Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Samsung's profit sinks 39% as mobile profit shrinks

SEOUL, South Korea: Samsung Electronics Co. said its first-quarter net income has plunged 39% as the smartphone business saw its profit shrink to less than half from a year earlier.

The company reported Wednesday that its January-March income was 4.63 trillion won ($4.35 billion), compared with 7.49 trillion won one year earlier.

That was lower than analysts' consensus of 4.97 trillion won, according to financial data provider Factset.

Sales fell 12% from a year earlier to 47.12 trillion won while operating income dropped 30% to 5.98 trillion won, in line with Samsung's earnings preview earlier this month.

The wider-than-expected drop in net profit was due to a big profit plunge in Samsung's mobile business. The maker of Galaxy smartphones said its mobile division generated 2.74 trillion won in quarterly profit, compared with 6.43 trillion won a year earlier.

Analysts estimate Samsung sold more smartphones than Apple during the quarter but the Korean firm lost its share in the high-end market to Apple after the maker of the iPhone began offering models with bigger screens last fall.

Apple on Tuesday reported that it sold 61 million iPhones in the quarter, which drove another quarter of blow-out profits.

Samsung, which does not disclose its smartphone shipments, is estimated to have sold 81 million smartphones during the quarter according to analysts. But most of the sales increase came from mid-level handsets like the Galaxy A series, which are sold at a cheaper price than its flagship models.

The Korean company said its profits will increase during the second quarter as the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge with curved screens expand sales after their global launch this month. But the shipments of those high-end phones will not be big enough to offset decreased sales of middle- to low-end models. Marketing expenses will also go up, pressuring its profit margin.

The only business that saw an improvement in profit during the first three months of this year was Samsung's component division that supplies chips and displays for makers of smartphones and televisions, including Apple Inc. Samsung's consumer electronics division that makes television sets turned unprofitable, losing 140 billion won during the quarter.

Looking ahead, Samsung said its overall earnings will increase during the second quarter from the previous three months, as sales of premium smartphones such as its Galaxy series as well as the iPhone drive demand for its semiconductor products and display panels.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Want to print the internet? You need 136bn sheets of paper

UK scientists have calculated that the entire internet can be printed on 136 billion sheets of standard 8-by-11 paper. George Harwood and Evangeline Walker, students at the University of Leicester in the UK, made use of the English version of Wikipedia as an example that contained vast information. They randomly selected 10 articles and estimated that they would have to print 15 pages for each one.

Using this figure, the researchers then multiplied it by the number of pages in Wikipedia, projected at 4,723,991, yielding a result of about 70,859,865 paper pages, 'Tech Times' reported. They then extrapolated that value to the number of total webpages on the internet, roughly 4.5 billion, and tweaked their final guess to account for the variable size of different websites.

To find out how many trees in the Amazon would have to be harvested, Harwood and Walker established that there are approximately 70,909 equally distributed trees per sqkm in the forest. They estimated that each usable tree could provide 17 reams of paper and 500 individual paper sheets in each ream, for a total of 8,500 sheets of paper per Amazon tree.

By dividing the 70,859,865 Wikipedia paper pages using the 500 sheets of paper in each ream, the researchers ended up with 141,720 reams needed to print the Wikipedia pages. With 17 reams of paper produced from each tree, 8,337 trees would have to be collected to print Wikipedia. It would take about 16 million trees to produce the 136 billion sheets needed to print the web.

Smartphones still not affordable for many in India: BCG

Even as it expects internet users in India to double to 400 million by 2018, BCG said prices of smartphones — an important driver for net penetration — are "too expensive for many" in the country.

Exuding optimism on the increasing internet penetration in one of the world's fastest growing digital economies, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) said online users can grow to as much as 550 million by 2018.

The study has underlined three factors for such impressive growth figures — expanding reach, more affordable access and improved awareness.

On affordable access, the study said that the availability of low-cost internet-enabled devices will be the key for growing internet penetration among lower-income population.

"Nearly two-thirds of mobile phones sold in India today are internet ready, but the least expensive models still cost $60 or more (about Rs 3,850). This is too expensive for many. Prices need to come down," the study pointed out.

However, this is changing, it added. Domestic handset makers like Lava and Intex are selling affordable smartphones in the range of Rs 2,900-4,500 and according to market insiders, this number is increasing.

BCG said it expects internet users to at least double from 190 million in 2014 to 400 million in 2018, adding "our most aggressive forecast predicts as many as 550 million users in 2018."

The study pegs connected urban internet population to grow from 130 million to 300 million during the period, but more than that it is the rural population that will make the biggest strides.

"But the real action will take place in more rural areas, where the user base could easily expand by up to 40% per year from 60 million in 2014 to 280 million in 2018," it noted.

Access is expected to continue to expand as disposable incomes continue to climb. The proportion of households that can afford internet connectivity — defined as those with more than $3,300 (about Rs 210,000) in annual income — is projected to rise from 56% in 2013 to 67% in 2018.

The continuing decrease in data plan prices has also helped to make internet consumption more affordable. Telecom carriers are increasingly offering a range of inexpensive, bite size plans while facilitating the ease of making payments with one time processing options, the study said.

It further said that network availability needs to catch up with the expected increase in the installed base of net enabled devices.

"Meaning that the current universal coverage of 2G networks in urban areas must be replicated in the countryside and a similar improvement must take place in the penetration of 3G and 4G services in major cities," it added. 

Google gets eBay's support in EU antitrust probe: Sources

EBay chief executive John Donahoe has supported arguments made by Google in its defense in an antitrust case, saying the two companies are direct competitors in online shopping, the Financial Times reported.

Barriers between different areas of online commerce are breaking down, Donahoe said in an interview with FT, highlighting the challenges the European Commission faces in bringing the high-profile case.

The European Union accused Google of cheating consumers and competitors by distorting web search results to favor its own shopping service, after a five-year investigation that could change the rules for business online.

Google said in a blog post that it strongly disagreed with the EU's statement of objections and would make the case that its products have fostered competition and benefited consumers.

EBay and Google were not available for comment outside regular US business hours.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Mobile internet not driven by US, action is here: Lei Jun

Back home in China, Lei Jun is known as a startup wizard who has sold many businesses after building them from scratch. But, the ambitious 45-year-old's biggest claim to fame is Xiaomi, China's top phone maker and currently the world's most valuable tech startup, pegged at $46 billion by investors. Jun, founder and CEO of Xiaomi, has plans to set up a manufacturing plant in India and also make the company the largest smartphone maker in the country in the next three years. However, he doesn't have any interest in the Nokia plant. He also wants to invest in startups since he believes India's tech startup space will soon match that of China's in terms of scale. Excerpts from an interview:

You have invested in many Chinese companies. Do you plan to invest in Indian startups too?

