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Monday, November 18, 2019
Govt wants fair competition, will not encourage monopoly: Prasad to telecom CEOs

Telecom Minister who met the industry honchos also assured them of government’s full support on outstanding issues such as cut in levies and refunds.

The government on Saturday told the telecom industry that it wants fair competition in the sector and will not encourage monopoly, while asked companies to prioritise quality of service and ensure “robust involvement” in 5G as also five-trillion dollar economy blueprint.

Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad who met the industry honchos also assured them of government’s full support on outstanding issues such as cut in levies and refunds.

“I highlighted to them, the need for a robust involvement of the industry in 5G innovation, startups and creation of 5G products that can create India specific patents. I said that in the five trillion economy target, 25 per cent should be telecom’s contribution,” the minister said after meeting industry CEOs.

Prasad’s first interaction with the industry after he took charge of the telecom portfolio comes at a time when the sector is reeling under severe financial stress with cumulative debt of over ₹ 7 lakh crore. The meeting was attended by Bharti Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal, Vodafone Idea’s Balesh Sharma, Reliance Jio board member Mahendra Nahata and BSNL chairman P K Purwar.

Prasad said he has already taken up outstanding issues such as inputs tax credit and lowering of GST rate with the Finance Ministry and said that a proposal pertaining to reduction of universal service obligation (USO) levy is also under the telecom department’s consideration.

“I have asked companies to look at improving the quality of service. Also 43,000 villages are uncovered at present. I have told the industry to pool in their resources so that in one year, we can reach all the uncovered villages and they have agreed. The Department of Telecom (DoT) will provide all assistance,” Prasad said.

The minister also asked the companies to look at improving connectivity and digital ecosystem in religious sites like Kedarnath and Badrinath. The minister assured the industry of its support on the issue of installation of telecom towers. The industry flagged the issue of lapsed bank guarantees which they want returned and the ministry has asked the DoT to urgently look into the matter. “I have assured them three things...We want a fair competition. The government will not encourage any monopoly and will do its best for ease of doing business,” Prasad said.

The telecom sector is burdened with staggering debt levels and cut throat competition. Competition has only intensified since 2016, when Reliance Jio, owned by richest Indian Mukesh Ambani, stormed into the market and offered lifetime free calls and dirt cheap data. Jio’s offerings forced rivals to slash rates, affecting profit margins. Since the launch, rivals have either teamed up via merger, resorted to acquisitions or folded up. (Source: Hindu BusinessLine)


Oz Rules may Force Big Tech to Show Code

Facebook and Google could be compelled to reveal the workings of the closelyguarded algorithms under a new push for tech regulation by Australia.

Regulators set their sights on the tech giants when they published the results of an 18-month investigation into the impact of platforms on economy. The proposals by the Australian regulator would constitute one of the toughest enforcement regimes in the world. (Source: Economic Times)

Prominent scientists warn that 5G could pose health hazards

Call for measured steps noting that it could also affect environment adversely Several eminent scientists in the country have begun a crusade to caution the Government against rushing into auctioning of spectrum for the industry to roll-out 5G technology based services in the country.

These scientists are campaigning, writing letters to Government and Parliamentarians and other opinion makers.
The list of such concerned scientists includes well-known names such as:
1. Prof V S Ramamurthy, former Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology
2. Dr T Ramasami, also a former Secretary of DST and a former Director-General of CSIR
3. Prof Girish Kumar, Deparment of Electronics, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Bombay, who has written a book on EMF radiation hazards
4. Dr L V Krishnan, former Director of Safety Research and Health Physics Programmes at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam
5. Dr P C Kesavan, a noted radiobiologist and a former Dean, School of Life Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi
6. Dr R S Sharma of Indian Council for Medical Research, Delhi, who has studied RF radiation effects on rats
7. Dr Mahadevan Srinivasan, a former atomic scientist at Baba Atomic Research Centre (BARC)
BusinessLine spoke to many of them. Their message is simple: look before you leap. They fear that as the Government prepares to auction the airwaves to raise an estimated Rs 6 lakh crore, commercial interests might override, even overrule, prudence.

These scientists could have taken a cue from a similar campaign of scientists in Europe, who have started a web-based “5G appeal” -- so far, 244 scientists have joined the appeal. The website, 5gappeal.eu, lists out their names.

A quick look at the 5G appeal

The appeal states:
“We the undersigned, scientists and doctors, recommend a moratorium on the roll-out of the fifth generation, 5G, for telecommunication until potential hazards for human health and the environment have been fully investigated by scientists independent from industry.”

