Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Apple's 4th-generation iPad gets a 128GB storage option, starting Rs. 49,900

As rumoured, Apple has introduced a 128GB variant of the 4th generation iPad with Retina Display. The tablet has been priced at Rs. 49,900 for the Wi-Fi only variant and Rs. 56,900 for the Wi-Fi + Cellular options. According to Apple, the new option will be available starting Tuesday, February 5, in black or white.

Apple unveiled the 4th-generation iPad alongside the iPad mini at a special event held in San Jose, California in October last year. Improvements compared to the predecessor included a beefed-up processor, improved LTE support and inclusion of the new Lightning connector that first shipped with the iPhone 5.

Apple's iPad has been available in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB variants since launch, so the 128GB variant marks the first departure from the norm.

"With more than 120 million iPads sold, it's clear that customers around the world love their iPads, and everyday they are finding more great reasons to work, learn and play on their iPads rather than their old PCs," said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. "With twice the storage capacity and an unparalleled selection of over 300,000 native iPad apps, enterprises, educators and artists have even more reasons to use iPad for all their business and personal needs."

Apple sold over 22.9 million iPads in Q1 2013, though it did not reveal the breakdown of sales between 3rd/ 4th-generation iPads and iPad minis. The launch comes at a difficult time for Apple, with the company's stock caught in a downward spiral for quite some time. It recently lost the crown of the most valuable company to ExonnMobil. While the launch itself is unlikely to arrest that slide, it will be interesting to see Apple's moves in the markets from here on.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

India test fires missile from under sea, completes nuclear triad

After a smooth countdown at 1.40 pm today, India's missile, named BO5, emerged effortlessly breaking the balmy waters of the Bay of Bengal. The missile was launched from an approximate depth of about 50 metres, simulating exactly the conditions as would prevail during an operational launch from India's indigenously made nuclear-powered submarine bINS Arihant. The missile whose name has been variously given as Sagarika or at times K-15 or even Dhanush has finally been christened as BO5 and is a medium-range ballistic missile.

After emerging from the water, the missile followed a copy book track of its trajectory and hit its target about six minutes after launch in a very precise manner. The trajectory was tracked using several cameras and radars specially deputed for this launch.

This is the fourteenth consecutively successful launch of this potent weapons system which has till now always been done in complete secrecy. This was the last developmental launch and now the weapons system is ready to be integrated with the Indian submarines, says AK Chakrabarty, the man who designed and perfected this naval missile system and is also the director of the Defence Research and Development Laboratory, Hyderabad. He spoke exclusively to NDTV on board the ship which controls the missile launch. This sophisticated technology has been mastered only by the USA, Russia, France and China. India has now joined this select club of five, and has now completed what is called the nuclear triad, which essentially gives India the capability to launch at will its nuclear weapons from air, land and sea.

The indigenously made missile has been perfected after more than 15 years of development by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Mr Chakrabarty, who had tears of joy in his eyes, described the mission as "perfect and could not have been any better."

A young team of about 200 DRDO scientists and personnel from the Navy and a flotilla of ships took part in today's mission. The NDTV team of Pallava Bagla and Alphonse Raj were the only journalists allowed to witness the launch live from the middle of the Bay of Bengal.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Final trials for INS Vikramaditya, Rs. 12,500-crore ship, in June

INS Vikramditya - India's second aircraft carrier- is back on its feet. Three of the ship's eight boilers that had malfunctioned during trials in last year have been "opened up and set right," a senior Navy official told NDTV.

Originally built as the Admiral Gorshkov in the Soviet Union, the $2.3 billion (about Rs. 12,500 crore) aircraft carrier is being refurbished by Russia, the world's second-largest arms exporter for India, its biggest customer.

The induction of the 45,000-tonne aircraft carrier that can carry about 30-odd aircraft was delayed by almost a year, leading to a severe reprimand by Defence Minister AK Antony in October.

Sources told NDTV that the problems in the ship's boilers had surfaced when the aircraft was pushed to perform at speeds over 26-27 knots per hour. The INS Vikramaditya can do a maximum of about 28 Knots per hour. The Sevmash shipyard in Russia which is refurbishing and refitting the aircraft carrier hasn't officially informed India about the possible reason for the malfunction of the boilers.

In sea trials last year, the ship sailed for 100 hours and its flight deck - the most critical part of an aircraft carrier - is operational, senior officials told NDTV.

The MiG-29KUB two-seat naval fighter jet will be positioned on the Vikramaditya. It will be equipped with Russian-made KH-35 air to air missiles.

But because the seas in Northern Russia are frozen, the INS Vikramaditya can sail out of the port only in June this year for "delivery acceptance trials" - the penultimate stage before a ship is commissioned.

On acceptance of the ship from the builder, it will be formally commissioned with the Indian tri-colour being hoisted on top of ship after which start its journey to towards India.

The Navy intends to commission the ship in Russia and sail it back to India by October- November 2013. It is expected to join active service by December.

Interestingly, the Indian Navy will showcase the aircraft carrier on January 26 at Republic Day parade in New Delhi. The Navy tableau will include a scaled-down model of the INS Vikramaditya.

Boeing delivers first C-17 to Indian Air Force for flight tests

The first of 10 C-17 Globemaster III airlifters for the Indian Air Force (IAF) is all set to enter a US Air Force flight test programme at Edwards Base in Palmdale, California.

Boeing delivered India's first C-17 today at its facility in Long Beach, California, and is on track to deliver four more C-17s to the IAF this year and five in 2014, the company said in a media release.

"The C-17 met the stipulated airlift requirements of the Indian Air Force when it flew field evaluation trials in India during June 2010," said Air Commodore Sanjay Nimesh, Air Attache at the Embassy of India.

"It was exciting to see the C-17 fly again, this time with Indian Air Force markings, as the airlifter completed its first-flight milestone on January 11. We look forward to the day that the first IAF C-17 flies over India."

"The C-17's ability to operate in extremely hot and cold climates; transport large payloads across vast ranges; and land on short, austere runways makes it ideal for India's airlift needs," said Nan Bouchard, Boeing vice president and C-17 programme manager.

"We value our continued partnership with India and the US government and will provide dedicated support as India's first C-17 enters flight testing."

India signed an agreement with the US government on June 15, 2011 to acquire 10 C-17 airlifters, making India the largest C-17 customer outside the US.

Boeing will support the IAF C-17 fleet through the Globemaster III Integrated Sustainment Programme (GISP) Performance-Based Logistics contract, the company said.

The GISP "virtual fleet" arrangement ensures mission readiness by providing all C-17 customers access to an extensive support network for worldwide parts availability and economies of scale, it said.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Barack Obama's big plans for India: What to expect

As US President Barack Obama heads into his legacy-shaping second term in office, assumptions, expectations and suggestions abound about what his administration could mean for India with which he professes to have enduring ties.

