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

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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

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Amazon acquires Indian retail startup Perpule

Amazon has acquired a startup in India that is helping offline stores go online, the e-commerce group’s latest attempt to make inroads in the world’s second most populous nation where brick and mortar continue to drive more than 95% of sales.

The American e-commerce group said on Tuesday evening that it has acquired Perpule, a four-year-old startup. A regulatory filing showed Amazon Technologies paid $14.7 million to acquire the Indian startup in an all-cash deal. The company is expected to spend an additional $5 million or so to compensate Perpule’s employees.

Perpule, which had raised $6.36 million (per insight platform Tracxn), offers a mobile payments device (point of sale machine) to offline retailers to help them accept digital payments and also establish presence on various mini app stores including those run by Paytm, PhonePe, and Google Pay in India.

“Perpule has built an innovative cloud-based POS offering that enables offline stores in India to better manage their inventory, checkout process, and overall customer experience,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.

“We are excited to have the Perpule team join us to focus on providing growth opportunities for businesses of all sizes in India while raising the bar of the shopping experience for Indian customers.”

Founded in late 2016, the Indian startup’s first product was focused on helping customers avoid queues at super chains such as Shoppers Stop, Spar Hypermarket, Big Bazaar, and More. But the product, said Abhinav Pathak in a recent interview, wasn’t scaling, which is when Perpule pivoted.

The startup — which counts Prime Venture Partners, Kalaari Capital, and Raghunandan G (founder of neobank Zolve) among its investors — has further expanded in recent years, launching products like StoreSE, which enables a business to support group ordering.

Last year, it also expanded geographically; bringing its offerings to Southeast Asian markets including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Amazon has aggressively engaged with physical stores in India in recent years, using their vast presence in the nation to expand its delivery network and warehouses and even just relying on their inventory to drive sales.

The company’s push into physical retail comes as Flipkart, and Reliance Jio Platforms (backed by Facebook and Google), which last year raised over $20 billion, also race to capture this market. The acquisition of Perpule comes less than a week after Google backed DotPe, a startup that offers several similar products.

These neighborhood stores offer all kinds of items, are family-run and pay low wages and little to no rent. Because they are ubiquitous — there are more than 30 million neighborhood stores in India, according to industry estimates — no retail giant can offer a faster delivery. And on top of that, their economics are often better than most of their digital counterparts.

#amazon, #asia, #dotpe, #dukaan, #ecommerce, #facebook, #fundings-exits, #google, #jio-platforms, #khatabook, #okcredit, #reliance-retail

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Forget winning, can Amazon survive in India?

During a visit to India in 2014, Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos made a splashy announcement: His firm was investing $2 billion in the South Asian nation, just a year after beginning operations in the country.

Amazon’s announcement underscored how far India had come to open up to foreign firms. The nation, which had largely kept doors shut to international giants between its independence in 1947 to liberalization in 1991, has slowly transformed itself into the world’s largest open market.

In a televised interview in 2014, Bezos said that there was a perception about India not being an easy place to do business. But Amazon’s growth in the country, he said, was proof that this belief is not accurate.

“Are there obstacles? There are always obstacles. Anywhere you go, every country has its own regulations and rules,” he said.

Six years, and more than $4.5 billion of additional investments later, Amazon today appears to be facing more obstacles than ever in India, the second-largest internet market with more than 600 million users.

Long-standing laws in India have constrained Amazon, which has yet to turn a profit in the country, and other e-commerce firms to not hold inventory or sell items directly to consumers. To bypass this, firms have operated through a maze of joint ventures with local companies that operate as inventory-holding firms.

India got around to fixing this loophole in late 2018 in a move that was widely seen as the biggest blowback to the American firm in the country at the time. Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart scrambled to delist hundreds of thousands of items from their stores and made their investments in affiliated firms way more indirect.

Now the nation is set to further toughen this approach. Reuters reported last week that New Delhi is considering making adjustments to some provisions that would prevent affiliated firms to hold even an indirect stake in a seller through their parent.

The Confederation of All India Traders, an Indian trade body that claims to represent over 80 million businesses, told the publication that Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal has assured the organization that it is working to shortly address concerns about alleged violations of current rules.

The forthcoming policy change is only one of the many headaches for the world’s largest e-commerce firm in India.

Offline retailers in India have long expressed concerns about what they allege to be unfair practices employed by Amazon in India. Last year, during Bezos’ visit to the country, they held several protests. (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Amazon is aggressively fighting a battle to block a deal between its estranged partner Future Group and Reliance Retail, the two largest retail chains in India.