We are seriously evaluating to invest here. The key objective of our investments is how it would help Xiaomi's long-term strategic business. The startups should be helping us in smart hardware, mobile internet, content, and gaming. There are no limits to investment amounts. In the last five years, we have invested in 100 companies in China. Most of them are eco-system companies that have built systems that we use in our phones. In three years, you would probably see the same here as we start investing. It will help bridge the gap between the phones we sell here and those that we sell in China.

Are you looking at manufacturing here? Are you planning to buy Nokia's Chennai plant?

We do want to set up a manufacturing facility here. It will take time to implement since it's a complicated process. We have a team, which is evaluating possibilities here. However, we have no plans to buy the Nokia plant given the legal issues.

How important is India in Xiaomi's long-term strategy?

For us, India is the most important market after China. Last year, out of the 65 million phones we sold, 3-4 million were sold in international markets. Rest was sold in China. In the long term, we expect our international business to be half of our total business.

The tech ecosystem in China has produced world-beating startups. What has pushed the growth there and what can India learn from it?

The Chinese government is very encouraging to entrepreneurs. We have a very sophisticated financing system, including the ecosystem surrounding angel investors, VCs, PEs and IPO regulations. Mobile internet innovations in China are more advanced than those in the US. And, all this happened in last one or two years. Last year, two companies that launched products are being valued at $1 billion and $3.5 billion, respectively. In three years, the same thing is going to happen in India. Mobile internet is not being driven by western countries like the US. All the action is here.

Does the air pollution in Delhi remind you of home?

The air here is beautiful. India must learn from rapidly growing economies like China about importance of the environment. When you start living in smog you will understand. Only in the last two years, China has realized the impact of pollution. It can't be reversed now. When the American media told us 20 years ago to pay attention to pollution, we didn't listen. These days, we celebrate when we see blue skies in Beijing because two-third of our time is spent in smog.

How do you keep costs low?

In the Indian market, you only have Apple or Samsung that are very expensive or a bunch of very low-cost phones. We don't profit from selling hardware. We are building mobile internet services. This year, our revenues from mobile internet services in China will be around $1 billion. We price a device very close to BOM (built of material) cost. It took us around two years to get to the number one position in the Chinese market, which is the biggest yet most competitive market in the world. Last year, we were in the list of top five phone makers in the world in terms of phone sales. In three to five years, we will work very hard to become number one in the Indian market.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Net neutrality: Over 1 million emails leave Trai in a spot

It is going to be a tough few days for Trai with its officials having to read, analyze and collate what over 11 lakh Indians had to say about net neutrality. The 'savetheinternet' e-mail campaign, which was started around two weeks ago by a coalition of net neutrality supporters online, hit the one million mark on Thursday afternoon at 12.42pm.

Trai had set April 24 as the deadline for netizens to make submissions on the consultation paper on the topic.

Even as @bulletinbabu, the coalition's official Twitter handle, tweeted the milestone number: "Emails to TRAI: 1000029 (+55) via www.savetheinternet.in #SaveTheInternet. We have achieved #MillionMailMission!", its volunteers celebrated with a quick ice-cream break before getting back to work.

"At some point, Trai is expected to put up the responses on its website for counter comments by May 8," said Kiran Jonnalagadda, who runs the savetheinternet.in and netneutrality.in websites with a team of volunteer/developers.

"Our biggest fear is whether the e-mails (based on the template prepared by the coalition), would be considered as a single e-mail or one opinion," he said.

The regulatory body has in the past invited comments and counters, uploaded all of them on its website, and came up with policies based on the consultation process.

"Sometimes, they have held open houses to invite comments, but given the amount of interest, I don't know which of these processes they will adopt," said lawyer Apar Gupta, who helped the coalition frame the responses to questions posed by Trai in its paper on 'Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top Services'.

The paper's wording and complicated questions had many worried that the regulator might allow internet service providers to charge netizens discriminatory prices based on the websites and services they use, thus putting an end to internet's open and equal access.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

One in six Android apps is a malware, says study

One in every six Android applications is a malware, according to a study by technology security company Symantec. The study also found that 36% of all Android applications are Graywares, which are not malicious by design but do annoying and inadvertently harmful things like tracking user behaviour.

In what could be seen as a warning to the large number of startups emerging in India, the study said cyber attackers are focusing more on small- and mid-sized business firms now since these are the ones that are increasingly creating intellectual property. It said 60% of all targeted attacks struck such organizations in 2014.

"The attackers know that a large portion of intellectual properties are generated from smaller companies. With hundreds of startups coming up every day in India, the number of attacks are likely to rise as companies give more importance to bringing a product to market quickly than on security," Tarun Kaura, director of Symantec's technology sales for India & Saarc, told TOI.

Symantec said the research was conducted on 6.3 million Android applications. "We found that roughly 17% of all the apps come right under the classification of malware. Also, 2.3 million apps that are available today track the users' behaviour," said Kaura. The study also found that nearly one million malwares are created every day across the globe. "Around 317 million malwares were created in 2014. This was a 26% rise from 2013," Kaura said.

Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Kochi are the cities that came most under cyberattacks last year. Among the various business sectors in India, those dealing with critical infrastructure like banking, telecom, transport and energy were subjected to the most attacks. India is among the top 10 infected countries in the world.

India is also ranked second after the US under social media scams, the report said. One of the major social media scams was a click-bait video link inviting Facebook users to watch the farewell message of late Hollywood actor Robin Williams which he allegedly shot before committing suicide on August 11 last year. Williams had never recorded a farewell message, and the link led to a malware. The post was automatically shared too by the ones who clicked on the link, thus reaching to more vulnerable users.

Symantec said the study is based on empirical data collected by its global intelligence network. It said the study tracked 8.4 billion emails every month and 1.8 billion websites every day in 157 countries using 57.6 million attack sensors.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Rishad Premji makes it to Wipro board

Rishad Premji, elder son of Wipro promoter Azim Premji, has been appointed to the board of directors of the $7-billion company effective May 1.

The move was widely expected. Azim Premji will be 70 in July this year, and Rishad's elevation to the board clearly indicates he will represent the ownership interest in India's third-largest IT firm. Azim Premji and family own 73.39% of the shares in the company.