Given the bipartisan support and evolving "strategic partnership" between the two democracies, India barely figured during the election campaign. Outsourcing and visas were mentioned but as a glancing reference as part of the poll rhetoric.

Mr Obama has said India figures "big" in his plans, but it is not clear how and in what way he would direct US policy towards India in the next four years. A host of experts and US-based think tanks have suggested a "to-do" list as he prepares to announce his policy priorities in the inauguration address on Monday and the State of the Union address next month.

Some observers believe "pragmatic" Obama's second term would not differ radically from the first and US-India relations would be deepened with some new initiatives.

Others say factors like the discovery of shale oil and gas providing the US with a strategic boost will influence its global relations and there could be a redefining of the notions of engagement. Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already spoken about the new means of diplomacy, what she called "smart power" that includes trade, technology and private investment, to advance US interests.

And change has been a recurring motif with Mr Obama as evidenced in the slogans of "the change we believe in" in 2008 and "forward" in 2012. It is believed that the president would be thinking of his legacy as previous re-elected presidents had pursued international initiatives. It is therefore natural to expect some new issues and priorities that will shape US relations with the world and India.

One such issue is global trade. The year 2013 is going to be quite an important year since 2001, when the Doha Round was launched and China joined the World Trade Organisation. By the end of this year, new WTO negotiations would begin on liberalising trade in services such as consulting, banking and insurance, and on expanding the 1996 Information Technology Agreement that eliminated tariffs on trade in devices like memory chips. These talks are likely to produce the biggest negotiated liberalisation of trade since the Uruguay Round of early 1990s.

At the same time, negotiations could be completed on the first trans-Pacific free trade agreement and started on a trans-Atlantic deal between the US and the EU.

India had a glimpse of US trade agenda earlier this month when Mike Froman, an Obama administration adviser and possibly the new US Trade Representative (USTR), said the world has "turned the page" on Doha and indicated that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would be pushed as an alternative.

According to Mr Froman, major emerging countries like India and Brazil want to maintain their developing country status and do not want to open their markets. Mr Froman has also charged India with blocking a trade facilitation agreement on infrastructure at ports and custom stations.

The US and other developed countries have also begun pushing for "early harvest" agreements - the plurilateral or select group agreements on goods and services - ahead of the next WTO ministerial meet at Bali in December as the Doha Round is stalled.

The Obama administration has also signalled it would be push forward the New Silk Road concept mooted by Clinton -- an international infrastructure network that would remove barriers to flow of goods and people among countries of South Asia.

Robert D. Hormats, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment, has spoken of an Indo-Pacific Corridor that would reach out to Southeast Asia, making the region a hub of global trade.

There is a strategic angle to this. Following the pullout from Iraq, and planned drawdown of troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and China's growing assertiveness in East and South China Sea, Mr Obama has been reorienting US policy towards Asia-Pacific.

Some believe the US interest in making India an anchor country for regional economic cooperation is aimed at gaining New Delhi's support for facilitating its exit from Afghanistan. Hormat has indicated that success of Afghanistan would depend on the level of regional cooperation.

The US has made a "bet" on India and would perhaps shape the context in which India would take its decisions. In Mr Obama's first term, joint initiatives in areas like energy and healthcare were launched. In the second, both countries could collaborate on maritime and cyber security.

However, it is felt that the Obama administration has failed to develop a sustained policy helping India achieve its economic and security goals. Obama has belied Indian hopes of US pushing reforms at the IMF and World Bank that would give its voice greater weightage on international fora. And a renewed move for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) would only create more strain.

FIPB clears IKEA's Rs. 10,500-crore investment proposal in full

Swedish furniture major IKEA's Rs. 10,500-crore investment plan to set up a 100 per cent subsidiary in India has been cleared by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB).

This includes nod to the company's proposal for having cafeterias at its retail outlets.

This would be the largest investment in the single-brand retailing ever since the government allowed foreign investment in this sector. In January, the government has notified 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in single-brand retail, paving the way for global chains like Adidas, Louis Vuitton and Gucci to have full ownership of their India operations.

IKEA's proposal now needs approval from the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA).

“We consider this as a very positive development. We are now awaiting for approval from the Cabinet and subsequently a notification so that we can initiate the process of establishing IKEA stores in the country,” said Juvencio Maeztu, country manager of IKEA Retail India.

"The FIPB's decision is a positive development. The government is committed to play a constructive role in encouraging FDI, specifically in areas that create jobs and provide technological advancement," Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said.

"Globally, IKEA has a business model which integrates in its embrace SMEs and domestic industry, thus making them the part of global value chain," Mr Sharma added.

The world's largest home furnishing player operates 336 stores in 44 countries; it sources textile, carpets and metal products from India.

The company would be investing about Rs. 4,200 crore to open 10 stores in the country in the first stage. The remaining Rs. 6,300 crore would be used to open 15 more stores.

Earlier, FIPB had approved IKEA's Rs. 4,200 crore out of a total of Rs. 10,500 crore-investment proposal to open single-brand retail stores in India with only some categories of products allowed to be sold from a total of 33 that the company had applied for.

Following this part approval, the company had made a representation to the industry department, which forwarded the request to FIPB seeking review.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Apple earnings need to overcome technical malaise; shares gained 31 per cent in 2012

To those who study technical stock charts, Apple Inc looks broken.

Even though it is widely viewed to be undervalued after hitting an 11-month low this week and nine out of 10 brokerages recommend that investors buy or hold the stock, Apple shareholders could still be in for more rough times if technical strategists are right.

They note that trading charts show few price points where investors can expect clusters of buying to support Apple's shares. For example, the stock's medium-term momentum, based on its 50-day rate of acceleration, has been on a downward slope since March, but has not hit over-sold levels.

Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist at Schaeffer's Investment Research, said it is hard to find an entry point at current levels, calling the stock "broken."

"There's been a lot of technical damage, but at the same time it still looks like it's in a downtrend," Detrick said. "This could still be a name you want to avoid and could very well still underperform in our opinion."

Apple has a chance to turn things around when it reports results for the December quarter on January 23. Investors are unusually nervous because of reports that Apple might be curtailing purchases of screens for its iPhone and iPad, which together account for over 70 percent of revenue.

If Apple can substantially beat Wall Street's subdued expectations, that would go a long way towards restoring confidence in the near term. It is not enough for Apple to just meet targets - that could cause shares to fall further in the short term, some analysts say. Apple has only missed analysts' profit forecasts four times in the last 10 years, two of those in the most recent reporting periods.

"If you have a 10 percent to 15 percent beat on estimates, it will be enough to have people say, 'Oh my gosh, Apple has its game back,'" said Chris Bertelsen, chief investment officer of Global Financial Private Capital, a Sarasota-based wealth manager with $1.7 billion assets under management.