Last year, Future Group announced that it would sell its retail, wholesale, logistics and warehousing businesses to Reliance Retail for $3.4 billion. Amazon, which in 2019 bought stakes in one of Future Group’s unlisted firms, says that the Indian firm has breached its contract (which would have given Amazon the right to first refusal) and engaged in insider trading.

Despite technology giants and investors ploughing more than $20 billion to create an e-commerce market in India in the past decade, online retail still accounts for only a single-digit pie of all retail in the country.

In recent years, Amazon, Walmart and scores of other startups have embraced this realization and sought to work with neighborhood stores that dot tens of thousands of cities, towns and villages in India.

With Reliance Retail and telecom giant Jio Platforms, two subsidiaries of one of India’s largest corporates (Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries) entering the e-commerce market, and receiving the backing of global giants including Facebook and Google last year, cornering a big stake in Future Group is one of the few ways Amazon can accelerate its growth in India.

The American e-commerce firm has had little luck so far in overturning the deal between the Indian firms. Last year, Amazon reached out to Indian antitrust body Competition Commission of India, and market regulator SEBI to block this transaction. Both the bodies have ruled in favor of Future Group and Reliance Retail.

Amazon must have foreseen this outcome because it initiated the legal proceedings at an arbitration court in Singapore. It’s no surprise that the firm chose to also pursue its legal argument outside of India.

Most cases that reach the Singapore International Arbitration Court have come from India in recent years. Vodafone, which has invested more than $20 billion in India, and has been dealt with billions of dollars in unpaid taxes by the country, is another high-profile name to have knocked on the door in Singapore. After losing in India, it emerged victorious in the Singapore arbitration court last year.

Amazon on Monday filed a new petition in Delhi High Court in which it is seeking to enforce SIAC’s ruling (which ordered last year that the deal should be temporarily halted) and prevent the Indian firm from going ahead with the deal based on CCI and SEBI’s judgements.

The company alleges that Future Group “deliberately and maliciously” disobeyed the international arbitration ruling from SIAC. In its petition, Amazon is also seeking detention of Kishore Biyani, the founder and chairman of Future Group.

“Vocal for Local”

As India grappled with containing the spread of the coronavirus last year, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the 1.3 billion citizens to make the country “self-reliant” and “be vocal for local.”

The move to turn inwards contrasts with his major promise in the first few years of assuming power in 2014 when he pledged to make India more welcoming to foreign firms than before. In recent years, India has proposed or enforced several regulations that hurt American firms, though none appear to suffer as much as Amazon.

Last year, New Delhi started to enforce a 2% tax on all foreign billings for digital services provided in the country. The U.S. Trade Representative said earlier this month that India was taxing numerous categories of digital services that are “not leviable under other digital services taxes adopted around the world.”

The aggregate tax bill for U.S. companies could exceed $30 million per year in India, USTR’s investigation found. In conclusion, it found India’s digital tax move to be inconsistent with international tax principles, unreasonable and burdening or restricting U.S. commerce.

Modi’s new way of life for India will be music to the ears of Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, an ally of the prime minister and India’s richest man.

Before selling stakes worth over $20 billion in Jio Platforms and more than $6 billion in Reliance Retail to marquee foreign investors, Ambani famously made a speech in 2019 in which he urged the need to protect Indians’ data in patriotic terms.

“We have to collectively launch a new movement against data colonization. For India to succeed in this data-driven revolution, we will have to migrate the control and ownership of Indian data back to India — in other words, Indian wealth back to every Indian,” he said.

Why so many international firms have invested in one of Reliance’s properties remains a big question. A senior executive at an American firm told TechCrunch on the condition of anonymity (out of fear of retribution) that the investments in Jio Platforms, which is India’s largest telecom network with nearly 410 million subscribers, and Reliance Retail is a déjà vu moment for the nation, where a few decades ago one of the only ways to do business in the nation was to partner with a local firm with massive political clout.

In a series of tweets, Raman Chima, a former policy executive at Google and who now works at nonprofit digital advocacy group Access Now, alleged that the Android-maker had weighed in 2011-12 partnering and investing in a firm like Reliance to “turn-the-page on Indian political risks.”

The idea prompted concerns about Google’s values, he claimed. “More than one executive involved in those discussions flagged concerns around Reliance’s reputation, particularly around problematic approaches towards gaining influence with policymaking civil servants and politicians, money, ethics in govt-business relationships.”

Amazon itself was rumored to be interested in getting a multi-billion-dollar stake in Reliance Retail last year, but it appears the two firms have stopped engaging on any matter.