Rishad, 38, joined Wipro in 2007 and has since taken on a number of critical roles. In a letter to Wipro employees, Azim Premji said: "These past eight years have given Rishad an in-depth view of the organization and makes him well positioned to guide Wipro and carry the mantle of ownership in the years ahead."

Wipro CEO T K Kurien said Rishad has been a "terrific contributor". "He's extremely hard-working and I have never seen him ever being not part of the team. In a way, while he represents ownership, I think he represents management more. It requires maturity to handle that and he has done that well over the years."

Ashok S Ganguly, independent director and chairman of the Board Governance and Nomination Committee, said Rishad "brings a unique blend of exceptional strategic insights, understanding of the technology landscape and diverse business expertise".

Rishad said it is "an absolute privilege and honour to be invited to the board of Wipro, a company built over the past 70 years on the bedrock of uncompromising integrity and the hard work of thousands of Wiproites".

Rishad did BA in economics from Wesleyan University, US, and MBA from Harvard Business School. He worked with Bain & Co for two years and with GE Capital in the US for four years.

He started in Wipro's banking and financial services vertical, and spearheaded its entry into the mortgage segment. He was given increasingly important responsibilities and currently runs strategy and mergers & acquisitions. He was recently given the additional responsibilities of overseeing the technology office, investor and government relations, Wipro Ventures, a $100-million fund focused on investing in new-age startups building cutting-edge technologies.

Peter Bendor Samuel, CEO of Everest Group, said Rishad's induction to the board had been coming for some time. "With the family owning such a large proportion of Wipro, this makes a lot of sense. If anything, the family is under-represented on the board. Rishad has certainly paid his dues working in a wide variety of roles in Wipro and learning the business," he said.

Monday, 20 April 2015

RBI allows banks to tie up with e-commerce companies

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.
 Elaborating on the partnership between banks and ecommerce firms, Khan said "The ecommerce space is galloping at such a fast pace that we need to take cognizance," He added that although RBI does not have any particular model for partnerships, both could work together to facilitate payments on e-commerce sites. "I think there is a need for collaboration. E-commerce sites and banks need to integrate and that is something in interest of everyone. We have not hit upon a plan but we will allow the market to develop and wherever there is a need of nudge from our side, we will do that," said Khan.

Paytm, Zomato to hit $1bn valuation this year: Report

Two Indian companies — Alibaba-backed mobile marketplace One97 Communications that runs digital wallet service Paytm, and restaurant discovery startup Zomato — are among 16 globally that have entered the $1-billion valuation league this year, according to New York-based venture capital tracker CB Insights.

Of the remaining 14, 12 are from the US and one each from China and the UK. Five other Indian companies hit Unicorn status — the term used for those valued at $1 billion or more — before this year. These include e-commerce players Flipkart and Snapdeal, cab aggregator Ola, data analytics firm Mu Sigma and mobile ad tech venture InMobi.

But not everyone's buying the $1-billion valuation yet. Some investors TOI spoke to put Zomato's valuation in the $750-800 million range and Paytm's at about $800 million.

Ravi Gururaj, chairman of Nasscom Product Council, said he was not at all surprised to see One97 and Zomato scale past the $1-billion mark. "Each has plenty of headroom to grow. These valuations clearly reflect India's improved macro political and economic environment. It anticipates huge positive impact of growth in mobile usage and tectonic shifts in consumer willingness to transact online," he said.

Friday, 17 April 2015

CEO defends Airtel Zero despite backlash

Bharti Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal has sent personal mails to a host of top CEO/CXOs and influencers explaining that its controversial zero-rating plan called Airtel Zero does not violate the principle of net neutrality. The company is also launching a separate website conveying Airtel's commitment to net neutrality, and to clarify its stand on issues like the zero-rating plan.

The move comes three days after Flipkart pulled out of its talks with Airtel on joining its zero-rating plan, following a social media backlash against the e-commerce firm. Airtel itself has been under sustained attack from net neutrality advocates.

"We have been very concerned at the incorrect information that has been carried by some quarters in the media as well as in social media. I wanted to take this opportunity to clear the air and reiterate that we are completely committed to net neutrality," Vittal writes.

The letter goes on to say that the objective of Airtel Zero is to ensure that every Indian is on the internet by making data access free to them. "There are millions of Indians who think that the internet is expensive and don't know what it can do for them," Vittal writes.

Vittal writes that Airtel Zero is a technology platform that connects application providers to their customers for free. "The platform allows any content or application provider to enroll on it so that their customers can visit these sites for free. Instead of charging customers we charge the providers who choose to get on to the platform," he says.

The platform, he says, is open to all application developers, content providers and internet sites on an equal basis. "The same rate card is offered to all these providers on a totally non-discriminatory basis," he says.

The letter also says there is no difference between this and toll-free voice services such as 1-800. "When a company selling an insurance product enrolls into the toll free voice platform, customers who call the number are not charged but when they call a normal number they are charged," he says. The tab is paid for by the corporate customer.

"Toll-free voice is not a product or a tariff plan - it is merely a technology platform. We are simply taking the same concept of toll-free voice to the world of data," he says.

Some net neutrality advocates say Airtel Zero discriminates against smaller firms who might not be able to pay to get on to the platform. Customers would likely move to services that they can access for free. Flipkart CEO Sachin Bansal said there were risks of Airtel Zero going against net neutrality principles in the long run.

But some experts also say it is possible to regulate zero-rating plans in a way that it does not discriminate against small players.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Ahmedabad to Kochi — startups bloom

Diwakar Chittora of Intellipaat is convinced that one of the best decisions he took was to base his venture in his hometown Jaipur.

He was educated all over India - schooling in Rajasthan, engineering from SIT Tumkur and a Masters in IT from IIIT Bangalore. At one point he realized that there weren't many Hadoop courses online and the few that were there were expensive. Hadoop had become a hot skill and he saw a business opportunity in training people in the open-source software framework. He founded Intellipaat in 2011 in Jaipur as an online IT training unit. Today, many of those who take his courses are from tier-2 cities, and he has more than 60 corporate clients.

"The cost of living in Jaipur is much lower, I get the best of people to work for me because there aren't many successful startups here yet, and there is less attrition and poaching compared to that in a city like Bengaluru," he says.

Entrepreneurship in smaller cities in India is beginning to surge as the cost of talent and living in metropolitan cities rise. And the push is coming from those who grew up in these smaller cities, but have experienced the opportunities that the world provides during their education or work stints in metros.