The fund had cut back its holdings in Apple to less than 1 percent of its portfolio from about 5 to 6 percent last fall, but Bertelsen said it is now adding again. He likes Apple's longer-term prospects as the global smartphone market grows, particularly in developing countries such as India and Brazil.

Analysts on average estimate Apple's fiscal first-quarter earnings per share at $13.41, down slightly from $13.87 in the year-earlier quarter. Revenue is seen up 18 percent at $54.7 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The December quarter is typically the strongest one of the year for consumer electronics sales and Apple had a new product, the iPad mini, in its holiday season line-up.

Wall Street estimates Apple sold between 47.5 million and 53 million iPhones, up considerably from the 26.9 million sold in the previous quarter, when the iPhone 5 had not made it to all markets. IPad sales are expected at 23 million to 25 million.


Apple shares have fallen nearly 30 percent after hitting a record high in September, in part on worries that its mobile devices are no longer as popular as they were. As competition intensifies from Samsung Electronics and others using Google's Android software, investors are wondering if Apple's days of hyper growth are over.

There are still plenty of Apple bulls on Wall Street. Forty-eight out of 58 equity analysts who cover the stock rate it a "buy" or "strong buy" and another seven say it is a "hold," according to Thomson Reuters data. Only three recommend that investors sell the stock.

The median price target is $745, which is roughly 50 percent above Apple's Friday close of $500.

The company is expected to continue to post double-digit revenue growth into at least 2015 and a StarMine analysis of its expected growth over the next decade puts the stock's intrinsic value at about $708 a share.

"We still expect iPhone growth. They are still pointing to a strong December quarter and, if you think there's any momentum left, that they can grow on the high end (of the smart phone market) or find growth in other sectors, this is a buying opportunity," said Morningstar analyst Brian Colello, who has a fair value call on Apple at $770.

Investors also expect Apple to follow through on a promised $10 billion stock buy-back program.

"If the company is not buying back at this level, I think it's absurd and suggests that something is seriously wrong with the company," said Mark Mulholland, manager of the Matthew 25 fund, which has about 17 percent of its holdings in Apple.

Last year, the fund posted a considerable 29 percent gain, although it lost 2.8 percent in the last quarter as Apple slumped. (Apple shares gained 31 percent over 2012)

Mulholland values Apple at more than $1,000 per share, based on its growth prospects and cash level. Apple had cash and securities of $121.25 billion at the end of September, or about $129 per share.

Still, he agrees with technical analysts who say there is little momentum behind the stock. Some point to support near $425 per share, which means there is room for the stock to fall another 15 percent from current levels.

"Three things influence a stock price: growth, value and momentum. The growth and value are there, but you've completely lost your momentum," said Mulholland.

Apple shares are trading at 15.4 times projected 12-month earnings, a level that analysts say is unusually inexpensive for a company with its growth profile.

Samsung trades at a forward P/E of 7.6, while Nokia trades at 92.3 times.

Sandy Villere, portfolio manager of the $356 million Villere Balanced Fund, said the fund has been scooping up more shares as the price fell, but notes it is more fashionable to be down on the iPhone, iPad and Mac computer maker these days.

"It's becoming almost a contrarian thing to want to buy Apple shares," Villere added. It's "a great buying opportunity."

Bill Gates: I have no use for money

 William Henry 'Bill' Gates with an estimated wealth of $65 billion is as rich as two Kenyas, three Trinidads and a dozen Montenegros but is now engaged in the process of ridding himself of all the money in the hope of extending the lives of others less fortunate than himself.

Having already given away $28 billion, the 57-year-old Microsoft co-founder now intends to eradicate polio, the Telegraph reported.

"I'm certainly well taken care of in terms of food and clothes," Gates said.

"Money has no utility to me beyond a certain point. Its utility is entirely in building an organisation and getting the resources out to the poorest in the world."

Gates owns a lakeside estate in Washington state worth about $150 million. The house has a swimming pool equipped with an underwater music system.

But even at the age of 57, Gates is a restless man and wants something more.

Gates and his wife Melinda have so far given away $28 billion via their charitable foundation, more than $8 billion of it to improve global health.

"We're focused on the help of the poorest in the world, which really drives you into vaccination. You can actually take a disease and get rid of it altogether, like we are doing with polio," Gates told the daily.

"Polio's pretty special because once you get an eradication you no longer have to spend money on it. It's just there as a gift for the rest of time."

The disease is still endemic in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

There is, however, one obstacle. Islamist groups believe polio vaccination was a front for covert sterilisation and other western evils.

"It's not going to stop us succeeding. It does force us to sit down with the Pakistan government to renew their commitments, see what they're going to do in security and make changes to protect the women who are doing God's work and getting out to these children and delivering the vaccine," Gates said.

In 1990, some 12 million children under the age of five died. The figure today is about seven million, or 19,000 per day.

According to the UN, the leading causes of death are pneumonia (18 percent), pre-birth complications (14 percent), diarrhoea (11 percent), complications during birth (nine percent) and malaria (seven percent).

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will spend $1.8 billion in the next six years to tackle polio.

"All you need is over 90 percent of children to have the vaccine drop three times and the disease stops spreading. The number of cases eventually goes to zero."

"When we started, we had over 400,000 children a year being paralysed and we are now down to under 1,000 cases a year. The great thing about finishing polio is that we'll have resources to get going on malaria and measles," Gates said.

In China, discontent among the normally faithful

Barely two months into their jobs, the Communist Party's new leaders are being confronted by the challenges posed by a constituency that has generally been one of the party's most ardent supporters: the middle-class and well-off Chinese who have benefited from a three-decade economic boom.

A widening discontent was evident this month in the anti-censorship street protests in the southern city of Guangzhou and in the online outrage that exploded over an extraordinary surge in air pollution in the north. Anger has also reached a boil over fears concerning hazardous tap water and over a factory spill of 39 tons of a toxic chemical in Shanxi Province that has led to panic in nearby cities.

For years, many China observers have asserted that the party's authoritarian system endures because ordinary Chinese buy into a grand bargain: the party guarantees economic growth, and in exchange the people do not question the way the party rules. Now, many whose lives improved under the boom are reneging on their end of the deal, and in ways more vocal than ever before. Their ranks include billionaires and students, movie stars and homemakers.

Few are advocating an overthrow of the party. Many just want the system to provide a more secure life. But in doing so, they are demanding something that challenges the very nature of the party-controlled state: transparency.

More and more Chinese say they distrust the Wizard-of-Oz-style of control the Communist Party has exercised since it seized power in 1949, and they are asking their leaders to disseminate enough information so they can judge whether officials, who are widely believed to be corrupt, are doing their jobs properly. Without open information and discussion, they say, citizens cannot tell whether officials are delivering on basic needs.