BJP MLA Ram Kadam and his party workers protest against the Amazon Prime web series Tandav outside Bandra-Kurla Police station, on January 18, 2021 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Pratik Chorge/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

While Amazon sorts out these issues, last week delivered another blow to the firm. A senior executive with the firm as well as Indian makers of a mini-series for Amazon Prime Video are under threat of criminal prosecution in the country after Modi’s ruling party deemed the show offensive to the country’s Hindu majority.

A Hindu nationalist group, politicians with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and a BJP group representing members of India’s lower castes, were among those who had filed police reports against the nine-part mini-series “Tandav” and Amazon. The company bowed to the pressure and edited out some scenes.

“The true reason for the complaints against ‘Tandav’ may be that the show holds up a mirror uncomfortably close to Indian society and some of the problems blamed on Mr. Modi’s administration. In the opening episode, the show features protesting students and disgruntled farmers, echoing events that have taken place in recent months,” The New York Times wrote.

“Mirzapur,” another show of Amazon, also attracted a criminal complaint in India last week for hurting religious and regional sentiments and defaming the Indian town. The Indian Supreme Court has issued notices to the makers of “Mirzapur” and has sought responses.

In the aforementioned interview, Bezos said Amazon’s job was to follow all the unique rules various countries require it to comply with and “adapt our business practice to those rules.”

In India, the company is increasingly being asked how far it is willing to adapt its business practice. How far is it willing to bend that it’s no longer the Amazon people cared for.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #amazon-prime-video, #apps, #asia, #ecommerce, #entertainment, #flipkart, #government, #india, #jio-platforms, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #reliance-retail, #walmart

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Jumbotail raises $14.2 million for its wholesale marketplace in India

Jumbotail, an online wholesale marketplace for grocery and food items, said on Friday it has raised an additional $14.2 million as the Bangalore-based startup chases the opportunity to digitize neighborhood stores in the world’s second largest internet market.

The five-year-old startup said the new tranche of its Series B financing round was led by VII Ventures, with participation from Nutresa, Veronorte, Jumbofund, Klinkert Investment Trust, Peter Crosby Trust, Nexus Venture Partners, and Discovery Ventures.

The startup told TechCrunch that the new tranche concludes its Series B round, which it kickstarted in 2019 with a tranche of $12.7 million. It ended up raising about $44 million in the Series B round (including Friday’s tranche), and to date has amassed about $54 million in equity investment, the startup told the publication.

Jumbotail said it serves over 30,000 neighborhood stores (popularly known in India as kiranas) in the country. In addition to its business-to-business marketplace, the startup also provides working capital to neighborhood stores through partnerships with financial institutions.

The startup, which has built its own supply chain network to enable last-mile delivery, also supplies these stores with point-of-sale devices so that they can easily get access to a much wider selection of catalog and have the new inventory shipped to them within two days. It also integrates these stores with hyperlocal delivery startups such as Dunzo and Swiggy to help mom and pop shops further expand their customer base.

Ashish Jhina, co-founder of Jumbotail, said he believes the startup has reached an inflection point in its growth and is now ready for its next chapter, which includes hiring top talent and expanding to more regions in the country, especially in several cities in South India.

“We are seeing tremendous interest from investors across the globe who are drawn to our highly scalable and operationally profitable business model, built on the industry’s best technology and customer NPS,” said Jhina, who previously served in Indian army and then worked at e-commerce firms eBay and Flipkart.

At a recent virtual conference, Jhina said that the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted New Delhi to order a nationwide lockdown and put restrictions on e-commerce firms, has illustrated just how crucial neighborhood stores are in people’s lives. And for all the ills that the virus has wrought to the world, it did help accelerate the adoption of technology among these stores.

A number of food brands whose products neighborhood stores sell today are not standardized, which poses a question about their quality. To fill this gap, Jumbotail runs its own private label portfolio and Jhina said the startup will deploy part of the fresh fund to broaden this catalog. Having private label also allows Jumbotail to ensure that its retail partners can get the supply of items throughout the year — and of course, it also helps the startup, which has been operationally profitable for nearly three quarters, improve its margin.

There are more than 30 million neighborhood stores in India that dot across the thousands of cities and towns in the country. These small businesses have been around for decades and survived — and even thrived — despite e-commerce giants pouring billions of dollars in India to change how people shop. In recent years, scores of startups — and giants — in India have begun to explore ways to work with these neighborhood stores.

One of them is India’s largest retail chain Reliance Retail, which serves more than 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country. In late 2019, it entered the e-commerce space with JioMart through a joint venture with sister subsidiary telecom giant Jio Platforms. By mid last year, JioMart had expanded to over 200 Indian cities and towns — though currently its reach within those cities and customer service leave a lot to be desired.