"The way the world is evolving into cloud, the advantages of being in metros are getting nullified. You can be with your clients over the internet," says Ravi Gururaj, head of Nasscom's Product Council and an angel investor. He adds that staying with family and in one's hometown increases the quality of life. "Improving air connectivity also means that these startups can always fly to big cities for events and networking," he says.
 It's not easy to get any estimates for the number of startups being born in smaller cities. But under Nasscom's 10,000 Startups programme (an initiative to create 10,000 startups in India by 2020), 20% of the selected startups have come from tier-2 cities and beyond. Ahmedabad, Kochi and Chandigarh are seen to be the biggest startup hubs outside of the metros, but there are also good numbers emerging in cities like Thiruvanathapuram, Indore, Coimbatore, Jaipur, Vadodara and even Guwahati.

"If we want to move anywhere, it should be closer to our customers, who are all in US," says Arjun Pillai, CEO and founder of Profoundis, a venture based in Kochi. Profoundis has a product that helps in scrolling details from the web with just an email address. Pillai says he decided to stay back in Kochi because he wanted to develop the startup ecosystem in Kerala. "If we think that we will be better off in Bengaluru, then only that city will grow."

Pillai admits though that the venture faces difficulties in getting non-Keralites to move to the state. Some youngsters did not want to join the company because they thought they would miss out on night life.

That is the same problem Belagavibased Vayavya Labs faced. Many from big cities refused to move citing lack of good schools. "Once you grow big, you need toprated talent in multiple verticals, which are unavailable in small cities. Beyond your core team, you would not find people willing to relocate," says R K Patil, founder and CEO of Vayavya Labs.

But he says if it's the core group that will do R&D over the long term, small towns provide ideal conditions. "Attrition in our product team is zero and the com pany has a peaceful campus apart from good connectivity and power, all of which are good for our operations," he says.

Sharad Sharma, co-founder of software product think-tank iSpirt, says he is cautiously optimistic about the startup ecosystem that is emerging in smaller cities. He says startups that cater to the needs of non-metro citizens particularly will come out of those very areas. "An idea of NewsHunt or StayZilla won't occur that easily to people who get foreign degrees," he says. NewsHunt aggregates vernacular news and StayZilla aggregates stay options in towns across India.

Gramco Infratech is another such. The agri solutions company based in Indore and founded by Raman Singh Saluja wants to focus on Madhya Pradesh before going national. Gramco's end-to-end farming solutions model demands that it be close to its client farmers. "So far we have piloted six locations out of which three are in Ujjain," says Saluja, who has received financial help from SIDBI's Samridhi Fund.

But scaling will be a challenge in the foreseeable future. Like Patil, Sharad Sharma feels many tech startups will be forced to move to bigger cities as they grow larger. "Special talents like UI (user interface) developers and architecture engineers won't be available in smaller cities," he says.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Now, online grocery delivery startups catch fancy of investors

PepperTap, a Gurgaon-based startup that delivers everyday household items through a mobile app, announced on Wednesday that it has mopped up $10 million funding from SAIF Partners and Sequoia Capital. The investment comes a day after Grofers, another hyperlocal grocery delivery service, raised $35 million funding from Sequoia Capital and Tiger Global. Two days ago, Bangalore-based ZopNow that sources products from supermarket chain HyperCity, raised $10 million from Dragoneer Investment Group, Accel Partners, Qual-Comm Ventures and Times Internet.

The idea of buying groceries online finally seems to be taking shape in India, thanks to these mobile first delivery startups, that have figured out cost-effective ways to deliver everything from onions to milk to people in around an hour. For instance, PepperTap that currently operates in Gurgaon and West Delhi, has partnered with selected kirana stores in certain pockets. A PepperTap employee stationed at the store helps list the store's products on its app, receives orders, packs the items and hands them over to a delivery man.

"E-commerce is slowly going hyperlocal. This model cuts my need to have a warehouse. The kirana store where I station my guy serves as my fulfillment center and helps me manage inventory in real time," says Navneet Singh, co-founder of PepperTap. Next month, the company will start operations in Pune, followed by Banga.

E-tailers such as Amazon India, Flipkart and Snapdeal also have shown interest in this space. Amazon went ahead and launched Kirana Now in Bangalore through which the company delivers items from local kirana stores by using its own logistics system in two to three hours. Snapdeal has tied up with premium supermarket chain Godrej Nature's Basket to deliver gourmet products.

"This is probably one of the final frontiers of e-commerce in India. Food has largely been untouched by e-commerce till now. With new age consumers coming in, this sector will see a lot of buzz," says Mohit Khattar, MD, Godrej Nature's Basket.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Double whammy for telco

Flipkart's walkout from the Airtel Zero plan stunned the country's biggest mobile operator and came as a shock at a time when it was preparing to steadfastly hold on to the scheme - seen to be in violation of the principles of net neutrality - despite mounting criticism both online and offline.

While the company sought to put up a brave face in the wake of Flipkart's withdrawal and blamed it on "some misconceptions", sources said the telecom major is worried about the fallout of the development, especially as its brand is being dubbed by some as regressive and anti-net freedom in today's age of viral social media campaigns.
Airtel, however, hasn't taken its controversial Airtel Zero plan off the market. "Airtel fully supports the concept of net neutrality. There have been some misconceptions about our toll-free data platform - Airtel Zero. It is a not a tariff proposition but an open marketing platform," it said in a statement. A source said Airtel is still trying to stitch up alliances with companies for Airtel Zero hoping it may be able to gather some support around it.

This is the second major reversal for Airtel in recent times. Last December, the company had to pull the plug on its plans to charge higher tariffs for internet telephony or calls made through services like Skype, Viber and Line. It did this after a severe hammering on social media platforms and because none of its telecom peers such as Vodafone or Idea Cellular was ready to join its ranks.

Sources said that top Airtel officials are "in a huddle" to assess any possible damage to its brand from the fiasco. Its marketing and advertising campaigns have regularly focused on the younger generation and company insiders feel its recent moves may have dented its image in this critical gen-next segment.

Viral campaigns on social media platforms and criticism of Airtel Zero have the potential to wean some of its lucrative, high data-consuming customer base towards its rival.

Industry analysts expressed surprise over the company's plans to introduce the Airtel Zero package at a time when Trai and the telecom department are studying threadbare the concept of net neutrality.