After describing in detail how 5G could be harmful, the appeal “urges” the governments of the EU countries to take all reasonable measures to halt the 5G RF-EMF expansion until independent scientists can assure that 5G and the total radiation levels caused by RF-EMF (5G together with 2G, 3G, 4G, and WiFi) will not be harmful for EU-citizens, especially infants, children and pregnant women, as well as the environment.

The public domain today abounds with videos on ill-effects of 5G. Dr Martin Pall, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Basic Medical Sciences at the Washington State University, USA,says that “putting in tens of millions of 5G antennae without a single biological test of safety has got to be the stupidest idea anyone has had in the history of the world.”

Now, Indian scientists have begun to lend their support in favour of comprehensive studies on possible deleterious effects of 5G on health of humans and environment.

What is 5G and why could it be harmful?
Beginning in the early 1990s, successive generations—or ‘G’s—of wireless technological advancement have improved communications in the world. Wireless technology works by sending signals that are transmitted as energy waves. One established way of expressing the nature of waves is in terms of how many ‘crests’ and ‘troughs’ are generated per second, or frequency—this is expressed as ‘hertz’.

Now, while technologies from 2G in 1991 to 4G in 2008 have used waves of progressively increasing frequencies up to 2.5 Gigahertz (GHz). Then comes 5G, where the frequencies go up to 90 GHz.

Data riding on such fast waves get transmitted quickly—that is why you should be able to download a full 3D movie in half a minute, play video games better and link-up all the appliances in your house to your mobile – so that you can, for instance, switch on your AC from your mobile ten minutes before you arrive home.

But the question that is being raised is - how would it affect a person’s health and well-being?
For sure, such questions have come up before, even in the context of 3G and 4G, but this time around the voices are shriller because the risks could be significantly higher.

Dr L V Krishnan cautions that beam 5G radiations on some rats or humans is not enough. Ill effects of radiation often shows up after a time lag. Even if humans are shown to be safe, the effects on flora and fauna must be comprehensively studied, he says.

Krishnan and others point out that there are many instances where birds and animals have died where 5G experiments have been conducted. The connection between the deaths and 5G has not been proved, but has not been disproved either.

A need for comprehensive studies “There must be a road map, and the roll-out could be done guardedly, in phases,” Krishnan told BusinessLine.
Radiation is of two types—ionizing and non-ionizing. Gamma rays and X-rays are ionizing, they are so energetic that they rip break atoms in our body and cause cancer. Sunlight and waves from TV sets are non-ionizing, they are okay.

Defenders of 5G point out that the 5G radiation is non-ionizing, hence safe. “That is rubbish,” says Dr Kesavan, pointing out that even UV rays from the sun are non-ionizing, but they do cause cancer.

One video on 5G’s harmful effects wonders if the recorded fall in sperm count in males has something to do with cell phones kept in pockets. “We bathe our genitals in radiation all the time,” it says.

The scientists are at pains to stress that they are not alarmists, nor anti-technology Luddites.

“We have to convince the powers that be in India that during test phase prior to introducing 5G as a regular technology, government, medical commission-monitored cell biology measurements must be mandatory, says Dr Mahadevan Srinivasan.

“I am all for giving people the benefit of technology,” say Dr T Ramasami, “but we must do comprehensive studies to ensure that people are not harmed.” (Source: The Hindu BusinessLine)

Mid-tier IT Caught between Shrinking Deals and Rising Costs

LEAN PATCH Spending slowdown in the BFSI sector and rising costs of hiring local talent in the US and Europe take a toll on numbers

India’s mid-cap IT firms have posted their worst set of numbers in the past few years in the just concluded quarter, following cuts in client budgets, deferred projects and rising costs of local talent in the US and Europe.

The slowdown in spending on banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) has emerged as a key concern, industry insiders said, even as they remain wary of a spillover effect into other verticals.

Margins at Mindtree, which has changed owners, dropped to their lowest in eight years in the June quarter, while growth has been largely flat at L&T Infotech. Persistent Systems reported a 3% drop in dollar revenue, while Cyient posted its worst quarterly numbers in a decade.

