WhatsApp and other social media platforms restricted in Zambia amidst ongoing elections

Several users from Zambia have taken to Twitter informing the general public that WhatsApp has been restricted in the country amidst ongoing general elections holding today.

The president and parliamentary elections culminate in a face-off between current President Edgar Lungu and opposition Hakainde Hichilema.

Internet monitoring organization Netblocks further corroborated these reports adding that multiple internet providers in Zambia had restricted access to the American social messaging platform. Some of these networks include Zambian government-owned Zamtel, Airtel Zambia, Liquid Telecom, and MTN.

Just this week, reports circulated that the Zambian government had threatened to shut down the internet if Zambians “failed to use the cyberspace during this year’s election correctly.” The reports say the government intended to go through with its plans from Thursday, the polling day, till Sunday, when vote counts are expected to have ended.

However, the Zambian government, via its Information and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary, Amos Malupenga, came out to deny the reports, calling them ‘malicious.’ Nevertheless, he mentioned that the government would not tolerate abuse of the internet and if any mischief occurred, there would be no hesitation to take appropriate measures.

“The government, therefore, expects citizens to use the internet responsibly. But if some people choose to abuse the internet to mislead and misinform, the government will not hesitate to invoke relevant legal provisions to forestall any breakdown of law and order as the country passes through the election period,” Malupenga said.

Zambia isn’t the first African country to witness this during an election as social media restrictions and internet shutdowns are now a recurring theme for most African states.

Countries like Cameroon, Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Guinea, Togo, Benin, Mali, Mauritania have faced social media restrictions and internet shutdowns during elections. A handful of others like Chad, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, on the other hand, have experienced similar restrictions for unrelating events.

Most governments argue that they carry out social media restrictions and internet shutdowns to maintain security during elections; however, it’s glaring to see the process as a means to curb the spread of vital information among voters and the media within and outside the country.

Today’s event shows that despite denying reports about an imminent internet shutdown, the Zambian government is heading in that direction by first cutting off WhatsApp. While writing on the WhatsApp restriction, Netblocks also reported that the Zambian government has proceeded to restrict other social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and Twitter.

Still, internet users in Zambia are now using VPN services to bypass the restrictions on WhatsApp and these other social media platforms. Yet, it remains to be seen if the government will enforce a full internet shutdown.

#africa, #airtel, #cameroon, #elections, #ethiopia, #instagram, #liquid-telecom, #messenger, #netblocks, #nigeria, #social-media-platforms, #tanzania, #tc, #uganda, #vpn, #whatsapp, #zambia

China expresses concern over its absence in India’s 5G trials

China expressed concern on Wednesday over India’s move to not grant any Chinese firm permission to participate in 5G trials in the world’s second largest internet market as the two neighboring nations struggle to navigate business ties amid their geo-political tensions.

India’s Department of Telecommunications earlier this week approved over a dozen firm’s applications to conduct a six-month trial to test the use and application of 5G technology in the country.

Among those who have received the approval include international giants such as Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung that will collaborate with Indian telecom operators Jio Platforms, Airtel, Vodafone Idea, and MTNL for the trial.

Huawei, ZTE and other Chinese companies, that have been operating in India for several years, haven’t received the approval from the Indian government to participate in the upcoming trial. The Indian ministry said earlier this week that it granted permission to those firms that had been picked by the telecom operators.

Wang Xiaojian, the spokesperson of Chinese Embassy in India, said in a statement on Wednesday that the nation expresses “concern and regret that Chinese telecommunications companies have not been permitted to conduct 5G trials with Indian Telecom Service Providers in India.”

“Relevant Chinese companies have been operating in India for years, providing mass job opportunities and making contribution to India’s infrastructure construction in telecommunications. To exclude Chinese telecommunications companies from the trials will not only harm their legitimate rights and interests, but also hinder the improvement of the Indian business environment, which is not conducive to the innovation and development of related Indian industries,” added Xiaojian.

Last year, Airtel (India’s second-largest telecom operator) had said that it was open to collaborating with global technology firms, including those from China, for components. “Huawei, over the last 10 or 12 years, has become extremely good with their products to a point where I can safely today say their products at least in 3G, 4G that we have experienced is significantly superior to Ericsson and Nokia without a doubt. And I use all three of them,” Sunil Mittal, the founder of Airtel, said at a conference last year.

In the same panel, then U.S. commerce secretary Wilbur Ross had urged India and other allies of the U.S. to avoid Huawei.

The geo-political tension between India and China escalated last year with skirmishes at the shared border. India, which early last year amended a rule to make it difficult for Chinese firms to invest in Indian companies, has since banned over 200 apps including TikTok, UC Browser and PUBG Mobile that have ties with China over national security concerns.