Reliance Retail also maintains a partnership with Facebook for WhatsApp integration. Facebook, which invested $5.7 billion in Jio Platforms last year, has said that it will explore various ways to work with Reliance to digitize the nation’s mom and pop stores, as well as other small- and medium-sized businesses.

For JioMart, Reliance Retail is working with neighborhood shops, giving them a digital point-of-sale machine to make it easier for them to accept money electronically. It is also allowing these shops to buy their inventory from Reliance Retail, and then use their physical presence as delivery points. At present, the platform is largely focused on grocery delivery. In a recent report to clients, Goldman Sachs analysts estimated that Reliance could become the largest player in online grocery within three years.

#asia, #ecommerce, #food, #funding, #india, #jio-platforms, #nexus-venture-partners, #reliance-retail

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Tesla to make India debut ‘early’ next year

Tesla will begin operating in India in “early” 2021, a top Indian minister said on Monday, a day after the tech-centric carmaker said it was confident it would enter the world’s second most populated market next year.

Tesla’s operations with begin with sales in early 2021 and then “maybe” look at assembling and manufacturing vehicles in the country, India’s transport minister Nitin Gadkari told newspaper Indian Express. How early? Definitely not next month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted over the weekend.

Tesla has for years expressed interest in expanding to India. But in a 2018 tweet, Musk shared that “some government regulations” in India had emerged as a roadblock.

Like elsewhere in the world, Musk has amassed tens of millions of fans in India. A handful of people paid the token amount of $1,000 to pre-order the Model 3 in 2016. Musk later blamed the local regulations for the delay in bringing the cars to customers in India.

“Maybe I’m misinformed, but I was told that 30% of parts must be locally sourced and the supply doesn’t yet exist in India to support that,” he tweeted in 2017.

Tesla has long focused on expanding global sales and today has showrooms in Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Mexico as well as throughout Europe as well as a final assembly facility that opened in 2013 in Tilburg, Netherlands. However, it wasn’t until 2019 that the company began producing vehicles outside of the United States. In late 2019, Tesla started producing electric vehicles at its factory in Shanghai. Tesla is constructing another factory in Berlin as well as in Austin, Texas.

India has emerged as one of the world’s largest battlegrounds for American, South Korean and Chinese firms, that are looking at the South Asian market to expand their user and customer bases. Facebook and Google, both of which identify India as their biggest market by users, wrote multi-billion checks to Indian telecom giant Jio Platforms this year, for instance. Apple has ramped up its local production in the country in recent years to secure a larger smartphone market share — more than 70% of which is currently commanded by Chinese smartphone vendors.

New Delhi, which has claimed to abolish more than a 1,000 “archaic laws” in recent years, has previously acknowledged the pain points expressed by Musk. In the past three years, India has proposed billions of dollars in incentive to car companies to switch to electric alternatives and accelerate innovation and manufacturing of batteries in a bid to reduce its spendings on oil and curb air pollution.

India also proposed to ride-hailing firms Uber and Ola to convert 40% of their fleets in the country to electric by April 2026. It stated that the ride-hailing giants must convert 2.5% of their fleet of cars by 2021, 5% by 2022 and 10% by 2023.

Indian ride-hailing firm Ola, acquired Amsterdam-based Etergo earlier this year, said this month that it plans to invest about $327 million to set up “the world’s largest scooter factory” in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which it said will be able to create 10,000 new jobs and have an initial capacity to produce 2 million electric vehicles in a year.

Earlier this year, a proposal drafted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi-backed think tank Niti Aayog said the country could slash its spendings on oil import by as much as $40 billion in the next 10 years if electric vehicles were to be widely adopted.

Gadkari told the Indian newspaper that he is hopeful that India will emerge as the No. 1 manufacturing hub for auto in five years.

 

#apple, #asia, #automotive, #elon-musk, #google, #india, #jio-platforms, #tesla, #transportation

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Indian startups raised $9.3 billion in 2020

The coronavirus pandemic — and a handful of other factors — slowed dealmaking for startups in India this year.

Compared to their record $14.5 billion fundraise last year, Indian startups are ending 2020 with about $9.3 billion. This is the first time since 2016 that startups in India, one of the world’s largest startup communities, has raised less than $10 billion in a year, according to consultancy firm Tracxn.