"Chinese people want freedom of speech," said Xiao Qinshan, 46, a man in a wheelchair at the Guangzhou protests.

China's new leadership under Xi Jinping, who took over as general secretary of the party in November, is already feeling the pressure of these calls. Xi has announced a campaign against corruption, and propaganda officials, in a somewhat surprising move, allowed the state news media to run in-depth reports on the air pollution last week. Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor, said he believed that the leaders had decided "to face the problems."

Some Chinese say that they and their compatriots, especially younger ones, are starting to realize that a secure life is dependent on the defense of certain principles, perhaps most crucially freedom of expression, and not just on the government meeting material needs. If a ruling party cannot police itself, then people want outsiders, like independent journalists, to do so.

Proof of that can be seen in the wild popularity of microblogs in which ordinary citizens frustrated by corruption post photographs of officials who wear expensive wristwatches. It was evident, too, when hundreds of ordinary people rallied in Guangzhou to defend Southern Weekend, a newspaper known for investigative reporting, against censorship.

"What's interesting is that these protests were not over a practical issue but over a conceptual issue," Hung Huang, a news media and fashion entrepreneur, said in a telephone interview. "People are beginning to understand these values are important to a better life, and beginning to understand that unless we all accept the same universal values, things will never really get better."

Hung also said, though, that most Chinese were "very practical," and that calls to action here were "very, very far away" from the kind of revolutionary fervor that had gripped the Arab world.

The Guangzhou rallies were fueled by an outpouring of support on the Internet for Southern Weekend, where journalists were protesting recent censorship rules. Celebrity gadflies with big followings among China's 564 million Internet users urged the journalists onward. They included Yao Chen, a young actress who quoted Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in an online post, and Hung, who changed the logo on her microblog to that of Southern
Weekend, also known as Southern Weekly. They ran risks by voicing their support; security officers reportedly interrogated some of the outspoken celebrities.

On the air pollution issue, prominent commentators have also taken to the virtual ramparts.

Among those leading the calls for change is Pan Shiyi, a real estate tycoon. Pan's demands that the government publicly release data on levels of PM 2.5, a potentially deadly particulate matter, contributed to an official decision that 74 cities would start reporting that information this year.

These elites are not just speaking to one another; they are also giving voice to widespread concerns among the middle class. Last Monday, in the middle of the record air pollution spike, there were 6.9 million mentions on a popular microblog platform of the term "Beijing air," 6.7 million of "air quality" and 4.8 million of "PM 2.5."

"It's like never before, this consensus," said Li Bo, director of Friends of Nature, an environmental advocacy group. "It took us so long to reach this consensus that China's problems with the environment are rather serious."

Such popular outcries can send ripples through the party's upper ranks. Last Monday, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao criticized the Ministry of Environmental Protection and its cautious minister, Zhou Shengxian, in an internal discussion, according to an official with ties to the ministry. "This was a gesture that Wen had to make," he said.

A day later, Li Keqiang, the incoming prime minister, who oversaw environmental policy during the past five years, somewhat defensively announced that solving environmental problems would require a long process.

The environmental official also said the pollution in northern China had deteriorated to the point that senior party officials had been forced to loosen the reins on reporting of the problem in the state news media and on news websites. "Everyone is dissatisfied with the air pollution, even the Central Propaganda Department," he said. "They have to breathe this bad air, too, after all."

As frustration over the air quality grew, Internet users also waged an online campaign to demand official transparency on tap water. The spark came from a Southern Weekend article posted early this month about two married veteran researchers for government water safety bureaus in Beijing. The couple said that because of all the behind-the-scenes data to which they were privy, they had not let a single drop of tap water touch their lips in 20 years.

That unleashed a torrent of questions online about the government's ability to ensure clean tap water, and it even prompted Global Times, a newspaper that often defends the party, to run a lengthy article Tuesday with the headline "Watered-Down Truth."

Last Monday, The Economic Observer, a respected newspaper, ran a strongly worded editorial that said the recent environmental debacles underscored the need for officials to provide more information.

"Our hope is that the government treats this as a turning point and presses ahead with an overarching reform aimed at promoting transparency, effectively guaranteeing the public's right to know," it said. "By doing this, they can help to restore the public's trust in government."
Any official commitment to transparency, though, could be fragile. After Hu Jintao and Wen took charge of the state in 2003, they opened up reporting on the SARS virus, which raised expectations for a more liberal administration. But the leaders dashed those hopes by enacting conservative policies.

Propaganda officials could simply now be allowing the state news media to report on the air pollution and other sources of discontent among the middle class to shape public opinion and prevent anger from swelling. Those same officials took a hard line on the Southern Weekend conflict by ordering newspapers to run a harsh editorial denouncing the protesting journalists.
Other officials, including those in the security apparatus, are sticking to their own methods for containing outbursts. The anticensorship rallies in Guangzhou lasted only three days before the police began hauling off protesters. By the fourth day, Xiao, the man in the wheelchair, was nowhere to be seen.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Five reasons why India will turn into tiger in 2013

Global brokerage Macquarie says Indian 'elephant' will turn 'tiger' in 2013 on the back of a rebound in the economy and pick up in corporate earnings. The BSE Sensex will scale the all-time high to 22,200 while the broader Nifty may climb to 6,900 levels in the calendar year.

Here are five reasons for Macquarie's optimism:

Reforms 3.0 to drive growth: Reforms being initiated now are going to push India back to 8 per cent plus annual growth over the next three year period. A bottom has been made and a slow recovery is underway. FY14 GDP may rise to 6.7 per cent from 5.6 per cent in FY13.

Pre-election budget may not by populist: The introduction "cash transfers" in lieu of in-kind subsidies is a step in the right direction. The government is also looking to rationalise the number of centrally sponsored schemes from current 147 to just 59, to make them more impactful while reducing the quantum of subsidies by better targeting.

Investment cycle set to pick up: Completion of existing projects has picked up and a pick-up in new orders is expected over the next few quarters. Asset turnover of BSE 100 companies has risen to all-time high, and companies are getting constrained on capacity. New orders have already started from cement, fertilisers, mining, etc.

Earnings upgrades to boost optimism: Earnings growth in FY14 may surprise on the upside at 16-17 per cent against consensus estimates of 13-14 per cent. The street is still not factoring in improvement in EBITDA margins with falling core inflation and neither the reduction in interest costs is getting built in.

Valuations re-rating will continue: The market at 13.6-times price earnings is below 10-year average. Cyclical sectors are even cheaper and are at 10-year low as compared to defensives. The undervaluation is even starker when one looks at price by book ratio.

Macquarie has replaced Dr Reddy's and HDFC Bank with Axis Bank, SBI and DLF to its top 10 ideas. It has increased overweight in financials by 400 basis points and reduced its weight on materials, IT and Consumer Staples.