India’s move earlier this week follows similar decisions taken by the U.S., U.K. and Australia, all of which have expressed concerns about Huawei and ZTE and their ties with the Chinese government.

“The Chinese side hopes that India could do more to enhance mutual trust and cooperation between the two countries, and provide an open, fair, just, and non-discriminatory investment and business environment for market entities from all countries, including China, to operate and invest in India,” wrote Xiaojian.

Last year, China had expressed “serious concerns” and “firmly opposed” India’s charges that Chinese apps posed national security concerns. The Chinese Embassy had alleged that by banning apps with links to China, New Delhi was engaging in “discriminatory practices” that “violated WTO rules.”

#5g, #airtel, #asia, #china, #government, #huawei, #india, #jio-platforms, #vodafone-idea, #zte

India grants approval for 5G trials, avoids Chinese firms

Indian telecom ministry on Tuesday said it has granted several telecom service providers permission to conduct a six-month trial for the use and application of 5G technology in the country. New Delhi has granted approval to over a dozen firm spanning multiple nationalities — excluding China.

Among the telecom operators that have received the grant include Jio Platforms, Airtel, Vodafone Idea, and MTNL. These firms, the ministry said, will work with original equipment manufacturers and tech providers Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, and C-Dot. Jio Platforms, additionally, has been granted permission to conduct trials using its own homegrown technology.

In a press note, the Department of Telecommunications didn’t specify anything about China, but a person familiar with the matter confirmed that Chinese giants Huawei and ZTE aren’t among those who have received the approval.

The Indian government branch said it gave permission to telecom service providers, who chose their own priorities and technology partners. The experimental spectrum is being given in various bands which include the mid-band (3.2 GHz to 3.67 GHz), millimeter wave band (24.25 GHz to 28.5 GHz) and in Sub-Gigahertz band (700 GHz). Technology service providers will also be permitted to use their existing spectrum owned by them (800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2500 MHz) to conduct of 5G trials.

“The permission letters specify that each TSP will have to conduct trials in rural and semi-urban settings also in addition to urban settings so that the benefit of 5G Technology proliferates across the country and is not confined only tourban areas. The TSPs are encouraged to conduct trials using 5Gi technology in addition to the already known 5G Technology,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The objectives of conducting 5G trials include testing 5G spectrum propagation characteristics especially in the Indian context; model tuning and evaluation of chosen equipment andvendors; testing of indigenous technology; testing of applications (such as tele-medicine, tele-education, augmented/ virtual reality, drone-based agricultural monitoring, etc.); and to test 5G phones and devices.”

Last year, Airtel had said that it was open to the idea of collaborating with global firms for components. “Huawei, over the last 10 or 12 years, has become extremely good with their products to a point where I can safely today say their products at least in 3G, 4G that we have experienced is significantly superior to Ericsson and Nokia without a doubt. And I use all three of them,” Sunil Mittal, the founder of Airtel, said at a conference last year. In the same panel, then U.S. commerce secretary Wilbur Ross had urged India and other allies of the U.S. to avoid Huawei.

The geo-political tension between India and China escalated later in the year with skirmishes at the shared border. India, which early last year amended a rule to make it difficult for Chinese firms to invest in Indian companies, has since banned over 200 apps including TikTok, UC Browser, and PUBG Mobile that have affiliation with China.

#airtel, #asia, #china, #huawei, #india, #jio-platforms, #vodafone, #vodafone-idea, #zte

Kenya’s Ajua acquires WayaWaya to consolidate consumer experience play in African SMEs

Kenyan consumer experience platform for businesses in Africa, Ajua today announced that it has acquired WayaWaya, a Kenya-based AI and ML messaging and payments company.

WayaWaya’s customers and partners include the likes of I&M Bank, Interswitch and MTN. The company offers a range of services, from digital banking and payment services to financial services APIs and payment bots.

According to Ajua, the acquisition is primarily focused on WayaWaya’s payments bots system known as Janja. The platform, which has customers like Airtel, Ezee Money, Housing Finance Company of Kenya (HF Group), enables borderless banking and payments across apps and social media platforms. Teddy Ogallo, the entrepreneur who founded WayaWaya, joins Ajua as VP of Product APIs and Integrations.

Per Crunchbase, WayaWaya has just raised $75,000. Although the two companies did not disclose the financial details of the acquisition, Ajua is expected to have paid 10 times more than WayaWaya’s total raise.

Ajua, formerly mSurvey, was founded in 2012 by Kenfield Griffith. The company is solving a consumer data problem for African businesses to understand their business better and drive growth.