The number of deals fell from 1,185 last year to 1,088 in 2020. There were fewer larger sized rounds, too. Rounds with dealsize $100 million or larger fell from 26 in 2019 to 20 (these rounds delivered $3.6 billion this year, compared to $7.5 billion last year), and similarly rounds with dealsize $50 million to $100 million fell from 27 to 13. (The figures do not include investments in telecom giant Jio Platforms, which alone raised over $20 billion this year.)

Despite the slowdown, Indian startups saw substantial rebound in the second half of this year. In the first half, startups in the world’s second largest internet market had raised just $4.2 billion from about 461 deals, said Tracxn.

Other than the coronavirus, which has impacted startups worldwide, another factor that impacted the dealmaking was absence of — or reduced participation from — some of the biggest investors.

Chinese giants such as Alibaba — and its affiliate Ant Group — and Tencent wrote fewer checks this year to Indian startups amid tension between the two neighboring nations. SoftBank also delivered less capital as many of its high-profile portfolio firms including Paytm, Oyo Rooms, and Ola did not raise money.

But the virus also accelerated growth of some startups. Byju’s is now valued at over $11 billion, up from $8 billion in January this year. Unacademy, another high-profile startup in the online learning space, raised two rounds at the height of the pandemic, increasing its valuation from about $500 million in February this year to over $2 billion.

Bond, a firm started by Mary Meeker and other high-profile investors, backed Byju’s this year. Bond believes that Byju’s will be worth over $30 billion in three years, a person who was briefed by the investment firm told TechCrunch. Several startups in India operating on a SaaS model and catering to customers worldwide also picked up momentum this year.

11 Indian startups including RazorPay, Unacademy, DailyHunt, and Glance became a unicorn this year. (On a side note, Google and Facebook wrote several checks to Indian firms this year. Google backed Glance and DailyHunt last week, while Facebook invested in Unacademy. Both the firms also invested in Jio Platforms this year.)

“I am old enough (unfortunately!) to have seen the 2001 and 2008 downturns so when Covid hit and there were stories of doom and gloom everywhere, I remembered what I saw happening in the past downturns — a beginning of a new generation of teams who built the next generation of companies,” said Vaibhav Domkundwar, founder and managing partner at Better Capital. Better Capital, which backs early stage startups in India, wrote 43 investment and follow-on checks this year.

M&A activities also accelerated this year. Byju’s acquired WhiteHat Jr for $300 million, while Unacademy acquired PrepLadder, which offers courses aimed at medical students, for $50 million in July. It also led an investment round of $5 million to acquire a majority stake in Mastree.

Reliance Industries acquired online pharmacy Nedmeds and, in a fire sale, Urban Ladder.

But for the first time, Indian startups are on the verge of seeing another kind of exit. Zomato, Flipkart, and Policybazaar are among some startups that plan to go public next year. Analysts at Bernstein have identified Paytm, Byju’s, PhonePe, and Delhivery among those who could also go public by 2022.

#apps, #asia, #dailyhunt, #flipkart, #funding, #glance, #jio-platforms, #ola, #oyo-rooms, #paytm, #policybazaar, #razorpay, #unacademy, #urban-ladder, #zomato

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Facebook launches revamped Instagram Lite app in India

Facebook is working to bring back the Instagram Lite app, months after it shut down the light version offering worldwide.

The social conglomerate said on Wednesday that it is testing the revamped Instagram Lite app in India, where it hopes to “gain valuable insights” about the new offering before “a global rollout” of the app later.

The revamped Instagram Lite app weighs less than 2MB and delivers a “fast, reliable, and responsive” experience of the social service. The Android app supports Bangla, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu, but currently lacks a several core features of Instagram including Reels, Shopping and IGTV.

Facebook quietly discontinued the previous iteration of Instagram Lite earlier this year. In July, Vishal Shah, VP of Product at Instagram, told TechCrunch that the company had identified some issues in the app and was working to resolve those. In September, a new Lite app was spotted in the wild, though Facebook did not acknowledge it.

Lite apps are especially popular in emerging markets where most users don’t have access to high-end smartphones or fast and cheap mobile internet data. Facebook Lite app, for instance, had about 40 million monthly active users in India last month, while Messenger Lite app had about 13 million, according to mobile insight firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch.

Shah made the announcement about the revamped Instagram Lite app at Facebook Fuel for India event on Wednesday, where scores of Facebook executives including Mark Zuckerberg and Ajit Mohan outlined a number of other programs they were working on for the world’s second largest internet market.

Instagram also announced the second version of ‘Born on Instagram,’ a one-year-old program it has built for content creators to better understand and leverage ways to collaborate with one another and explore monetization opportunities.

