a lot of the Indian population to get into financial services without first having credit or debit cards. Digital payments are disrupting established international financial services companies.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Love Over Gold: Unlocking Value in India

Economic Times reports that Indians are among the world's largest consumers of gold, importing at least $34.3 billion worth of the precious metal for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2015. "The broad contours of the plan are ready. It would be made public in a week," a finance ministry official told ET. The government is keen to make the scheme attractive and a draft seeking comments from the public will be released soon. 

Under the terms of the proposed scheme, the deposited precious metals will be melted and the gold in the jewellery would be credited in the name of the depositor. The depositor would earn interest on the value of gold on the day of deposit. The investor would be paid cash equal to the value of the gold on that day if he seeks to withdraw from the scheme or it matures.

The scheme will essentially allow a depositor to earn an income from his gold holdings while his basic investment is protected. It is expected to help organisations such as temple trusts and even companies to unlock their gold holdings while the economy will benefit from lower imports if stored gold comes into circulation. 

There is estimated to be many tens of billions of US$ worth of gold held by Indian households. Whether Indians go for this gold monetisation scheme will depend on the devil in the detail when made public.

Marveling at the Digital Technology

Marvel Comic characters such as Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Avengers are doing very well at the Box Office where the films are making billions of US$. This may be due in part to the digital technology that is now available to make the characters seem more realistic on screen for viewer entertainment. The digital technology now available to film producers and the avenues that they have to distribute their films means viewers are getting a better viewing experience.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Reservations for Parsi Zoroastrians in India?

Times of India reports that Parsis lobbied for seats in Parsi-endowed educational institutes, a museum in Delhi, two reserved parliament seats and the protection of community properties in a meeting with the National Commission for Minorities at Fort on Friday. 

The chairman of the commission, Naseem Ahmad, was in Mumbai to meet members of all minority communities. The issue of conserving heritage structures likes the Bahrot Caves near Dahanu and a 1000-year-old Tower of Silence in Sanjan was also raised. "In 2004, we had excavated the oldest Dokhma of the Parsi community in the world," explained Homi Dhalla, president of the World Zarthushti Foundation. "We want to preserve it but it has been encroached upon." The Bahrot Caves, located at a height of 1,800ft, are significant because they once housed the community's sacred fire. The community is keen to make these caves accessible by road. 

"When it comes to the preservation of heritage, we will certainly intervene," said Ahmad. However, he explained that creating a quota in educational institutes endowed by Parsis like VJTI and the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore would depend on the state government's "magnanimity" as these institutes had already been handed over to the authorities. 

He urged the community to find philanthropists willing to fund the museum and said he would look into the matter of introducing courses on Parsis, Avesta, Pahlavi and the Parsi Gujarati dialect at Indian universities. As the Parsi numbers dwindle, securing the community's properties across India is becoming increasingly difficult. Honorary secretary of the Federation of Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India, Farrokh Rustomji, explained that these properties are being misappropriated at an alarming rate. The community plans to introduce a bill in the Rajya Sabha to protect these trust properties.

It is correct that there is misappropriation of Parsi Trust properties by state politicians who have their eye on prime land. Is having Reservations for Parsis the answer?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Poor Service by Telecom Operators: Call Dropping in India

Times of India reports that Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said the Department of Telecom (DoT) will soon call a meeting of all service providers to look into the problem of frequent call drops being faced by customers. "I have asked my officials to call a meeting of all service providers regarding call drops faced by customers," Prasad told PTI. Operators will be asked to improve quality of service, he added. 

A group of BJP MPs have also complained to the minister regarding frequent 'call dropping', excess billing and non-transparency by some private telecom operators. The parliamentarians demanded action against the private telecom operators after proper investigation and alleged that the companies were not hearing complaints of the customers. Mobile phone users have been complaining about the call drops, but telecom operators have not lived up to their expectations to rectify the problems and provide a good communication network. Instead, the operators, cite lack of spectrum and hurdles of not allowing installation of mobile towers in residential areas due to radiation issues for call drops. 

It is high time a senior Minister took the issue of poor service up with the telecom operators. frequently users are left without signals and data services when you need them. Mobile phone operators need to provide a proper, reliable service. Digital India depends on fast, efficient and reliable mobile services.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

India's Doordarshan Plays Leapfrog with Digital Mobile Technology

Times of India reports that public broadcaster Prasar Bharati is experimenting with a pilot project to let people watch TV channels directly on their smartphones, without using Internet or telecom broadband, in an ambitious attempt to reach the largest number of audience ever. "When the world was moving from terrestrial to satellite, Doordarshan was only moving backward. Now the only way to leapfrog is to use the existing infrastructure along with new technologies," Jawahar Sircar, CEO at Prasar Bharati. 