“There’s a lot of commerce happening on the continent and Ajua wants companies to move from transaction numbers to the customers behind such transaction,” Griffith told TechCrunch. “Imagine if we knew what drove consumer habits for businesses. I mean, that’s a huge exponential curve for African businesses.”

Teddy Ogallo (Founder, WayaWaya) & Kenfield Griffith (CEO, Ajua)

Teddy Ogallo (Founder, WayaWaya) & Kenfield Griffith (CEO, Ajua)

Nigeria’s SME market alone is valued at $220 billion annually. And while businesses, mostly big enterprises, can afford customer communication tools, a large segment of small businesses are being left out. Ajua’s play is to use data and analytics to connect companies with their customers in real time. “We’ve taken what makes enterprise customers successful, and we’re capturing it in a simple format so SMEs can have the same tools,” Griffith added

Since most consumer behavior for these SMEs happens offline, Ajua gives businesses unique USSD codes to receive payments, get feedback and offer discounts to their customers. It is one of the products Ajua has launched over the years for customer feedback at the point of service to businesses that cumulatively have over 45 million customers.

The company’s partners and clients also include Coca-Cola, FBNQuest, GoodLife Pharmacy, Java House, Safaricom, Standard Chartered and Total.

As an intelligent messaging bot, Janja is used by individuals and businesses across WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Telegram to automate customer support and make cross-border payments. So, Janja’s integration into Ajua’s product stack will close much of the acquirer’s customer experience loop by automating responses and giving customers what they want, when they want it.

This acquisition comes a month after Ajua announced that it partnered with telecom operator MTN Nigeria to launch a customer management product for Nigerian businesses. The product called MTN EnGauge carries the same features present in Ajua but, in this case, is tailored solely for businesses using the MTN network. The roll-out is expected to generate more data for Ajua’s thousands of users. It will also be upgraded to incorporate Janja and other services.

In hindsight, it appears Ajua could have created a product like Janja in-house due to its vast experience in the consumer experience space. However, the company chose an acquisition and Griffith gave two reasons why — building a similar product would have taken a long time and Ogallo seemed to know Janja’s business and operations so well, it just made sense to get him on board. 

“Teddy was going the same direction we’re going. We just thought to acquire WayaWaya instead and make a really good company out of both products attempting to solve the same problem. To me, it’s all about solving the problem together rather than going alone,” said the CEO. 

On why he accepted the acquisition, Ogallo, who now has a new role, noted that Ajua’s ability to scale customer service and experience and also help businesses was one reason and earned admiration from him. “Seeing how WayaWaya’s technology can complement Ajua’s innovative products and services, and help scale and monetize businesses, is an exciting opportunity for us, and we are happy that our teams will be collaborating to build something unique for the continent,” he added

This is a solid infrastructure play from Ajua coming from a founder who is a massive advocate of acquisition and consolidation. Griffith believes that the two are strategies for a speedier route to new markets and channels in Africa

I think there are lots of ways we can build the ecosystem. There are lots of young talent building stuff, and they don’t have access to capital to get to the next stage. The question is if they want to race to the finish line or take off time and get acquired. I think there’s a huge opportunity in Africa if you want to solve complex problems by acquisition.”

There has been an uptick in local acquisitions in Africa from startups within a single country and between two countries in the past three years. For the former, Nigerian recruitment platform Jobberman’s acquisition of NGCareers last year comes to mind. And there are pan-African instances like Lagos-based hub CcHub’s acquisition of iHub, its Nairobi counterpart; Ethiopian software provider Apposit sell-off to Nigerian fintech Paga; and Johannesburg-based fintech MFS Africa acquiring Uganda’s Beyonic.

The common theme among the acquisitions (and most African acquisitions) is their undisclosed sums. For Ajua, Griffith cited regulatory issues as one reason why the company is keeping the figure under wraps.

Since launching nine years ago, Ajua has raised a total of $3.5 million, according to Crunchbase. Given the nature of this acquisition and partnership with MTN, the company might set sights on another fundraise to scale aggressively into Nigeria (a market it entered in 2019) and other African countries.

#africa, #airtel, #artificial-intelligence, #cchub, #ceo, #customer-experience, #customer-relationship-management, #enterprise, #exit, #interswitch, #kenya, #lagos, #ma, #messenger, #nairobi, #nigeria, #tc, #uganda

India’s Razorpay raises funds at $3 billion valuation ahead of Southeast Asia launch

Six-year-old Bangalore-based fintech Razorpay topped a $1 billion valuation late last year, becoming the first Y Combinator-backed Indian startup to reach the much sought after unicorn status. In less than six months since, the Indian startup has tripled its valuation and is preparing to launch in the Southeast Asian markets.