“With the test of Instagram Lite, and the next edition of Born on Instagram, we’re aiming to democratize expression and creativity for a greater number of people in India,” said Shah.

At the event, WhatsApp India head Abhijit Bose said that the company was working to launch sachet-sized health insurance offering to users in India this month. In July, WhatsApp had unveiled that it was working to pilot credit, insurance, and pension services in India, the instant messaging app’s biggest market by users, over the next year and a half.

“WhatsApp has proactively been working on several pilots to help ensure that every adult has access to the most basic critical financial and livelihood services through their mobile device. By the end of this year, we expect that people will be able to buy affordable sachet sized health insurance through WhatsApp,” Bose said today.

Facebook, which identifies India as its biggest market by users, is also working with telecom giant Jio Platforms to help tens of millions of small businesses establish online presence and sell digitally. The American giant, which invested $5.7 billion in Jio Platforms this year, are collaborating to make Jio Platforms’ JioMart e-commerce service available through WhatsApp. Some new features are coming to JioMart’s WhatsApp channel in the “coming days,” Facebook and Reliance executives teased today.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #india, #instagram, #instagram-lite, #jio-platforms, #social, #whatsapp

0

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

0

Jio Platforms backs SF-based AR gaming startup Krikey

Jio Platforms, the biggest telecom operator in India and which has raised over $20 billion from Facebook, Google and other high-profile investors this year, is leading a financing round of a San Francisco-based startup that develops augmented-reality mobile games.

Jio has led the Series A fundraise of Krikey, founded by sisters Jhanvi and Ketaki Shriram, the Indian firm said on Wednesday. They did not disclose the size of Krikey’s Series A round, but Jio said Krikey has raised $22 million to date.

Krikey has previously not disclosed any financing rounds, according to their listings on Crunchbase, CBInsights, and Tracxn.

As part of the announcement, Krikey has launched YAATRA, a new AR game that invites users to step in an action-adventure story to defeat a monster army. “Using weapons such as the bow and arrow, chakra, lightning and fire bolts, players can battle through different levels of combat and puzzle games,” Krikey said.

Jio subscribers in India will get exclusive access to a range of features in Krikey, available on Android and iOS, including a 3D avatar, and entry to some game levels and weapons.

Krikey has developed two additional games in the past, including Gorillas, a game the startup developed in partnership with Ellen DeGeneres’s wildlife foundation. “We believe AR has a huge potential in not just gaming but in many other industries to disrupt the way people interact with the world around them. We are very excited to use the phone as the window back into the natural world and hope that people’s experiences in empathising with birds and guerrillas and different ecosystems will encourage them to start to take real-world conservation behaviour changes,” said Jhanvi in an interview with Cheddar last year.

“Our vision with Krikey is to bring together inspiration and reality in an immersive way. With augmented reality, we are able to bring fantasy worlds into your home, straight through the window of your mobile phone,” said Jhanvi and Ketaki Shriram in a joint statement today. They have previously participated in Apple’s female entrepreneur camp.

In a statement, Akash Ambani, Director of Jio, said, “Krikey will inspire a generation of Indians to embrace Augmented Reality. Our vision is to bring the best experiences from across the world to India and the introduction of Yaatra is a step in that direction. Augmented Reality gaming takes the user into a world of its own, and we invite every Jio and non-Jio user to experience AR through Yaatra.”

Jio has previously acquired music streaming service Saavn (which has since been rebranded to JioSaavn), and Haptik, a startup that develops conversational platforms and virtual assistants.

We have reached out to Jio and Krikey for more details.

#apps, #asia, #funding, #jio-platforms, #reliance-jio

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India approves Google’s $4.5 billion deal with Reliance’s Jio Platforms

India’s antitrust watchdog has approved Google’s proposed investment of $4.5 billion in the nation’s largest telecom platform Jio Platforms, it said in a tweet on Wednesday.

Google announced in July that it would be investing $4.5 billion for a 7.73% stake in the top Indian telecom network. As part of the deal, Google and Jio Platforms plan to collaborate on developing a customized-version of Android mobile operating system to build low-cost, entry-level smartphones to serve the next hundreds of millions of users, the two companies said.

Jio Platforms is planning to launch as many as 200 million smartphones in the next three years, according to a pitch the telecom giant has made to several developers. These smartphones, as is the case with nearly 40 million of Jio’s feature phones in circulation today, will have an app store with only a few dozen apps, all vetted and approved by Jio, according to one developer who was pitched by Jio Platforms. An industry executive described Jio’s store as a walled garden.