To begin with, Prasar Bharati plans to create a bouquet of around 20 free-to-air channels, including top DD channels and some popular free-to-air channels operated by big private broadcasters. The idea is to catch the new age on-the-go viewers who are spending a lot of time on smartphones and tablets. According to Sircar, Prasar Bharati just needs to upgrade its existing infrastructure to achieve this goal. 

There are a large number of installed transmitters that can be used to send digital signals directly to a device through an external dongle or an in-built chip designed specially to do so, he said. "Each viewer will be able to view the content through a dongle attached to a hand-held device, which ultimately could be inbuilt into their system by hardware manufacturers like Samsung, Apple, Microsoft and HCL, as was done for FM radio channels," said Sircar. 

Doordarshan is playing leapfrog with digital mobile technology. All attempts by the Indian government and government organisations seemed to be at the mobile Internet user.

Digital Banking for the Unbanked

Times of India reports that the Reserve Bank of India has said that it is not averse to banks entering into joint ventures with e-commerce firms to smoothen payments or appointing them as business correspondents for acquiring new customers. Integrating e-commerce with their own platforms will allow banks to work around the two-factor authentication requirement while doing transactions.

To ensure reliability of banking transactions in the mobile space, RBI has asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to give priority to banking transaction over others while messaging. The central bank has also asked Trai to bring down the present fee of Rs 1.50 per banking transaction using the *99# Unstructured Supplementary Service Data messaging service.

Speaking at the launch of Axis Bank's Suvidhaa Prepaid Card in Mumbai on Monday, RBI deputy governor H R Khan said that there is a need to use multiple instruments to promote banking. "We need to allow many flowers to bloom," said Khan. The Suvidhaa Infoserv helps banks reach out to unbanked.

Digital banking and mobile banking are getting a boost from the RBI particularly to help reach those parts of the Indian population who have limited access to banking and other financial services. This will mean more opportunity for digital currencies to grow in India. The unbanked are going digital through mobile technology.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

And the Search Goes On: Search Engines for Smartphones

Times of India reports that Google is about to change the way its influential search engine recommends websites on smartphones and tablets in a shift that's expected to sway where millions of people shop, eat and find information.

The revised formula, scheduled to be released on Tuesday, will favor websites that Google defines as 'mobile-friendly.' Websites that don't fit the description will be demoted in Google's search results on smartphones and tablets while those meeting the criteria will be more likely to appear at the top of the rankings — a prized position that can translate into more visitors and money.

Although Google's new formula won't affect searches on desktop and laptop computers, it will have a huge influence on how and where people spend their money, given that more people are relying on their smartphones to compare products in stores and look for restaurants. That's why Google's new rating system is being billed by some search experts as "Mobile-geddon."

"Some sites are going to be in for a big surprise when they find a drastic change in the amount of people visiting them from mobile devices," said Itai Sadan, CEO of website-building service Duda.

It's probably the most significant change that Google has ever made to its mobile search rankings, according to Matt McGee, editor-in-chief for Search Engine Land, a trade publication that follows every tweak that the company makes to its closely guarded algorithms.

This will impact Indian websites as Indians love their smartphones.Searching for Meaning in the Mobile World?  The search goes on...

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Search for Speed in India: Data Demand in India

Economic Times reports that Google is considering setting up a caching, or mirror, server in India which will enable the Internet major to throw up search results quicker and YouTube videos to load faster in the country which is going through a data explosion, thanks to surging smartphone sales. The US search giant has had initial discussions with fibre manufacturer Sterlite Technologies to co-locate the servers wherever the Indian company's fibre network is being created, Anand Agarwal, chief executive of the Vedanta Group company, told ET. 

"Google is high in search and high on videos and the fibre infrastructure is going to be very critical for videos from the bandwidth perspective and for search for the latency perspective," Agarwal said. "It would bring down costs as well." A cache server is a dedicated network server that saves Web pages and other Internet content locally. By placing previously requested information in temporary storage, or cache, the server both speeds up access to data and reduces demand on an enterprise's bandwidth. "If you have caching or mirror servers nearby, instead of in the US, then the time becomes faster and you are using less bandwidth," Agarwal said. 