Razorpay said on Monday it has raised $160 million in its Series E financing round that valued the startup at $3 billion, up from “a little over” $1 billion valuation in the $100 million Series D in October last year.

The new round has been co-led by existing investors Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund — GIC — and Sequoia Capital India. Some other existing investors including Ribbit Capital also participated in the new round, which takes Razorpay’s to-date raise to $366.5 million.

Razorpay accepts, processes and disburses money online for small businesses and enterprises — essentially everything Stripe does in the U.S. and several other developed markets. But the Indian startup’s offering goes much further: In recent years, Razorpay has launched a neobanking platform to issue corporate credit cards (and more at the bottom of the article), and it also offers businesses working capital.

With the global giant Stripe still nowhere in the Indian picture, Razorpay has grown to become the market leader. And now, the startup plans to replicate its success from the home country in Southeast Asian markets, Harshil Mathur, co-founder and chief executive of Razorpay told TechCrunch in an interview.

“We are one of the largest payments providers in the Indian ecosystem. We want to take the learnings we have in India to the Southeast Asian market. Before the end of the financial year, we want to launch in one or two Southeast Asian markets,” said Mathur, adding that the new round gives it the valuation to more confidently explore some M&A opportunities to accelerate growth.

More than 5 million businesses in India rely on Razorpay’s technology to process payments. Some of these clients include Facebook, telecom operator Airtel, ride-hailing firm Ola, food-delivery startup Swiggy, and fintech CRED.

Mathur and Shashank Kumar — pictured above — met at IIT Roorkee college. The duo realized early on that small businesses faced immense difficulties in accepting money digitally and the existing payments processing firms weren’t designed to tackle the needs of small businesses and startups.

Solving this issue became Razorypay’s goal, and in the early days about 11 individuals shared a single apartment as the co-founders scrambled to convince bankers to work with them. The conversations were slow and remained in a deadlock for so long that the co-founders felt helpless explaining the same challenge to investors numerous times, they recalled in an interview two years ago.

The stories one hears about Razorpay today have changed dramatically. In a Clubhouse room, known for sharp criticism of products, dozens of developers and startup founders recently recalled their early interactions with Razorpay, and how the startup’s officials helped their businesses start with — or move to — the Razorpay’s system within hours of being first reached out.

Deepak Abbot, co-founder of Indiagold, recently recalled an incident where the startup had missed an alert, that coupled with a snafu at the bank resulted in the startup running out of funds to pay customers.

Last year, Mathur said Razorpay’s core business — processing payments — is fast-growing and the startup would focus more on building the two new offerings.

Offering an update, Mathur said Razorpay X now serves about 15,000 businesses, up from fewer than 5,000 in October last year. Razorpay Capital is now annually bandying out about $80 million to clients, up from less than $40 million a year ago. The duration of the loan Razorpay gives ranges from three to six months, and the ticket size of these loans is typically between 0.8 million to 1 million Indian rupees ($10,730 to $13,400).

Mathur said the startup will focus on further growing this business in the next three years and then explore taking the startup public. “If it was just the payments processing business, we could go public right now. But our ambitions are beyond that so that we become the full ecosystem for businesses. And on those sides (neobanking and lending), we are early,” he said.

The startup’s marquee offering has grown 40-50% each month in the past six months. It now plans to process over $50 billion in total payment volume by the end of 2021.

The startup also plans to hire a number of people. It currently has over 600 positions, several in Southeast Asian markets.

Monday’s announcement comes at a time when a slice of Indian startups are raising large amounts of capital at a much frequent pace and increased valuations as investors double down on the world’s second largest internet market.

Indian startups social commerce Meesho, fintech firm CRED, e-pharmacy firm PharmEasy, millennials-focused Groww, business messaging platform Gupshup and social network ShareChat attained the unicorn status earlier this month. TechCrunch reported last week that SoftBank is in talks to invest in Zeta and Swiggy.

*Razorpay offers a number of value-added services such as automating vendor payments, real-time reconciliation and analytics, managing subscriptions, GST invoicing, designing and creating websites. The startup has also developed an app-based substitute for payments terminals (also known as POS) as well as pay-by-link for enabling offline commerce.

#airtel, #asia, #cred, #facebook, #finance, #funding, #india, #razorpay, #stripe, #swiggy

Mastercard to invest $100 million in Airtel Africa’s mobile money business

Mastercard will invest $100 million in Airtel Africa’s mobile money business, two firms said today, just two weeks after TPG’s Rise Fund also backed the telecommunications firm’s unit.

The London-headquartered firm said it was taking a minority stake in Airtel Africa’s mobile money business. The deal valued Airtel Mobile Commerce at $2.65 billion, the two firms said in a press statement Thursday.