The first quarter (April-June) typically tends to be soft for tech firms, analysts tracking the sector said. “There are higher expenses because of H-1B filing costs and wage hikes in this quarter, but this time, the appreciation of the rupee has also hurt the tech firms,” said Harit Shah, senior analyst, Reliance Securities. While margin pressures may ease in the second quarter, it will take longer for revenue to recover, he said. The BFSI sector in the US is facing a slowdown, impacting even large-cap companies. “While BFSI is a larger set that includes wealth management, capital markets, insurance, consumer banking and so on, there are certain areas within that seeing a slowdown — call it insourcing, lower tech spend by some of these larger banks,” said Apurva Prasad, IT analyst at HDFC Securities. “BFSI is a pain point that seems to be emerging.” L&T Infotech’s quarter-on-quarter revenue growth in constant currency terms was 1%, its weakest in the past nine quarters, according to analysts. This was due to weakness in its top banking client and another lender in Africa, they said. “For L&T Infotech, within BFSI there were two clients affected and they called it earlier too. But the real concern across the space is if this macro slowdown can percolate into other accounts and verticals,” said Prasad.

Firms have been hit by unforeseen situations. Cyient was hit by a slowdown in two key verticals — aerospace, and defence and communications. The company will have to overcome issues in its top 20 clients to achieve significant revenue growth, analysts said.

L&T Technology Services was also impacted by a ramp-down in spending by one of its top clients. Revenue at a key vertical — telecom and high-technology – declined $7 million quarter-on-quarter, HDFC Securities said. Analysts are, however, confident that the company will be able to revive profit margins in the coming quarters due to its varied business mix and strong growth in its transportation vertical. Business at Mindtree, which analysts believe is fundamentally strong, is likely to be hit till there is certainty around senior leadership following its acquisition by Larsen and Toubro. Its new CEO is expected to come on board on August 2.

Kotak Institutional Equities said the company can grow revenue if attrition rates are contained. S N Subrahmanyan, a director at Mindtree and chief executive of L&T, however, told analysts in a recent call that he expects deferred deals to return and is confident of a stable second quarter.

Mphasis, however, was able to buck the trend, owing to increased growth from its digital business. The company secured $151million worth deals in its direct international business, of which 80% was in new-generation services, the company said. ( Source: Economic Times)

QR Codes Help Payments Firms Up Offline Play

Firms look to increase offline payments with QR Codes to corner a larger share of market. Digital payments companies are increasingly looking at offline payments and trying to capture a larger share of this market by means of QR (Quick Response) codes.

While Paytm, PhonePe and Google Pay offer QR codes and acquire their own merchants as well, entities like BharatPe act as aggregators, onboarding merchants for all forms of Unified Payments Interface (UPI)-based payments.

Out of the transactions seen on the BharatPe platform, PhonePe had over 54% share in UPI transactions, while Google Pay had 30% and Paytm 12% in June.

On QR codes deployed by Bharat-Pe, the share of PhonePe has increased steadily from 44% in January, a jump of 10 percentage points. Paytm may have a smaller share, but the company dominates the overall QR code-based transactions, since it has a chunk of offline payments through a proprietary QR code base of its own. Paytm recorded around 250 million transactions on Paytm QR through 12 million merchants, it said. Paytm QR accepts UPI payments made from any bank account through the Paytm app.

“We launched our innovative Paytm QR in 2015 and millions of people adopted it across the country, from the local kirana stores, autorickshaws and fast-food joints to top-end hotels and restaurants,” said Deepak Abbot, senior vice president at Paytm. “We have witnessed three times growth in the last one year, including both online and offline payments.”

PhonePe, on the other hand, did not comment on the exact number of transactions taking place through its QR codes, but said, it has 5.5 million offline merchants overall who exclusively accept UPI payments through PhonePe.

There is increased adoption of UPI payments through BharatPe, with 10 million transactions reported in June compared to 6 million in April, said Ashneer Grover, chief executive officer at Bharat-Pe. “We are seeing average transaction value on our platform hovering around Rs 250, which I believe is a healthy sign,” he said.

The National Payments Corporation of India does not share details of transactions happening on BharatQR, the bank-led QR code programme that has all the payment railroads such as Visa, Mastercard, RuPay and American Express. NPCI has onboarded 28 banks to acquire merchants for such transactions.

Offline payments have emerged as a major area of debate as the government has proposed zero charges on all forms of digital payments to encourage adoption.

While a section of payment companies have raised concerns, most smartphone-based payment players have supported it. “Removal of MDR is a welcome step, no more tolling in the name of payments, everyone has to play a simple credit game now,” said Grover. (Source: Economic Times)

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