The surge in smartphones and data usage in India is creating opportunities for businesses.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Startup Ideas in India Gaining Interest

Times of India reports that 4 Indian startups — Grofers, myNoticePeriod, SilverPush and News in Shorts — are among the top 11 Asian ventures that went from seed funding to series A funding the fastest in recent times. These Asian startups outshone their European peers, going from seed to series A in an average of 427 days compared to the 465 days that the European startups took, as per data put together by research firm CB Insights. The study looked at companies that raised their last round of financing in 2014 or after.

CB Insights also looked at the startups that went from series A to B the fastest. Here, three Indian startups — Culture Machine Media, Locon Solutions and TinyOwl —were among the top 10 Asian ones. Ravi Gururaj, chairman of the Nasscom Product Council, says Indian startups are demonstrating traction early on for investors to engage with these companies. And that, he says, is happening because the Indian market has hit a critical mass of online users, because of the massive increase in mobile usage, and because of a huge mindset shift among consumers, who are now more willing to experiment with new services from startups. "Investors are also more willing to pull the trigger earlier on account of competitive pressures," he says.

Indian startups in digital and m-commerce businesses are gaining a lot of interest both within India and abroad. Startup ideas in India seem to be flavour of the month but concerns are growing over a possible bubble forming.

Congress and Conservatives

Are India's Congress Party and the UK's Conservatives better led by women than by men?

SJP @DigitalAsian

Monday, 13 April 2015

Land and Politics in Mumbai

Times of India reports that a spanking new bridge that will partially solve Mumbai's transport woes and showcase India's ability to build modern world-class infrastructure may face an unexpected hurdle. The complex relationship, political and personal, between two of the state's top leaders, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union Minister for Shipping & Transport Nitin Gadkari, government officials said, is delaying the Rs 11,000-crore Mumbai Trans-Harbour Sea Link, meant to ease travel between Mumbai and the satellite city of Navi Mumbai. 

At the heart of the matter is what some state government officials described as the delay in handing over port trust land that will kickstart the building of the sea link. The project, originally conceived in the 1960s, was revived by the BJP government that came to power in November last year. The proposed Mumbai Trans-Harbour Sea Link has received environmental clearance but nothing much has moved on the project after that, the state government officials cited earlier said. 

As usual, its politics over land that causes delay.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Banking on Mobile Technology

Times of India reports technology companies pose a competitive threat to established lenders, the head of Royal Bank of Canada has said, adding he was keen to work with start-ups to improve the company's mobile offerings. RBC chief executive David McKay said he was positioning Canada's largest bank to compete with technology firms that have expanded into the money-moving business but don't "bear the financial and social costs of a deposit taking organisation, nor the obligations of financial regulation." 

"Many of these new entrants are excellent competitors - innovative, driven, and responsive to their clients, but they also may distort the financial system with unintended risks that regulators cannot clearly see," he told the bank's annual general meeting in Toronto. The CEO did not specify which companies he was speaking about. But banks in Canada and abroad took notice last year when Apple Inc launched its Apple Pay service, which allows consumers using new Apple devices buy things by simply holding them up to readers installed by store merchants. 

Digital and mobile technology now allows tech firms to compete with and disrupt nearly every industry nowadays. Major multinational corporations are beginning to see the disruption caused to their industries by small start-ups and the large tech giants. Monetary policy now has to go mobile.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Streaming: The Quest for Digital Content

Times of India reports that Apple Inc has approached more than a dozen musicians, including British band Florence and the Machine, in an effort to sign exclusive deals for some of their music to be streamed on Beats, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter. The company is in talks with Florence and the Machine to give Apple limited streaming rights to a track from their album set to be released in June, Bloomberg said. Apple has also approached Taylor Swift and others about partnerships, the report said. Apple declined to comment. 

Beats Music will be re-launched in coming months. There will be a $9.99-a-month subscription for individuals and a family plan for $14.99, according to sources, Bloomberg said. Music streaming service Tidal, launched last month by rapper Jay Z, is also trying to convince artists to sign exclusive deals for their content, to fend off competition from services such as Spotify and Google Inc's YouTube. 

Tech giants are now in the business of producing music just as the major record labels once were. The tech giants are on the search for all types of digital content to put online. They are acquiring any type of product or service that can be put in digital form online. Streaming rights are the latest fad for IPR lawyers. Whereas as once it was land and property ownership that dominated now in the digital age its about IPR ownership and the platforms to distribute the digital content that have come to dominate.

Full Rupee Convertibility on the Cards?