New investment comes as Airtel Africa looks to monetize its mobile money business — one of the key fintech players in the continent that offers mobile wallet transactions, merchant and commercial payments, loans, virtual credit cards and support for overseas transfers — by selling up to 25% stake and “list this business within four years,” said Raghunath Mandava, CEO of Airtel Africa, in a statement.

“We are significantly strengthening our existing strategic relationship with Mastercard to help us both realise the full potential from the substantial opportunity to improve financial inclusion across our countries of operation. The combination of our extensive customer base and distribution platforms and Mastercard’s products and services, innovation and know how, mean we can together accelerate demand and drive growth in financial services for the benefit of all our customers and markets,” he added.

The mobile money business, which generated revenue of $110 million in the most recent quarter, has been growing at over 41% year-on-year, Airtel said.

Airtel Africa and Mastercard are no strangers. The two firms announced in 2019 that they had partnered to serve 100 million Airtel Africa mobile phone users in 14 African nations using the payments firm’s network.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#airtel, #airtel-africa, #finance, #funding, #mastercard

Reliance’s Jio Platforms says it will roll out 5G in second half of 2021

Reliance’s Jio Platforms, the largest telecom operator in India, plans to roll out a 5G network in the country in the second half of 2021, top executive Mukesh Ambani announced on Tuesday.

“India is today among the best digitally connected nations in the world. In order to maintain this lead, policy steps are needed to accelerate early rollout of 5G, and to make it affordable and available everywhere. I assure you that Jio will pioneer the 5G revolution in India in the second half of 2021,” said Ambani, who controls Jio Platforms’ parent firm Reliance Industries, at a trade conference.

The announcement comes as a surprise as India has yet to grant spectrum for 5G network to telecom networks in the country. At this moment, it is also unclear when India will begin auctioning the 5G spectrum.

Ambani, who is India’s richest man, said he was hopeful that the rollout of 5G network in India will enable the world’s second largest internet market to lead what he termed as the fourth industrial revolution. “Jio Platforms, with its family of over 20 start-up partners, has built world-class capabilities in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, big data, machine learning, internet of things, blockchain, etc,” he said.

The telecom operator, which has raised over $20 billion this year from a roster of high-profile investors including Facebook and Google, said the company is also hopeful that its bouquet of services in education, healthcare, financial services and new commerce categories “once proven in India, will be offered to the rest of the world to address global challenges.”

Gopal Vittal, the chief executive of Airtel (India’s second largest telecom operator), said the company was hopeful that India would have established a nation-wide 5G network in two to three years. He, however, did not share a timeline for when the rollout of 5G on his network would begin. (In a recent earnings call, Vittal had warned that the proposed price of the spectrum of 5G was “very, very expensive” — something that won’t support any kind of business model.)

During his speech, Ambani also urged industry players to rely on locally produced hardware and components. “As the digitalisation of the Indian economy and Indian society picks up speed, the demand for digital hardware will grow enormously. We cannot rely on large-scale imports in this area of critical national need.”

Airtel has previously said that it is open to the idea of collaborating with global firms for components. “Huawei, over the last 10 or 12 years, has become extremely good with their products to a point where I can safely today say their products at least in 3G, 4G that we have experienced is significantly superior to Ericsson and Nokia without a doubt. And I use all three of them,” said Sunil Mittal, the founder of Airtel, at a conference earlier this year. In the same panel, US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross had urged India and other allies of the US to avoid Huawei.

Vittal today also urged that India should adopt the global 5G standard. “There is sometimes talks that India must have its own 5G standard. This is an existential thread which could lock India out of the global ecosystem and slow down the pace of innovation. We could let down our citizens if you allow that to happen.”

On today’s panel, which was attended by Mittal as well as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ambani said stakeholders also need to think about ways to serve nearly 300 million people who are still on 2G networks in India. “Urgent policy steps are needed to ensure that these underprivileged people have an affordable smartphone, So that they too can benefit from Direct Benefit Transfer into their bank accounts, and actively participate in the Digital Economy,” he added.

#airtel, #asia, #government, #india, #jio-platforms, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance-jio

India’s Razorpay becomes unicorn after new $100 million funding round

Bangalore-headquartered Razorpay, one of the handful of Indian fintech startups that has demonstrated accelerated growth in recent years, has joined the coveted unicorn club after raising $100 million in a new financing round, the payments processing startup said on Monday.

The new financing round, a Series D, was co-led by Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC, and Sequoia India, the six-year-old Indian startup said. The new round valued the startup at “a little more than $1 billion,” co-founder and chief executive Harshil Mathur told TechCrunch in an interview.

Existing investors Ribbit Capital, Tiger Global, Y Combinator, and Matrix Partners also participated in the round, which brings Razorpay’s total to-date raise to $206.5 billion.