India could buy up to 189 French Rafale fighter jets: sources

India could buy up to 189 of the Rafale fighter jets currently being used by France to bomb Islamist militants in Mali, sources close to negotiations on the multi-billion dollar deal have told AFP.

The possibility of an additional 63 jets being added to an expected order for 126 was raised by India when Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid visited Paris last week, they said.

"There is an option for procurement of an additional 63 aircrafts subsequently for which a separate contract would need to be signed," a source said.

"Presently the contract under negotiation is for 126 aircraft but we are talking about the follow-up."

The Indian press has estimated the value of the deal for 126 Rafales at $12 billion (nine billion euros).

A 50 per cent increase in the number of planes ordered would take it to around $18 billion, in a huge boost for the French defence industry.

India selected French manufacturer Dassault Aviation as its preferred candidate to equip its air force with new fighter jets in January 2012.

Under the deal on the table, the first 18 Rafales would be built in France but the next 108 would be assembled in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

"The first aircraft will be delivered three years after signature of the contract," the source added.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Facebook unveils Graph Search, a new way to find photos, connections and more

Facebook Inc CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled on Tuesday a feature to help its billion-plus users search for people and places within the social network, in the company's first major product launch event since its May initial public offering.

Speaking to reporters at its Menlo Park, California headquarters, Zuckerberg described what he called "graph search," which allows users to sort through content that has been shared with them.

Critics have long deemed the social network's current search capabilities inadequate.

Available as a "beta" or early version now, the new feature - dubbed "graph search" because Facebook refers to its growing content, data and membership as the "social graph" - will initially let users sort through mainly photographs, people, places and members' interests, he added.

"You need to be able to ask the query, like, who are my friends in San Francisco," Zuckerberg said.

The world's largest online social network, Facebook is moving to regain Wall Street's confidence in the wake of a rocky IPO and concerns about its long-term money-making prospects.

Speculation had approached fever pitch over the past week about what Facebook planned to reveal in its highest-profile news briefing since its market debut. Guesses had ranged from a long-rumored smartphone to a full Web-search product.

That anticipation, as well as expectations of strong fourth-quarter financial results, have helped drive up Facebook's stock. Its shares are up more than 15 percent since the start of the year.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Airbus unveils contract for Indian air refuelling tankers

Russia's hope of bagging the Rs. 9,000-crore contract to supply mid-air refueller's to India is over. They were pipped by the European aviation giant, Airbus.

Despite the setbacks, however, Russia remains the biggest supplier of arms to India. Russia and India are soon likely to sign a contract for joint production of the fifth-generation, stealth, fighter aircraft deal at an estimated cost of over 30 Billion USD.

This is the second time that Airbus A-330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (A-330 MRTT) has emerged as the first choice of the Indian Air Force (IAF). The IAF has a fleet of six Russian-made Illyusin-78 (IL-78) refuellers and wants to acquire another six mid-air refuellers.

In 2010, after the entire process of selection was completed by the IAF, the Union Finance Ministry scrapped the purchase. The Finance Ministry had expressed apprehension with the selection process and the pricing of the Airbus A-330 MRTT. 

The acquisition of the A-330 mid- air refuellers now underlines the need to streamline the defence procurement process. For, while IAF will be buying the same aircraft which it had shortlisted in 2009, Indian tax-payers will have to pay more because of cost escalations that have occurred in the past four years. 

The European Aeronautics Defence and Space Company (EADS) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) will soon start "the final commercial negotiations," sources in the Defence ministry said. It is understood that the contract will be finalised only in the next financial year (2013-2014). The budgets cuts forced on the Defence Ministry, however, means that the government will have to do a tightrope walk in finding the money for the mid-air refuellers. The MoD has been forced to forgo as much as Rs. 10,000 crore that was allocated for capital expenditure early this year. 

IAF has been operating mid-air refuellers for about a decade now. The mid-air refuellers act as "force-multipliers", allowing fighter planes to stay in the sky for longer durations and reach targets much deeper into enemy territory. 

The twin-engine A-330 tipped the four-engine IL-78 because of running and maintenance costs. A-330 emerged the cheaper option when the lifecycle costs of both machines were considered, MoD sources said. The A-330 is the modified version of the Airbus A-330 and works as a transport aircraft as well as a mid-air refueller. It can carry about 110 tonnes of fuel. Alternatively, it can also carry as much as 45 tonnes of cargo. A-330 is capable of refuelling several fighter planes at the same time.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Spectrum auction: Ministerial panel to meet today

An Empowered Group of Ministers on telecom is likely to meet again on Monday to deliberate upon several issues regarding spectrum auction. 

The EGoM, in its meeting on January 3, had discussed the auction plan prepared by the Department of Telecom (DoT) after the Cabinet approved the sale of unsold GSM spectrum in 1800 Mhz band and in the premium 900 Mhz spectrum band.

"The EGoM deliberated on several issues for about two hours, then decided to meet again on January 7 to further deliberate on the issues," Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal told reporters here.

"EGoM deliberated on 1800/900 MHz spectrum but it could not discuss CDMA (800 MHz). Auction does not seem possible by January 18 but will take place during this fiscal," a top source said.

The telecom companies, whose licences have been cancelled by the Supreme Court order are allowed to offer their services till January 18.

The government is learnt to be preparing fresh plans to auction the radiowaves that can fetch around Rs. 39,895 crore.

As per the proposal, the government could get around Rs. 25,316 crore from the auction in the premium 900 Mhz band, and Rs. 14,579 crore from auction of unsold spectrum in the 1800 Mhz band.

DoT may sell more spectrum in Delhi, Mumbai, Karnataka and Rajasthan in the 1800 Mhz band, compared to the quantum it had earlier put up for auction that ended on November 14.

The government in the previous auction had put up only 10 Mhz for auction, divided in 8 blocks of 1.25 Mhz each, for Rs. 693.06 crore in Delhi and Rs. 678.45 crore in Mumbai, which attracted no bidders.

For the premium 900 Mhz band, which provides double coverage of the signals compared to signals in 1800 Mhz band, the government is learnt to have fixed minimum price of Rs. 970.30 crore per block for Delhi, Rs. 949.84 crore per block for Mumbai and Rs. 227.44 crore per block for Kolkata circle.

The government may auction 15 Mhz of spectrum in 900 Mhz band in Delhi and Mumbai circle and 12.5 Mhz airwaves in Kolkata. 