Some analysts said Airtel should have been cautious after the widespreadcriticism it received following its internet telephony plan. "The least it could have done is to wait for the Trai recommendations as well as the findings of the DoT committee," a top industry official said.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Snapdeal CFO quits, may start own co

Snapdeal's chief financial officer (CFO) Aakash Moondhra has stepped down and could be starting his own venture or going back to investing, said people familiar with the development at the Delhi-based e-commerce company.

Snapdeal has not yet named a replacement for the former Bharti Retail and Barings Private Equity executive but said in an email that Moondhra will now play an advisory role. "Aakash is a valuable member of our team and has played a key role in building Snapdeal as India's largest online marketplace. From his current role as CFO, he is transitioning into an advisory role at Snapdeal to be able to pursue his other interests and passions. He continues to be a key member of the Snapdeal family," a Snapdeal spokesperson said.

Moondhra, who was hired by Snapdeal in 2012 as CFO, couldn't be reached for comment.

Twitter, YouTube, Instagram work on stealth advertising

The quandary for those who run social networks is how to monetize activity on them without antagonizing and thus losing users through distracting ads?

The answer, for Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, is to slip in some stealthy ads camouflaged to look like posts from listed contacts.

Each of the networks has in-house teams whose job is to think up ways to advise brands on how to sneak their marketing into members' feeds.

At YouTube, owned by Google, the effort is called 'Zoo.' Instagram uses the 'Creative Shop' of its parent company Facebook. Twitter's name for it is the relatively straight-forward 'Brand Strategy.'

The strategies adapt to the specific requirements, formats and behaviour on each of the social networks.

In the case of Instagram, the four-year-old site which boasts 300 million users worldwide who share filtered photos and videos, the advertising push has now extended to France.

The network long resisted introducing sponsored messages, aware that many of its fans were creative types — artists, photographers, architects — against having screens of pure images corrupted by tawdry commercial intrusions.

But after Facebook bought it for $715 million in 2012, Instagram started putting in ads. They started in 2013 in the United States, then Australia and Canada in late 2014 and, from mid-March this year, in France.

They hide in plain sight: presented in the same square format, with the same 'vintage' filter as user-generated pictures. Only the mention 'sponsored' reveals that it's there to sell, not share.

"The brand has to express itself as if it's a person and respect the community," explained Cedric Atlan, of Facebook's Creative Shop.

"You have come upon the brand the same way you would a friend or someone from your family. The advertising needs to be integrated and not disturb the user."

The specialist teams are experienced, well versed in advertising and marketing, often having been snapped up from ad agencies. Each count around 100 employees, scattered around the planet. The job requirement is to have a deep and nuanced knowledge of local markets and to stay abreast of the latest trends.

"There are no borders. It's a global team that communicates from everywhere in the world, 24/7. If you want to know what's happening with mobiles in Asia in such and such an area, we can get an answer in an hour," said Mailine Swildens, director of YouTube's Zoo for southern and eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

In 2014, Zoo lent its talents to the Italian fashion company Fendi and the result was the first fashion show filmed with drones and broadcast live on YouTube.

"There are innovative areas where you can mix geolocalization, mobiles, technology," Swildens said.

Laurent Buanec, brand strategist for Twitter, said: "Sometimes, we get ideas that aren't really feasible or which miss the point. Our role isn't to give scores but to accompany agencies and brands."

One campaign rolled out with the help of Twitter was for Nissan France. During a UEFA Champions League tournament, the car manufacturer turned its Twitter feed into a football-stat spouting source during the matches — to emphasise the brand's sponsorship.

While it makes sense for the social networks that depend on advertising for their revenues to take on this consulting role, Nicolas Levy, who handles strategy for the Marcel advertising agency within the French Publicis group, said they may end up in competition with the big ad agencies.

"Right now, it's in everybody's interest. But in the longer term, Google and Facebook — which are the most innovative and the biggest — are potentially rivals," he said.

"The solution for the big advertising group is to grow, especially in the data field, so that they don't leave client understanding to the social networks," Levy said.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Foxconn to begin second innings in India

After marching out of Nokia SEZ in February, Foxconn, the world's largest contract phone manufacturer, is ready for its second innings in India.

Its plans include twin smartphone manufacturing plants, one each in Gujarat and Noida, besides, a small trial production plant in Sri City in Andhra Pradesh.

Foxconn had three plants on the Chennai-Bengaluru highway making phones and components for Nokia. After Nokia went belly-up, Foxconn too scaled down its production and eventually shut down all the three plants, the last of which was inside Nokia SEZ which closed in February.

"With booming smartphone sales, Foxconn is ready with its plans. On cards are two plants, one in Gujarat and the second in Noida," sources said. Plans include manufacturing the Apple range of mobile handsets into India. Foxconn is the largest contract manufacturer for Apple.

The Taiwanese phone maker also has plans of a 'trial production' factory in Sri City on the fringes of Chennai in Andhra Pradesh. This trial factory will also be used for production related R&D activities besides new product development, sources said.

Details on total investments and the employment generation could not be ascertained as Foxconn did not respond to a TOI questionnaire.

To achieve this plan, Foxconn has roped in former Nokia plant officials. It is learnt that Josh Foulger, a senior Nokia hand who was involved in setting up Nokia plant in Sriperumbudur , will head Foxconn while it takes aim for its second innings.

"The planned capacity is massive, commensurate to the size of Indian market factoring in the strong growth in smart phones sales coupled with the future potential for these devices," sources said. All these announcements for the factory will be made soon after the government's 'Make in India' policy.

"While policy announcements of Make in India are not imperative for Foxconn's investments for smart phone making plant, a favourable manufacturing policy will help greater commitment for future investments," sources.

India, has the second-highest number of mobile phone accounts after China, and is also the third-biggest market (by volume) of smartphones sold, with sub- 6,000 handsets selling like hot cakes.

"The smartphone market is expected to more than double between now and 2018 and much of this is expected to be driven by the migration from feature phones to smartphones," said Kiran Kumar Research Manager, Client Devices, IDC India.

Indian Cellular Association, the industry lobby body for phone manufacturers has stressed the need for design related work on smart phones too. "India should not only be made a manufacturing hub for mobile phones, but also a design hub that will become the bedrock for manufacturing of different kind of electronics as well as critical components like displays, lithium ion batteries. This will also reduce our dependence on imports," the association's officials said.

Sony LCD panels to be made in Sriperumbudur

With tepid manufacturing climate for engineering manufacturing services, Foxconn-world's largest electronics contract manufacturer - has readied plans to make LCD panels for laptops and tablet computers for Sony.