The Indian watchdog, Competition Commission of India (CCI), was said to be interested in reviewing the data sharing agreement between Google and Jio, Indian newspaper Economic Times reported last month, citing an unidentified source.

The announcement today comes days after the CCI announced it had directed an in-depth investigation into Google to verify the allegations of whether the Android-maker promotes its payments service during the installation of an Android smartphone (and whether phone vendors have a choice to avoid this); and if Google Play Store’s billing system is designed “to the disadvantage of both i.e. apps facilitating payment through UPI, as well as users.”

The call for this in-depth investigation was prompted after the CCI concluded in its initial review that requiring Google Pay to be used to buy apps or make in-app payments was an “imposition of unfair and discriminatory condition, denial of market access for competing apps of Google Pay and leveraging on the part of Google,” the watchdog said.

Jio Platforms, which has amassed over 400 million subscribers, has this year raised over $20 billion from 13 high-profile investors including Facebook, which alone invested $5.7 billion into the Indian firm. That deal has also been approved by the CCI. Jio Platforms is a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, India’s most valued firm. It is run by Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man.

#asia, #facebook, #google, #government, #india, #jio-platforms, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms

0

Reliance Retail raises $1.3 billion from PIF

The Public Investment Fund, which has this year invested $1.5 billion in Mukesh Ambani’s telecom venture Jio Platforms and more than half a billion dollars in his fiber-optic business, has returned to back yet another empire built by India’s richest man.

The sovereign wealth fund is investing $1.3 billion in Reliance Retail for a 2.04% equity stake in the largest retail chain in India. The investment values Reliance Retail, which was founded in 2006, at $62.4 billion (up from about $58 billion last month), the Indian firm said.

Reliance Retail, which serves more than 3.5 million customers each week (as of early this year) through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country, has now raised over 6.4 billion since September this year.

“We at Reliance have a long-standing relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. PIF is at the forefront of the economic transformation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I welcome PIF as a valued partner in Reliance Retail and look forward to their sustained support and guidance as we continue our ambitious journey to transform India’s retail sector for enriching the lives of 1.3 billion Indians and millions of small merchants,” said Ambani, who runs Reliance Retail’s parent firm, Reliance Industries, in a statement. 

More to follow…

#asia, #funding, #india, #jio-platforms, #reliance-industries, #reliance-retail

0

Reliance Jio Platforms tops 400M subscribers, explores expanding services outside of India

Reliance Jio Platforms, the telecom venture run by India’s richest man (Mukesh Ambani), had 405.6 million subscribers in the quarter that ended in September, becoming the first operator outside of China to cross 400 million subscribers in a single country market.

The Facebook and Google-backed telecom operator said its finances has improved, too, despite the pandemic. Its EBIDTA run-rate crossed $1 billion in the aforementioned quarter, while net profit jumped to $409 million. The average revenue it clocks per user now stands at Rs 145 ($1.94), up from $1.88 the quarter before. In the past two quarters, the company has expanded its workforce by 30,000 people, it added.

Jio Platforms also operates a range of services including JioTV, JioMusic, and JioMoney. Kiran Thomas, President of Reliance Industries (parent firm of Jio Platforms), said in an earnings call Friday that the company has proven that its services can be feasibly built in India, and the company plans to expand them outside of the country. However, he did not share a timeline for this expansion.

A slide from Reliance Industries’ quarterly earnings call (Reliance)

Reliance Industries, the most valuable firm in India, announced some more investments in its businesses, continuing its eye-catching funding spree at the height of a global pandemic.

The oil-to-retails giant announced that Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund will invest $1.01 billion in the company’s digital fibre business as the Indian firm makes further push in deploying its broadband line across the country.

Abu Dhabi Authority and Saudi Arabia’s PIF are also an investor in Jio Platforms, which this year has raised about $20 billion. A Reliance Jio spokesperson told TechCrunch that the investment announced today are separate and not part of the two firms’ previous deals.

#asia, #funding, #india, #jio-platforms, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance-industries

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Ambani sells over $750 million Reliance Retail stake to Abu Dhabi Investment Authority

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which invested $750 million in Indian telecom giant Jio Platforms in June this year, has returned to invest just as much capital in Mukesh Ambani’s other venture.

Reliance Retail, India’s largest retail chain, said on Tuesday that it is selling a 1.2% stake in the business to Abu Dhabi Investment Authority for about $752 million. Abu Dhabi Investment Authority is the seventh investor to secure a stake in Reliance Retail — at a pre-money valuation of $58.5 billion — in the past one month.