2013 expected to be the 'Year of the Phablet'

Call it phablet, phonelet, tweener or super smartphone, but the clunky mobile phone closer in size to a tablet than the smartphone of a couple of years back - is here to stay.
A surprise hit of 2012, it is drawing in more users, more handset makers and is shaping the way we consume content.
"We expect 2013 to be the Year of the Phablet," said Neil Mawston, UK-based executive director of Strategy Analytics' global wireless practice.
While Samsung Electronics Co Ltd has blazed a trail with its once-mocked Galaxy Note devices, now other manufacturers are scurrying to catch up.
At this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Chinese telecommunications giants ZTE Corp and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd will launch their own.
ZTE, which collaborated with Italy's designer Stefano Giovannoni for the Nubia phablet, is scheduled to launch its 5-inch Grand S, while Huawei brings out the Ascend Mate, sporting a whopping 6.1-inch screen, making it only slightly smaller than Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet.
"Users have realised that a nearly 5-inch screen smartphone isn't such a cumbersome device," said Joshua Flood, senior analyst at ABI Research in Britain.
Driving the phablet's shift to the mainstream is a confluence of trends. Users prefer larger screens because they are consuming more visual content on mobile devices than before, and using them less for voice calls the phablet's weak spot.
And as WiFi-only tablets become more popular, so has interest among commuters in devices that combine the best of both, while on the move.
According to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, the monthly data traffic for every smartphone will rise fourfold between now and 2018 to 1,900 megabytes.
The upshot is a market for phablets that will quadruple in value to $135 billion in three years, according to Barclays. Shipments of gadgets that are 5 inches or bigger in screen size will surge by nearly nine-fold to 228 million during the same period, though estimates vary because no one can agree on where smartphones stop and phablets start.
But that's the point, some say.
"I think phone size was a preconceived notion based on voice usage," said John Berns, a Singapore-based executive who works in the information technology industry. He recently upgraded his Note for the newer Note 2 and bought another for his girlfriend for Christmas. "Smaller was better until phones got smart, became visual."
The Asia-Pacific is, and will remain, the world's biggest market for phablets, says ABI's Flood. Last year, the region absorbed 42 percent of global shipments, a proportion that will expand steadily over the next few years to account for over 50 percent of shipments by 2017, according to ABI figures.
"Countries like Japan and South Korea will be major markets for phablets," Flood said, adding that China, India and Malaysia would see increasing demand for larger screen devices as they roll out 4G networks extensively.
Samsung has been both the engine and beneficiary. While other players shipped devices with larger screens earlier - Dell Inc launched its Streak in 2010 - it was only when the Korean behemoth launched the Galaxy Note in late 2011, with its 5.3-inch screen, that users took an interest.
"The Streak was launched at a time when 3-inch smartphones were standard and the leap to a 5-inch Streak was a jump too far for consumers," says Strategy Analytics' Mawston.
"The Galaxy Note was launched when 4-inch smartphones had become commonplace, and the leap to 5-inch was no longer such a chasm."
The bigger, the better
Since then Samsung has bet big on bigger: its updated Note has a 5.5-inch screen and its flagship Galaxy S3 the best-selling smartphone in the third quarter of 2012 has a screen that puts it in the phablet category for some analysts.
Samsung accounted for around three quarters of all phablets shipped last year, according to Barclays' Taipei-based analyst Dale Gai.
Samsung's marketing heft has paved the way for others. LG Electronics Inc accounted for 14 percent of shipments in the third quarter of last year, according to Strategy Analytics.
HTC Corp's 5-inch Butterfly - called the Droid DNA in the United States - has been selling well in places where Samsung is less dominant, according to Taipei-based Yuanta Securities analyst Dennis Chan. The first batch sold out soon after its December launch in Taiwan.
"I don't think we can say that Samsung invented phablets," said Lv Qianhao, head of handset strategy at ZTE. "But it did do a lot to promote this product category, which helped create tremendous demand."
Phablets are also proving popular in emerging markets.
A poll of nearly 5,000 readers of Yahoo's Indonesian website chose Samsung's Galaxy Note 2 as their favourite mobile phone of 2012, ahead of the iPhone 5.
Kristian Tjahjono, a technology journalist who posted the poll, said phablets were a natural fit for Indonesians who liked tablets but also liked making phone calls.
But while those in such markets who can afford them are going for the high-end devices, the door is opening for cheaper models. Tjahjono pointed to Lenovo's 5-inch S880, which has a lower resolution screen and sells for about $250, which is around a third of the price of Galaxy Note 2.
Sweet spot
Falling component prices will add to demand. The total cost of an upper-end phablet, its bill of materials, will likely fall to 2,000 yuan this year, says Gai from Barclays, and will halve within two years.
"One thousand yuan is a very sweet spot for China," he said.
India is also a fan.
Vivek Deshpande, who manages global strategy for Shenzhen-based mobile phone maker Zopo, says that while the Indian and Chinese markets are different, they both share a common appetite for aspirational devices: phones big enough for their owners to show off. This is changing the direction of lower end players.
"Zopo's primary focus is now on phablets," said Deshpande.
Even Samsung is pushing its own creation downmarket: In Las Vegas it will unveil the Galaxy Grand, a 5-inch device that lacks some of the resolution and muscle of its bigger brethren but will be aimed at markets like India. There is a version offering a dual SIM slot, a popular feature for those wanting to arbitrage cheaper call and data plans.
As phablets slide into the mainstream, handset makers are trying to find ways of differentiating.
As well as hiring Italian designer Giovannoni better known for his minimalist, sleek bathrooms, ZTE also came up with an onscreen keypad that inclines to one side of the screen, depending on whether the user is left- or right-handed.
Samsung, however, not only has first mover advantage, it can also build on its expertise in display.
Barclay's Gai says Samsung is expected to introduce a thinner, unbreakable AMOLED screen which will leave room for bigger batteries.
"That will put Samsung in good stead to still dominate the market," he said. Despite pressure in China, Gai estimates Samsung's share of smartphones with 5-inch or larger screens to fall only from 73 percent in 2012 to 58 percent in 2016, which is still the lion's share.
By then consumers will see the phablet for what it is, says Horace Dediu, a Finnish analyst who runs a technology blog asymco.com. Its rise is part of a wider march of computing power into wherever we reside - the living room, the train, bed or work.
"It makes sense that we're moving towards a time where we are served not by a computer or a netbook or a phone, but rather that we have these screens scattered around and available for us to play with," he said. "In a way the phablet is not a bulky phone but a very delicate computer."