Foxconn, it is learnt, will set up an assembly line for Sony in Irrungattukottai to make LCD panels. "The size and scope of investments planned is nothing substantial, but will help arrest the poor image the corridor has been dumped with after Nokia's exit," sources said. While it is only an assembly plant with key components shipped in from Taiwan, this unit could employ 150 persons.

A detailed questionnaire to Foxconn went unanswered.

Foxconn is not new to Sriperumbudur. It had three mobile phone and parts manufacturing units in the region making phones for Nokia. It shut down all its plants, the last of which was closed on February 10.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Indian IT key to Apple's business

Apple is secretive about almost everything it does. And among its best kept secrets is the work it does with Indian IT vendors. The vendors themselves are sworn to secrecy through stringent non-disclosure agreements. And since Apple is invariably among their most valued clients, they don't disclose a word about their relationship with the Cupertino-based iPhone and iPad maker.

But some of the secrets are spilling out. TOI spoke to some research firms and industry sources to put together details of which vendor does what for the $200-billion US consumer electronics brand.

Four large Indian IT companies - TCS, Infosys, Wipro and Tech Mahindra - and a relatively small vendor Exilant are the primary vendors. The five together provide a host of services to Apple.

Infosys is focused on customer care and supply chain. It works on SAP modules in material management, warehouse management. It is also involved in application development and maintenance of customer care applications including Apple Certified Server Engineer (ACSE), an industry certification to provide server-based solutions and troubleshoot issues related to server installations.

India's largest IT services player TCS is focused on customer relationship management. It also ports Apple's web applications into iOS-compatible mobile apps. Wipro does the master data management for its supply chain. It also provides advanced analytics for database marketing, retail marketing and web-based marketing.

Tech Mahindra does work related to finance and product lifecycle management.

Wipro, Infosys and Tech Mahindra did not respond to mails from TOI enquiring about the work they do for Apple. TCS said it was in its silent period prior to the quarterly results announcement.

Peter Bendor Samuel, CEO of US-based research advisory Everest Group, believes the Indian firms have the potential to capture significant revenue from Apple across areas and that the business could grow into hundreds of millions of dollars. Pareekh Jain, research director in US-based HfS Research, said that since 2013, Apple has had dedicated IT outsourcing vendor managers based out of Bengaluru. "They act as a bridge between Apple's IT managers and India-based IT service providers," he said.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Apple’s India revenue hits $1bn in FY15

Apple didn't take India seriously in the early years of the global iPhone-iPad rage. But now, the country is likely one of its fastest growing markets. The company is said to have touched $1 billion in revenue in India in the financial year ended March 31, 2015 — an increase of over 40% from the year before when it did Rs 4,500 crore in revenue. It's also three times more than what it did just three years ago in 2011-12.

Sources told TOI that the company is close to filing the final results with the ministry of corporate affairs (MCA). But even without that, the unit sales figures indicate that an over $1-billion revenue is inevitable. Apple has sold 1.3 million phones in 2014-15 compared to 9.28 lakh it sold in the previous fiscal — a growth rate of 42%, according to figures compiled by Cybermedia Research.

Industry experts say a significant part of the sales came from the big launches of last year, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, both priced at the top end. So revenue growth is likely to have exceeded unit sales growth.

An email sent to Apple on its revenues and handset sales did not elicit a response till the time of going to press.

"Considering the price points and last year's launches, Apple is doing better-than-expected numbers in India," said Shiv Putcha, associate director and consumer mobility lead for Asia Pacific in technology research firm International Data Corporation (IDC).

Faisal Kawoosa, general manager - research & consulting at Cybermedia Research, said customers who buy iPhones have a higher brand loyalty and the chances of them buying other Apple products are relatively higher. "It has an evolved user base and they don't look for free apps like a general Android user."

Kawoosa believes Android is not a preferred option for premium smartphone users. "People who are worried about the cost buy Android. There is a vacuum with respect to the premium phones. Samsung and HTC have seen their market shares drop," he said.

Apple has been aggressively marketing in India in recent years. To increase adoption in the price-sensitive market, Apple has introduced easy financing options that has helped propel its sales.

Apple is said to have sold more than a 1 lakh units of iPhone 6 Plus and more than 3 lakh units of iPhone 6, both priced upwards of Rs 50,000, in the just concluded fiscal. Even with $1 billion in sales, India contributes just about 1% to the overall global sales of Apple. But it clearly is becoming one of the key markets.

Forex volatility to hit top IT companies' dollar revenue

Cross-currency headwinds, possible losses due to volatility in multiple currencies may impact earnings of information technology (IT) companies in the January-March quarter, which would result in a flat sequential dollar revenue growth. Various analysts forecasts show an impact of nearly 200-300 basis points (bps) (100 bps = 1%) on the sequential revenue growth of top-tier IT firms as well as margins.

IDFC's IT analyst Hitesh Shah projected in a preview note that the impact of depreciation of global currencies against the US dollar (USD) was at 200-250 bps on the sequential revenue growth of the top five IT players, viz., TCS, Infosys, Wipro, HCL Tech and Tech Mahindra.

"We expect sequential organic growth in USD revenues to be between (-)1% and (+)1% for the top five IT companies.This factors in a 200-250 bps cross-currency headwind," he said in the report. The report also considers modest volume growth, business investments and cross-currency headwinds as key margin dampeners this quarter.

Analysts add that though a major portion of revenues of IT companies are denominated in dollar, revenues are in multiple currencies including euro, pound, Australian dollar and Japanese yen. Almost 50-70% of the revenues of the top five IT companies are USD-denominated with average exposure to pound being 10-15%, euro 8-12% and Australian dollar 5-7%.

Ashish Chopra, VP (research) at Motilal Oswal Securities, has forecast an impact of 250-300 bps on the dollar revenue growth of IT companies and 50-100 bps hit on their margins this quarter, due to currency volatility . He added that the current quarter would be the third consecutive period to see depreciation of global currencies against the US dollar.

Shashi Bhusan, analyst at Prabhudas Lilladher, anticipates currency volatility to impact dollar revenues by an average 180-280 bps, while on the margin front he expects a 20-40 bps hit. "The impact on individual IT players would depend on the incremental revenue contribution from various currencies this quarter," added Bhusan.

In its business update, industry leader TCS anticipated a negative cross-currency impact of 200 bps on its dollar revenue in the January-March quarter.