Economic Times reports that Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan on Friday signaled the country may be on course to have full convertibility of the currency without mentioning a time frame, a debate which commenced nearly two decades ago. The controversial base rate concept could be scrapped if a benchmark for pricing credit such as loans and bonds is established, he said. 

Speaking to students at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics in Pune, Rajan said, "We hope to get full capital account convertibility in a short number of years," in response to a question on the policy stance on foreign investment in India. He did not elaborate. Capital account convertibility refers to the freedom to convert local financial assets into foreign financial assets, and vice versa. It is associated with changes of ownership in foreign and domestic financial assets and liabilities.

The current regime is liberal when it comes to portfolio investments by foreigners, but there are limits when it comes to their ownership of debt. Indians have to seek regulatory approval beyond a limit for purchase of assets overseas, or investments. Foreign direct investments are capped in various sectors such as insurance and defence, and need to be approved by various agencies. 

CAC means easy moving of capital at will. He also said changes in the credit markets are on the anvil. "Over the long term we have to look at base rate concept," Rajan told the students. "In a number of countries they have market benchmark like Libor so they (banks) need not worry about base rate." Base rate, the rate below which the banks cannot lend to even their best customers, has become one of the disputes between the central bank and lenders on why banks were not able to reduce their lending rates despite RBI reducing policy rates. Banks say the computation is complex. 

My guess is that full currency convertibility is still some years off but its good to again bring the debate out into the open.

Friday, 10 April 2015

India's Enron: Satyam and India's IT Industry

Economic Times reports that B Ramalinga Raju has been found guilty of embezzling from the IT company, Satyam Computer Services, he founded in a verdict that was widely expected, bringing to a close the trial in India's most high-profile case of corporate fraud. Raju, 60, the founder of the erstwhile Satyam Computer Services, was sentenced by Special CBI Court Judge BVLN Chakravarthi to seven years in jail and fined Rs 5 crore for his part in falsifying the firm's books to the tune of Rs 7,136 crore.

His brother Rama Raju received identical punishment while eight others — his relatives, employees and executives of audit firm PriceWaterhouse — were each given jail terms of 7 years and asked to pay Rs 25 lakh as fine. "It is a great lesson to fledgling entrepreneurs that there are no shortcuts to success. While you need to be ambitious and aggressive in growing your business, you have to do it with utmost respect for the laws of land," said Krishankumar Natarajan, the CEO of Mindtree and a former chairman of software industry grouping Nasscom. 

This case is, sort of, India's Enron. India's IT industry suffered a lot in the aftermath of the scandal in 2009. Satyam has since been taken over by Mahindra. This verdict has been hailed by India's IT industry and coming 6 to 7 years after the scandal broke, is fast by Indian standards.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Digital India a Fundamental Right?

Times of India reports that the political class jumped into the burning issue of net neutrality with Parliamentarians Tathagata Satpathy and Rajeev Chandrasekhar saying that any move to allow telecom operators to charge subscribers separately for using some apps would restrict people's access to Internet and go against the Prime Minister's vision of Digital India.

In a recent letter to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) Chairman Rahul Khullar, Satpathy, an MP from Odisha representing the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), backed the concept of net neutrality, which envisages that service providers will treat all data on the Internet equally and not impose differential pricing or discriminate among users, content sites, platforms and apps, also known as over-the-top (OTT) services. "You (Trai) have asked for suggestions about charging separately for OTT services. I see this as a detrimental move that is putting conditions on the access of Internet," Satpathy wrote. 

The letter comes in the wake of Trai initiating a consultation paper on whether the OTT services, which are delivered over the network of mobile phone operators, should be licensed or regulated. The regulator has asked stakeholders to send in suggestions by April 24, while counter-arguments need to be submitted by May 8. Trai may then come out with its recommendations on the subject. Chandrasekhar, an independent member of the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka, voiced his support for the concept of free internet, tweeting, "#NetNeutrality ensures non-discriminatory access to services to all consumers, and is core to #DigitalIndia". He followed up by tweeting that the Internet is "too important to let private players to be the ones making the rules." 

According to BJD's Satpathy, even the United Nations had said back in 2011 that restricting access to the Internet could count as human rights violation. "If this decision by the Trai goes through, it will only go directly against the Prime Minister's dream but also against the desires of those who wish to make India a modern nation". 

Would breaching net neutrality breach India's Constitution? I access to the Internet a Fundamental Right under India's Constitution?

SJP @DigitalAsian