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Here’s to a sunny future

Two retired engineers have come up with proposals that could solve our power situation. Tap the sun and get shade on the road in the bargain, they say
Visualise this:
Scenario 1: You are driving to the shopping mall on a hot February afternoon and the car is cool even without a/c. There is shade throughout the drive. Suddenly summer showers arrive. But there is no rain falling on the windshield, because 30 ft above the road, there are solar panels, fitted over the length and breadth of the road, quietly producing electricity with Nature’s superstar, the Sun, for the streetlights to burn and much else.
Scenario 2: You are sitting in an armchair under a tree in the countryside and enjoying birdsong, on the lawns in your house. You ignore the noise of the traffic, as it seems quite far away. There is a muffled chug-chug-chug and a feeble screeching sound of brakes above. For just above your property, that is 30 ft above your rubber plantation, is the railway line. And above that is the thoroughfare, where cars, buses and trucks ply. All under the shade of the solar panels above, with nothing between the panels and the sun. The trees and buildings are all below. Giant pillars on either side of the road support the whole structure.
Daring dream
These two scenarios, a two-tier or a three-tier system combining transport and electricity producing solar panels are what M. A. Chacko and George Jacob dream about.
They dare to dream big, though they are no strapping young men out to make a fortune for themselves. Neither do they think they are in Utopia. But the 75-year-old Chacko and 72-year-old George Jacob have the credentials to dream this big.
Chacko is a retired chief engineer who was in the Kerala PWD and did pioneering work in the roads sector, and George, a chemical engineer who was the General Manager of Kochi Refineries and CEO of Cochin Refinery-Balmer Lawrie Ltd. He was also one of the 400-odd experts (as adviser) involved in the start-up work of the Reliance Jamnagar Petroleum Refinery.
Think tank
So these ‘think-tank’ friends put their heads together and came out with this proposal to kill two birds with one stone. One, harvest solar power, two, make travel easier and more comfortable. “There is one more advantage in our second plan, in the three-tier system, which will be feasible only for new projects. It will make it easier to obtain land because landowners are not displaced. Acquiring land for such projects is the biggest handicap, usually. But in this system, since land owners can utilise much of the land, there won’t be a problem. Moreover, the land value also increases, along with this development. New projects like the Angamaly-Sabarimala railway line and the Thiruvananthapuram-Mangalore expressway can be constructed in this way,” says George. The solar panel roof-like structures for existing roads can be built along any wide road, like the widened Angamaly-Walayar NH-47,” says George. The solar power that goes into the grid placed at intervals can be used for homes, industries or whatever use, just like hydroelectric power or any other power.
Regarding the cost factor, Chacko argues, “Solar power can definitely be made safer and cheaper than nuclear power. With improved and cheaper panels coming into the market, it will be cheaper than power from coal or water. The environmental benefits of such a project are manifold. Our country cannot afford to go on in this manner, with cars and buses overcrowding the roads and electricity depending on availability of rain.”
As to doubts about such a gigantic structure being feasible, George clarifies: “Steel and concrete in the hands of structural engineers who can design anything are perfectly safe and solar panels will bring in money. It will definitely be cost effective.” The duo has presented this proposal at a few conferences and got people interested in it.
The opportunity to harness solar power, available to all, is greatly underutilised in our country. The sunny disposition of Gujarat in this aspect is enviable. Asia’s biggest solar park just opened at Patan district in Gujarat. Together with its other solar projects, it contributes two thirds of the entire solar energy the country produces. George’s stint at Jamnagar Refinery in Gujarat opened his eyes to the advantages of solar energy and the vast potential it holds.
“With the subsidies available from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, we can easily take up such projects, if the government has the vision and the will to do it,” he says.
Detractors of this dream, pause and ponder: What did people say when the Wright Brothers declared they might be able to fly like birds? Whoever thought that the metro rail would run in the middle of a road? If your great grandmother was told that in future, you would be able to see her and chat with her, sitting seven seas away, would she have believed you?
Maybe soon, flyovers would be passé and the buses and trains would not be this crowded and we would be viewing the scene 50 ft below with aplomb.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Dalai Lama holds special prayer at Nitish Kumar's residence

 Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Friday held a special prayer at Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's official residence in Patna for world peace and praised the state government for taking interest in Buddhism.

Accompanied by a large number of monks, the Nobel laureate held an half-an-hour special prayer at One Anne Marg residence of Chief Minister for world peace.

The prayer was held near the sapling of Bodhi tree at the CM's residence which was planted there on November 18, 2011. The sapling has been a branch of original Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya where Lord Buddha had attained enlightenment.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, Water Resources Minister Vijay Chaudhary, his counterpart in Art and Culture department Sukhda Pandey, state JD(U) President Vashist Narayan Singh and party Rajya Sabha member R C P Singh took part in the prayer.

Talking to media persons, the Dalai Lama praised the CM and the state government for taking keen interest in promoting Buddhism. He described Nitish Kumar as "a dynamic Chief Minister" and said he has come to Patna on his invitation.

The Tibetan monk said Buddhism originated within India and did not come from outside.

"I am very happy to visit land of King Ashoka who spread Buddhism in the world," the Dalai Lama told reporters. He said he was aware of the history and culture of Patna which he described as an ancient town and capital (Patliputra) of Maurya empire. The Buddhist monk referred to the names of great sons of Bihar like first President of Independent India Rajendra Prasad and Loknayak Jayprakash Narayan while mentioning the glorious history of Bihar.

The Tibetan monk said the core principle of Buddhism is "karuna".

The Dalai Lama arrived in Patna on Thursday for a three-day world Buddhist meet starting on Saturday. Nearly 200 delegates from more than 15 countries are expected to participate in the meet.

New iPhone to come in multiple colours and sizes: Report

It's just the start of the year and the Apple rumour mills are churning pretty hard. Up until now we've heard that the company is testing the next iPhone and even iOS 7 along with plans to acquire social navigation app Waze that might give some 'direction' to Apple Maps.

MacRumours now reports that analysts believe the next iPhone may come in multiple colours and even different sizes. The blog mentions Brian White, Topeka Capital Markets analyst who has issued a report mentioning that Apple could offer the device in various colours. Apple has introduced the 5th generation iPod devices in a range of new colours and White is of the notion that this might spark Apple to follow the trend right up to the iPad.

Our checks indicate that the next iPhone will have more choices for customers. This entails an expansion in both the colour patterns and screen sizes with the next iPhone (i.e., likely called the iPhone 5S) that we currently believe will be launched in May/June with certain supply production starting in March/April.

Brian further thinks that the company will bring a new iPhone model with varying screen sizes that will help the benefit the company in terms of reach. He specifically mentions a smaller iPhone version that could allow Apple to target markets like China and open up opportunities in India. And of course, he believes that Apple could unveil a larger screen size compared to the recently updated 4-inch screen on the iPhone 5.

But White isn't the only analyst who believes so. His report seems to be in line with Jefferies analyst Peter Misek's research finding which states that the next iteration of the iPhone will feature a new super HD camera/screen, a better battery and NFC along with an IGZO screen for Retina+, 128GB storage, and coming in 6 to 8 colours.

MacRumours pointed out that Misek mentions many iPhone 6 prototypes doing the rounds, especially a 4.8-inch screen model that he finds interesting. According to him, the device has a Retina+ IGZO screen, a new A7 quad-core processor variant, a new design with no home button and even fully in-built gesture controls.