Razorpay accepts, processes, and disburses money online for small businesses and enterprises. In recent years, Razorpay has expanded its offerings to provide loans to businesses and also launched a neo-banking platform to issue corporate credit cards, among other products.

Mathur and Shashank Kumar (pictured above), who met each other at IIT Roorkee, started Razorpay in 2014. They began to explore opportunities around payments processing business after realizing just how difficult it was for small businesses such as young startups to accept money online less than a decade ago. There were very few payment processing firms in India then and startups needed to produce a long-list of documents.

The early team of about 11 people at Razorpay shared a single apartment as the co-founders rushed to meet with over 100 bankers to convince banks to work with them. The conversations were slow and stuck in a deadlock for so long that the co-founders felt helpless explaining the same challenge to investors numerous times, they recalled in an interview last year.

To say things have changed for Razorpay would be an understatement. It’s become the largest payments provider for business in India, said Mathur. Razorpay accepts a wide-range of payment options including credit cards, debit cards, mobile wallets, and UPI.

“Razorpay has established itself as a clear leader, with its strong focus on customer experience and product innovation,” said Choo Yong Cheen, Chief Investment Officer for Private Equity at GIC, in a statement. “GIC has a long track record of partnering with leading fintech companies globally and is delighted to partner with Razorpay in its journey to transform payments and banking.”

Some of Razorpay’s clients include budget lodging decacorn Oyo, e-commerce giant Tokopedia, top food delivery startups Zomato and Swiggy, online learning platform Byju’s, ride-hailing giant Gojek, supply chain platform Zilingo, caller ID service Truecaller, travel ticketing firms Yatra and Goibibo, and telecom giant Airtel.

The startup expects to process about $25 billion for nearly 10 million of its customers this year, said Mathur.

He attributed some of the growth to the coronavirus pandemic, which he said has accelerated the digital adoption among many businesses.

On the neo-banking and capital side, Mathur said, Razorpay expects RazorpayX and Razorpay Capital to account for about 35% of the startup’s revenue by the end of March next year.

Mathur said the startup’s payment processing service continues to be its fastest growing business and does not need much capital to grow, so the startup will be deploying the fresh funds to expand its neo-banking offerings to include vendor payment, and expense and tax management and other features.

The startup, which aims to work with over 50 million businesses by 2025, may also acquire a few firms as it explores opportunities around inorganic expansion in the neo-banking category, said Mathur.

“We will continue to make an impactful contribution to the growth of the industry, aid adoption in the under-served markets and drive new practices and a new thinking for the industry to follow. And this investment fits perfectly with our growth strategy,” he said.

#airtel, #asia, #byjus, #finance, #funding, #gic, #india, #oyo, #razorpay, #sequoia-capital, #sequoia-capital-india, #swiggy, #tokopedia, #truecaller, #zomato

Indian telecom giant Vodafone Idea rebrands as ‘Vi’

Vodafone Idea, one of the largest telecom operators in India, has rebranded as ‘Vi’ as it looks to better leverage the unified venture between British telecom giant Vodafone Group’s India business and billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla’s Idea Cellular two years after they merged in the country.

“As the integration of two businesses is now complete, it’s time for a fresh start. That’s why we believe that now is the perfect time to launch Vi, one company which provides the strength of Vodafone India and Idea,” Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read said at a virtual conference on Monday.

Vodafone Idea, once the largest telecom operator in the country with over 400 million subscribers, has lost more than 100 million subscribers in recent years to new comer India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani’s telecom venture Jio Platforms as it scaled to the top with its cut-rate mobile data tariff.

Jio Platforms has also attracted over $20 billion in investment from high-profile firms including Facebook and Google in recent months.

The logo of Vi (Image: Vodafone Idea)

“India is the second largest telecom market and the largest data consumer, globally. With 1.2 billion Indians accessing voice and data services at the world’s lowest tariffs across 500,000 villages, the ubiquitous wireless network in India is unmatched for its reach and impact in people’s lives,” said Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman of Aditya Birla Group and Vodafone Idea, at the conference today.W

“With our new brand — Vi, we stand committed to partner with government to accelerate India’s progression towards a digital economy, enabling millions of citizens to connect to the digital revolution and build a better tomorrow.”

Vodafone Idea — or Vi,  has yet to turn a profit since it joined forces. The company said it will continue to invest in 4G wireless technology, which now reaches more than 1 billion people in India, double the coverage at the time of merger announcement.

Last week, the company received approval from shareholders to sell stake worth $3.4 billion by selling shares and raising debt. The company received a much needed relief in India earlier this month after nation’s apex court granted Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, another giant telecom operator in India, with 10 years to pay billions they owe to the government.