While HCL Tech also communicated concerns of an adverse impact on its dollar revenues and profits: "Since the company's revenues are derived in multiple currencies and significant costs are incurred in INR (Indian rupee), the revenues and ebit (earnings before interest and tax) for the quarter to be reported in USD would have adverse impact of around 280 bps and 80 bps respectively."

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Apple Watch hits a roadblock in Switzerland

Apple is not able to launch its new smartwatch in Switzerland until at least the end of this year because of an intellectual property rights issue, Swiss broadcaster RTS reported on its website.
The US tech giant cannot use the image of an apple nor the word "apple" to launch its watch within Switzerland, the home of luxury watches, because of a patent from 1985, RTS reported, citing a document from the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property.
The document, reprinted on the RTS website, was published by trade magazine Business Montres & Joaillerie, RTS said.
The patent is set to finish on Dec. 5 of this year. It currently belongs to William Longe, who owns watch brand Leonard that first filed the patent.
Apple did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. The Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property could not immediately be reached outside of normal business hours.
The Apple Watch, the firm's first new device since Tim Cook became CEO, will be available in stores in nine countries on April 24.
The world's largest watchmaker Swatch unveiled its riposte to Apple's smartwatch last month, announcing a plan to put cheap programmable chips in watches that will let wearers from China to Chicago make payments with a swipe of the wrist.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Govt ordered 2341 URLs to be blocked in 2014

The government issued orders to block 2341 URLs in 2014, an official response to an RTI application shows. The RTI was filed by Delhi-based non-profit legal services organisation Software Freedom Law Center India (SFLC.in) last month to Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), which falls under the Ministry of Communications and IT.

While the number of URL blocking orders stood at 2341 last year, the same number in 2013 was 1349 - indicating a rise of 73%. The same number stood at 708 in 2012. The application sought answers on blocking orders issued variously pursuant to court orders, requests from government departments, and requests from private parties. The DeitY response says that "barring a few numbers, all URLs were blocked on the orders of the court." Moreover, the number of URLs ordered to be unblocked were 32 in 2014 and 4 in 2012. No URLs were unblocked in 2013.

"Further, as per the provisions of Rule 16 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguard for locking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009, notified under section 69 A of the Information Technology Act 2000, the requests and complaints received and actions taken thereof are strictly confidential," the reply adds.
SFLC.in, which uploaded the RTI and the replies on its website, has said in an accompanying blog that the government needs to review its stance on confidentiality, particularly in the light of the apex court's observations when striking down section 66 A of the IT Act. It says that the SC "invited attention to several safeguards incorporated into Section 69A - one amongst them being that reasons behind blocking orders are to be recorded in writing in the orders themselves so that they may be challenged by means of writ petitions...However, one fails to understand how such a writ petition might be filed so long as the blocking orders are kept confidential. Rule 16 therefore renders an important safeguard in the content-blocking process ineffective.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

It is survival of fittest, fastest, most fundable

Rajan Anandan is Google India managing director, but he is also one of the country's most prolific angel investors and a passionate startup mentor. He has invested in over 50 startups and some have become very successful.
Experts around the world are talking about a startup valuation bubble. Some even compare this to the dotcom era.

I disagree. In the dotcom era, valuations ran up in the public and private markets with even companies with no revenues going public and valued rather highly. The companies we talk about now are all growing with large numbers of users, have real consumer traction, and real sources of revenues. The VCs and hedge funds are willing to give these companies a valuation in private markets that was earlier possible only in public markets. Today, valuations are close to what we are used to seeing in public markets. That is making some people think that there is a valuation bubble.

Many startups are years away from profitability. And money is no longer as easily available. Do you think valuations will moderate?

Valuations are not that high and they depend on what investors are looking at. They depend on what they see they can get from these companies, how the competitors are doing.Valuation is also dependent on the market these companies are in and how it is growing. I think these are still early days. Some of these companies have almost $10 billion in gross merchandise value (GMV) and they will grow much larger. We are in an entirely different landscape than we were seven to eight years ago when there were no app stores. This is a new business model and the old rules or metrics no longer apply. We can't predict such markets.

Do you think sectors like food and taxis have seen M&As a bit too early, considering the markets were just two to three years old?

If you look at a large space, like taxi aggregation, you can only have two or three big players. It is difficult to have more than three and some of these are winner-takes-it-all kind of markets. Sometimes what happens is, early in the evolution, a large number of companies pop up and get funded and it is difficult to say who the winner will likely be. Some where be tween 18 and 36 months, we will have a clearer picture with some of them executing better. In the taxi market, you had TaxiForSure, Ola, Uber, Meru and several other smaller local aggregators. When one of them fails to raise the next round of funding, the founders will have to take a call on whether they are more likely to be successful.

Will early consolidation kill value and competition?

See, there is life beyond acquisition as well. Most acquisitions are share swaps and not fully cash transactions. If you look at some of the biggest e-commerce deals, the investors in the acquired company have gained a lot as valuation has zoomed after the deal. It is a win-win situation and you should not be blinded by the value at the time of acquisition. The TaxiForSure and Myntra shareholders will all continue to make money long after being sold to Ola and Flipkart. Consolidation is good. It is like everything else that happens around us in the evolution of life. It is the survival of the fittest, the fastest and the most fundable.

There is a lot of action in the ad-tech space. With Google and Facebook increasingly taking market share, how do you see the future of this segment for smaller players?

Ad-tech is changing dramatically. How ads on the internet are bought and sold is changing and becoming very tech intensive. I still see a massive potential for India to build a lot of ad-tech startups. What we are actually seeing is more and more fragmentation and startups can provide very compelling solutions. Over the next 12-24 months, global sentiments will be driven by some publicly listed ad-tech companies not doing well. But sentiments are also like growth cycles. If you can build a solution that gives superior value to advertisers, you will do well.

We see a lot of companies moving to US or Singapore.

It is unfortunate but it is the ease of doing business for these companies that makes them move. We need to make it easier to start a company, run one and more importantly, raise venture money, all of which have to be easier in the country than outside. All these things are known to the government and they have been trying to address some of these.

You have recently invested in a startup in the genomic research sector.As an angel investor, what are your favourite areas?

I have been a believer in the B2B sector. If you look at Silicon Valley, there is an equal focus on B2B and B2C. In India, 90% of the focus is on B2C. I'm very bullish on startups whose services are cloud-based big data or software-as-a-service.