Misek even goes on to mention a budget iPhone offering at a $200-$250 price point on an "unsubsidised basis", but claims that the project has not yet been given the go-ahead.

But it doesn't end there, Misek's findings lead him to believe that Apple will be launching the fifth-generation iPad around June this year, with an IGZO display to counter thickness and weight. He also feels that the iPad mini is reportedly scheduled for an upgrade around the same time and may launch in multiple colours with Retina display.

Analyst reports are based on a limited number of findings and it's best not to infer too much. As far as larger screen sizes go, MacRumours notes that this may not happen soon considering the company just increased the size to 4-inch in its smartphone since its inception. And when it comes to Misek, he has had a mixed record in the past. But Apple loves to surprise us always and if any of this is true, we'd keep you updated with the details.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Google's new Asia data centres could make its services 30% faster in India

In April last year Google was planning three data centres in Asia and invested $300 million in the Hong Kong facility in 2011. Now fresh reports from The Economic Times suggest that Google's new data centres that are likely to become operational this year, are set to increase speeds of Google's services for many areas.

Work on the Singapore facility started in late 2011 followed by the Taiwan data centre in April 2012. The Hong Kong facility is apparently still underway.

In November 2012, Google offered a virtual tour into its secretive data centres through a new website for the first time. The site features photos from inside some of the eight data centers that Google Inc. already has running in the U.S., Finland and Belgium.

The company's data centers are located in: Berkeley County, S.C.; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Douglas County, Ga.; Mayes County, Okla.; Lenoir, N.C.; The Dalles, Ore.; Hamina, Finland; and St. Ghislain, Belgium.

India could end up highly benefitting form the data centres located in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Users can expect faster search results from Google and less buffer time for YouTube videos.

Lalitesh Katragadda, Country Head, India products at Google, was quoted saying to The Economic Times that Internet connectivity speed in India is not very high and so the new data centres will be "crucial to this market due to its proximity". He also added that India was not chosen owing to the country's hot weather conditions.

Raj Gopal AS, managing director at NxtGen Datacenter & Cloud Services in Bangalore, told the publication that the new servers could provide up to a 30 percent improvement in the speed of Google services in Asia.

The report goes on to mention that India is one of the largest markets for Google, with over 100 million users and a 95 percent share of India's search market, the report said, citing figures from StatCounter. It ranked India 112th globally in Internet speed, according Akamai Technologies and that countries closer to data centre locations enjoy faster Internet services.

Citing further statistics from ComScore, the report mentions that an average Indian user spends about 2.5 hours every day on Google websites, including Gmail, Google+, YouTube etc. YouTube videos account for close to 50% of all online videos watched in India.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Online shopping touched new heights in 2012, garnered $14 billion in revenue

People turned to the Internet to buy everything from diapers to books, houses and even groceries this year, pushing e-commerce revenues in the country to $14 billion with the possibility of even higher earnings in 2013.Factors like spiralling inflation and slower economic growth failed to dampen the online shopping frenzy as more and more companies opted for selling wares through the internet route, offering innumerable options and discounts to buyers.
"Increasing Internet penetration and availability of more payment options boosted the e-commerce industry in 2012.
Besides electronics, customer traction grew considerably in categories like fashion and jewellery, home and kitchen and lifestyle accessories like watches and perfumes," Snapdeal Vice President (Marketing) Sandeep Komaravelly said.
While travel still comprises a significant portion of the e-commerce market, other segments are catching up fast.
"Apparel, books and lifestyle categories (beauty, footwear and health) will drive e-commerce," HomeShop18.com Founder and CEO Sundeep Malhotra said, adding that relatively stable and growing domestic economy will also be major growth drivers. "The coming year looks promising for the industry."
According to Peppercloset.com owner Sumeet Arora, e-commerce segment has doubled to USD 14 billon this year from $6.3 billion in 2011. This figure is likely to reach 38 million by 2015.
So, what can one expect in 2013 from the thousands of e-commerce websites.
"More personalised offers, loyalty programmes and better customer care is what most e-commerce companies would focus on to offer customers a richer, more relevant online experience," an industry analyst said.
According to HomeShop18.com, an innovation that will "revolutionise" e-commerce in India is cost optimisation through warehouse and logistics management that will enable companies to do profitable business.
While players like eBay and IndiatimesShopping have been around for a while, one saw many more portals mushrooming in 2012. An important entry in the Indian market was that of one of the world's largest online retailer Amazon.com. The website launched the desi version as 'Junglee.com'.
India also got its own version of 'Cyber Monday' on December 12 this year as 'e-tailers' like Flipkart, Snapdeal, Homeshop18 and Makemytrip, partnered Google India to offer discounts for online shoppers.
Celebrated on the Monday after Thanksgiving, the term 'Cyber Monday' was first coined in 2005 as a marketing term and has grown as a phenomenon over the years in the US.

Cash transfer of government subsidies starts; targets 20 districts across country

The government's ambitious direct cash transfer of subsidies scheme is operational today. But, the first phase of the roll-out - which was meant to cover 51 districts and 34 welfare schemes - is being scaled down to cover just 20 districts and seven schemes. 

Gaps in infrastructure, like bank accounts and beneficiary lists, has forced the government to pare down the project, which it has pitched as a 'game-changer'. 

"This is a game-changer for governance... this is a game-changer in how we account for money, it is game-changer in how the benefits reach the individual," Finance Minister P Chidambaram said on Monday.

Just how will this scheme play out? For example, scholarships for higher education for low-caste students, which were previously paid to a university, would instead be transferred directly to the individual who would then pay for his or her studies.

The seven schemes that will be now employ direct cash transfers to beneficiaries are mostly related to student scholarships and stipends and the Indira Matrutva Yojna and Dhanalakshmi schemes. It is estimated that at least two lakh beneficiaries will receive cash benefits starting January 1. 

Cash benefits in the remaining 19 schemes will be available from February and March when the government will cover 23 other districts across the country. 

Advocates of  the scheme say its advantage is that the government can confirm the welfare subsidy has reached the intended claimant, without them having to pay bribes to secure their due or officials diverting the funds for other purposes. The government has, however, said that there is no intention at this stage to start handing out cash in place of subsidised food, fuel and fertiliser -- three key benefits for the poor in the country.

But critics counter that the government has been too quick in pushing forward a pet project and is bound to face enormous implementation problems because of the complex technology and public administration required.

The scheme is linked to the government's Universal Identification Number (UID) or Aadhaar scheme, which provides a unique identification number to each citizen in the country. The mammoth exercise of making UID cards for the country's population has taken three 3 years. An estimated 280 million cards have been issued so far. 

Mexico and Brazil are considered the world leaders in cash welfare schemes, using their Progresa/Oportunidades and Bolsa Familia programmes respectively to target the poor.