Prior to the court ruling, Vodafone Group had warned that Indian government’s short-deadline of three months to clear the dues were not feasible for the telecom firm and it would have no choice but to exit the market.

#airtel, #asia, #bharti-airtel, #india, #reliance-jio, #vodafone, #vodafone-idea

Amazon inks cloud deal with Airtel in India

Amazon has found a new partner to expand the reach of its cloud services business — AWS — in India, the world’s second largest internet market.

On Wednesday, the e-commerce giant announced it has partnered with Bharti Airtel, the third-largest telecom operator in India with more than 300 million subscribers, to sell a wide-range of AWS offerings under Airtel Cloud brand to small, medium, and large-sized businesses in the country.

The deal could help AWS, which leads the cloud market in India, further expand its dominance in the country. The move follows a similar deal Reliance Jio — India’s largest telecom operator and which has raised more than $20 billion in recent months from Google, Facebook and a roster of other high-profile investors — struck with Microsoft last year to sell cloud services to small businesses. The two announced a 10-year partnership to “serve millions of customers.”

Airtel, which serves over 2,500 large enterprises and more than a million emerging businesses, itself signed a similar cloud deal with Google in January this year. That partnership is still in place, Airtel said.

“AWS brings over 175 services to the table. We pretty much support any workload on the cloud. We have the largest and the most vibrant community of customers,” said Puneet Chandok, President of AWS in India and South Asia, on a call with reporters Wednesday noon.

The two companies, which signed a similar agreement in 2015, will also collaborate on building new services and help existing customers migrate to Airtel Cloud, they said.

Today’s deal illustrates Airtel’s push to build businesses beyond its telecom venture, said Harmeen Mehta, Global CIO and Head of Cloud and Security Business at Airtel, on the call. Last month, Airtel partnered with Verizon — TechCrunch’s parent company — to sell BlueJeans video conferencing service to business customers in India.

Deals with carriers were very common a decade ago in India as tech giants rushed to amass users in the country. Replicating a similar strategy now illustrates the phase of the cloud adoption in the nation.

Nearly half a billion people in India came online last decade. And slowly, small businesses and merchants are also beginning to use digital tools, storage services, and accept online payments.

India has emerged as one of the emerging leading grounds for cloud services. The public cloud services market of the country is estimated to reach $7.1 billion by 2024, according to research firm IDC.

#airtel, #amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #aws, #azure, #bharti-airtel, #cloud, #enterprise, #g-suite, #google, #india, #microsoft

Verizon partners with Airtel to launch BlueJeans in India

Bharti Airtel announced on Tuesday it has partnered with Verizon* to launch BlueJeans video-conferencing service in India to serve business customers in the world’s second largest internet market.

The video conferencing service, branded as Airtel BlueJeans in India, offers “enterprise-grade security” (which includes encrypted calls, ability to lock and password protect a meeting and generate randomized meeting IDs), a cloud point presence in India to enable low latency, HD video and Dolby Voice, and can accommodate up to 50,000 participants on a call.

Gopal Vittal, chief executive of Airtel, said in a call with reporters Tuesday that the Indian telecom operator is exploring ways to bring Airtel BlueJeans to home customers as well, though he cautioned that any such offering would take at least a few weeks to hammer out.

Airtel BlueJeans is being offered to businesses at no charge for the first three months, after which the video conferencing service will be offered at a “very competitive” price, said Vittal. Airtel will offer customized pricing plans for large businesses and small businesses, he added.

Airtel, the third largest telecom operator in India with 300 million subscribers, already maintains a partnership with G Suite and Cisco Webex, and Zoom. However, Vittal said that its collaboration with Verizon was “special” and enabled it to host data in India itself.

Verizon acquired BlueJeans in April this year. At the time, BlueJeans had over 15,000 business customers. Hans Vestberg, chief executive of Verizon, said on Tuesday that the American telecom giant was hopeful that Airtel BlueJeans would make major inroads in the Indian market, though he declined to share any figures.

Vestberg said Verizon is open to extending this partnership with Airtel to serve the Indian telecom operator’s business in African market, though both are currently focused on serving clients in India.

Tuesday’s announcement comes as video conferencing services have gained impressive momentum in India in recent months. Zoom app, which is also available to consumers, has already amassed over 35 million monthly active users in the country, according to mobile insights firm App Annie — data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch.

Reliance Jio Platforms, the top telecom operator in India with nearly 400 million subscribers, launched its video conferencing service JioMeet earlier this month. JioMeet is currently available to both consumers and business customers at no charge and a session on the service can last for up to 24 hours.

“We know we are not the first to launch a video conferencing in India, but we are confident that our differentiated offerings and brand value would stand out,” said Vittal.