Some of the companies I invested in, like Capillary Technologies, are valued at Rs 1,000 crore. Such companies will find it difficult to get traction and attract clients initially since most of them are based in western markets.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

NID graduates create app-enabled smart pots for plants

For most plant lovers, leaving their potted plants unattended at home while they are travelling seems a sad story. To relieve plant growers of this dilemma, graduates of the National Institute of Design (NID) have developed an intelligent flower pot and an app that will help the plants water themselves.

Greenopia, an internet-enabled advanced smart gardening kit, that consists of one or multiple smart pots and a mobile application that helps a user monitor and take care of their plants remotely. The smart pot has sensors that detect the status of a plant- like whether it's receiving enough water and sunlight, or if soil conditions are optimum.

"We usually see that plants die when we come back from a trip. The smart pot has a button, which when pressed through the app, will squirt water in the required quantity. So, the user can water the plants even when he is not at home," said Mani H K, who has co-founded Greenopia with fellow NIDians Mayukhini Pande, Devyani Jain and Veethika Mishra.

The idea was born after the students tried to grow plants individually but failed. Launched last month, the product is targeted at urban residents who love to grow plants but are too busy to take care of them.

The smart kit comes with a smart pot that has a 1.5 litre capacity tank, an app and a seed kit.

"We are taking the initiative global with a crowdfunding campaign. We are backed by Rajan Anand, MD of Google India in crowdfunding," said Mayukhini, an NID graduate of 2011 who runs a design consultancy firm in Ahmedabad.

Recently, Paris-based technology company Parrot launched a smart flower pot that detects whether your plant has enough light and fertilizer and even waters it for you.

Selfie sticks going out of favour?

You can bring your beach towels and floral headbands, but forget that selfie stick if you're planning to go to the Coachella or Lollapalooza music festivals.

The devices, which grasp cellphones to allow people to take pictures of themselves farther away from their faces, are banned at this summer's festivals in Indio, California, and Chicago. Coachella dismissed them as "narsisstics" on a list of prohibited items.

Selfie sticks have become a popular but polemical photo-taking tool. Avid picture takers like snapping their own shots in front of monuments and sunsets, but critics dismiss them as obnoxious and potentially dangerous to others around them.

A spokeswoman for Coachella would not comment on the restriction. Lollapalooza representatives did not return a request for comment but on the festival's Twitter account said the decision was being made "for safety, to speed security checks at the gate & to reduce the number of obstructions between the fans and the stage."

Coachella and Lollapalooza are among dozens of big events and landmarks taking a stand against the sticks.

In Europe, the Palace of Versailles outside Paris, Britain's National Gallery in London and the Colosseum in Rome have all banned selfie sticks, saying they need to protect exhibits on display and ensure the safety of visitors.

In the US, Ultra Music Festival in Miami, one of the world's largest electronic music festivals, also prohibited selfie sticks at last weekend's event.

"They will be turned away and we'll probably make fun of you," Ultra said on its Twitter account earlier this month.

Wayne Fromm, creator of the Quik Pod and the first to patent the selfie stick more than a decade ago, said he understood the decision for museums and festivals to ban the stick and that the intention was never for the device to be fully extended in busy spaces.

"Intentionally or not, there is a danger to other people in crowded places," he told The Associated Press.

He added that he is at work on a new selfie-taking tool that will accomplish the same tasks without so many problems.

Another selfie stick entrepreneur, Jacqueline Verdier, CEO of Selfie on a Stick, said the festivals were going too far and that the sticks can be used safely.

"I think it's really doing a bit of disservice to the attendees," Verdier said. "They're not going to be able to capture the same memories."

Some concert goers praised the decision, saying the sticks promote a culture of narcissism and detract from the festival experience. Others said they enjoy using them and lament there is so much negativity around them.

Thomas Smith, 31, of Los Angeles, will be going to Coachella this year and said he wasn't planning to bring it into the venue because of recent backlash against the stick - even though he's used it on previous occasions and likes the sticks because of the perspective he's able to get for photos and video.

"People make fun of the people who use them," he said. "Taking a selfie is kind of an embarrassing thing but when you see someone who went out of their way to get equipment to take a selfie, there's an extra level of embarrassment attached."

Asked about Coachella and others dubbing the self-stick as a "narsisstic," Fromm said he found the term offensive. He said people have liked to look at themselves since the beginning of time and that everyone wants to look their best.

"My intention was to encourage better photos for posterity," Fromm said. "Is that narcissistic?"

Got spectrum? Now improve services: Telecom minister

Telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad feels that record earnings in spectrum auction display the confidence of mobile operators in India's communications story and bring out the "enormous business potential" in the market.

Having secured Rs 1.1 lakh crore for the exchequer, Prasad wants the industry to now improve the quality of services offered to consumers as their spectrum holdings go up after the auction.

He tells TOI that the government has laid out a "transparent, enabling and credible auction process," which has been the result of a massive confidence-building exercise both within the government as well as the outside stakeholders:

Are you surprised with the record earnings?

We had introduced an element of transparency and quick decision-making for this auction. There were a lot of enablers that we had thrown in such as introduction of 3G airwaves after successful negotiations with defence; putting up the highest quantity for sale at 471MHz across four bands; liberalization of 800MHz spectrum; clarity on spectrum usage charges; and flexibility on earnest money deposit.

Now that the companies will get higher spectrum holdings, do you think it's time that consumers get a better deal?

Lax services will not be tolerated. I appeal to all the private telecom operators to address the consumers' concern of call drops by improving their services after the infusion of new spectrum. They need to remember that consumer satisfaction is the best barometer for their growth.

Telecom industry associations as well as operators say that prices have been too high...

This is not a correct view. India is a very thriving market proposition for telecommunications and the players know about this. We have over 97 crore mobile phone connections, we are home to one of the biggest consumer base for Google and Facebook and we offer more than 300 million internet connections. The government's 'Digital India' programme will add further to the prospects once it becomes operational.

Telcos say tariffs need to go up to fund spectrum purchase. Do you agree?

The auctions have shown that all misgivings about scarcity of spectrum, its cost as well as other concerns have turned out to be incorrect. About impact on tariffs, I maintain that the burden on players will be negligible at about 1.3 paise per connection per minute call.

Telcos help keep fisc deficit in check

Telcos on Tuesday made early payment of spectrum money to bridge the fiscal deficit in the current financial year. Till the time of going to press, the government received Rs 10,808 crore as part-payment and this includes Rs 4,725 crore from Bharti Airtel, Rs 2,518 crore from Reliance Jio, Rs 1,935 crore from Idea Cellular, Rs 1,030 crore from Vodafone and Rs 600 crore from Tata Teleservices.