Airtel BlueJeans, which includes BlueJeans’ Meetings, Events, Rooms, and Gateway for Microsoft Teams functionalities, will go live in India Tuesday evening.

*Verizon is TechCrunch’s parent company.

#airtel, #apps, #asia, #bharti-airtel, #bluejeans, #enterprise, #india, #verizon

Streaming service Hooq shuts down, ends partnerships with Disney’s Hotstar, Grab and others

Hooq, a five-year-old on-demand video streaming service that aimed to become “Netflix for Southeast Asia,” has shut down weeks after filing for liquidation and terminated its partnerships with Disney’s Hotstar, ride-hailing giant Grab, and Indonesia’s VideoMax.

Hooq Digital, a joint venture among Singapore telecom group Singtel (majority owner), Sony Pictures, and Warner Bros Entertainment, discontinued the service on Thursday. It had amassed over 80 million subscribers in nearly half of the dozen markets in Asia.

“For the past 5 years, we gave you unbelievable thrills, heartrending drama, roaring laughs, awesome action, and more. Our goal was to bring you the best entertainment from here to Hollywood. Our hearts are full of gratitude for all of you who shared the journey with us,” it says on its website.

Hooq publicly disclosed that it had raised about $95 million, but the sum was likely higher. News outlet The Ken analyzed the regulatory filings last month to report that Hooq had raised $127.2 million, and its losses in the financial year 2019 had ballooned to $220, suggesting that it had received more capital.

The streaming service said last month that it could not receive new funds from new or existing investors.

Homepage of Hooq

The service counted India, where it entered into a partnership with Disney’s Hotstar in 2018 and telecom operators Airtel and Vodafone, as its biggest market. The company also maintained a partnership with ride-hailing giant Grab to supply content in its cab, and VideoMAX in Indonesia.

Hooq brought dozens of D.C. universe titles including “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Wonder Woman” and other popular TV series such as “The Big Bang Theory” to its partners. In India, users began noticing last week that those titles were disappearing from Hotstar.

A spokesperson of Hooq told TechCrunch today that its tie-ups with all its partners including Hotstar have closed. A Hotstar spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Mobile operator Singtel first unveiled Hooq’s liquidation in an exchange filing last month. The Ken reported that the filing left hundreds of employees at Hooq stunned who thought the firm was doing fine financially. Nearly every employee at Hooq has been let go, with select few offered a job at Singtel, according to The Ken.

In an interview with Slator earlier this year, Yvan Hennecart, Head of Localization at HOOQ, said that the company was working to expand its catalog with local content and add 100 original titles in 2020.

“Our focus is mostly on localization of entertainment content; whether it is subtitling or dubbing, we are constantly looking to bring more content to our viewers faster. My role also expands to localization of our platform and any type of collateral information that helps create a unique experience for our users,” he told the outlet.

#airtel, #apps, #asia, #disney, #entertainment, #grab, #hooq, #hotstar, #media, #mobile, #netflix, #singtel, #southeast-asia, #vodafone, #warner-bros

Telecom operators in India warn people of coronavirus outbreak, share tips

Telecom operators in India have started to warn users of Covid-19 spread after more than three dozen cases have been detected in the nation.

Subscribers of Reliance Jio, Airtel, and state-run BSNL were greeted with a warning in Hindi and English when they attempted to make a phone call on Sunday. The message, locally known as “caller tune,” plays instead of regular phone ring.

“Always protect your face with a handkerchief or tissue while coughing or sneezing. Regularly clean hands with soap. Avoid touching your face, eyes, or nose. If someone has cough, fever, or breathlessness maintain one metre distance. If needed, visit your nearest health centre immediately,” the pre-recorded message said.

Vodafone, the top telecom operator in India, is in the process of implementing the warning message, while Airtel is looking to broaden the reach of its alert, people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. The initiative is being overseen by the nation’s ministries of health and telecommunications.

The coronavirus outbreak, which has made severe impact in many industries worldwide, is beginning to disrupt several businesses and livelihoods in India as well. Solar companies, and manufacturing and pharmaceutical firms, all of which source materials from China, are looking at the government for help.

To date, 43 cases of Covid-19 have been detected in the nation, three of whom have recovered fully.

A handful of firms have also advised their employees to work from home, in line with recent actions of several American giants. Financial services startup Paytm urged its employees in Noida and Gurgaon last week to not come to the office after one of the employees was tested positive with the new virus.

Chennai-headquartered cloud services firm Zoho told all its employees to work from home out of abundance of caution. IT conglomerate Tech Mahindra has made a similar push.

#airtel, #asia, #paytm, #tech-mahindra, #vodafone, #zoho