Reliance Retail, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries (India’s most valuable firm), has raised about $5.14 billion by selling about 8.5% stake in its business to Silver Lake, Singapore’s GIC, General Atlantic and others. Mukesh Ambani, who controls Reliance Industries, said in July that he was looking to sell stakes in Reliance Retail to investors. Earlier this year, Jio Platforms raised about $20 billion from more than a dozen high-profile investors including Facebook and Google.

Founded in 2006, Reliance Retail serves more than 3.5 million customers each week (as of early this year) through its nearly 12,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country. Reliance Retail operates supermarkets, electronics chain, fashion outlets and a cash-and-carry wholesaler. In recent months, the firm has rushed to widen its dominance in the retail market. It bought several parts of Future Group, India’s second largest retail chain, for $3.4 billion in late August.

Late last year, it also entered the e-commerce space with JioMart. JioMart, a joint venture between Reliance Retail and Jio Platforms, has presence in over 200 Indian cities and towns, and maintains a partnership with Facebook for WhatsApp integration. Facebook, which invested $5.7 billion in Jio Platforms earlier this year, has said it will explore various ways to work with Reliance to digitize the nation’s 60 million mom and pop stores as well as other small and medium-sized businesses.

“Reliance Retail has rapidly established itself as one of the leading retail businesses in India and, by leveraging both its physical and digital supply chains, is strongly positioned for further growth. This investment is consistent with our strategy of investing in market leading businesses in Asia linked to the region’s consumption-driven growth and rapid technological advancement,” said Hamad Shahwan Aldhaheri, Executive Director of the Private Equities Department at ADIA, in a statement.

Physical retail commands about 97% of all retail sales in India, according to estimates from several research firms.

#asia, #funding, #india, #jio-platforms, #reliance-industries, #reliance-retail, #tc

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Singapore’s GIC and TPG to invest $1 billion in Reliance Retail

GIC, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, will invest $752 million in Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Retail, and TPG will invest $250 million in the Indian firm, they all said Saturday midnight (local time).

The Government of Singapore Investment Corp and TPG are the latest high-profile investors to back Reliance Retail, India’s largest retail chain, in the past four weeks. Reliance Retail — like its sister sibling Jio Platforms — is a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, India’s most valuable firm.

GIC’s andd TPG’s investments give Reliance Retail a pre-money valuation of $58.5 billion, the Indian firm said. GIC, which has backed firms in over 40 nations, will get a 1.22% equity stake in the retail giant, while TPG will secure 0.41% stake, they said.

The announcement today caps a busy week for Reliance Retail, which in the past three days has revealed that Mubadala ($855 million for a 1.4% stake), Silver Lake ($254 million for a 0.38% stake), and General Atlantic ($498 million for a 0.84% stake) would also be investing in it.

In total, investors have committed about $4.4 billion in Reliance Retail in the current fundraising spree. (Silver Lake committed to invest another $1 billion in Reliance Retail last month, and KKR has announced it would invest about $754 million.)

Reliance Retail, founded in 2006, serves more than 3.5 million customers each week (as of early this year) through its nearly 12,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country. Physical retail commands about 97% of all retail sales in India, according to estimates from several research firms.

“We believe Reliance Retail will continue to use its extensive supply chain and store networks, as well as strong logistics and data infrastructure, to add value to its customers and shareholders,” said Lim Chow Kiat, CEO of GIC, in a statement.

Reliance Retail operates supermarkets, electronics chain, fashion outlets, and a cash-and-carry wholesaler. In recent months, the firm has rushed to widen its dominance in the retail market. It bought several parts of Future Group, India’s second largest retail chain, for $3.4 billion in late August.

Late last year, it also entered the e-commerce space with JioMart. JioMart, a joint venture between Reliance Retail and Jio Platforms, has presence in over 200 Indian cities and towns and maintains a partnership with Facebook for a WhatsApp integration.

Facebook, which invested $5.7 billion in Jio Platforms earlier this year, has it will explore various ways to work with Reliance to digitize the nation’s 60 million mom and pop stores as well as other small and medium-sized businesses.

Jio Platforms has raised more than $20 billion in India this year from a roster of marquee investors including Facebook, Google, General Atlantic, Mubadala, Silver Lake, and KKR. Some industry executives have argued that investments in Jio Platforms make no business case and is largely foreign firms’ push to get friendly with Ambani, India’s richest man and an ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“I am delighted that GIC, with its track record of close to four decades of successful long-term value investing across the world, is partnering with Reliance Retail in its mission to transform the Indian retail landscape. GIC’s global network and track record of long-term partnerships will be invaluable to the transformation story of Indian Retail. This investment is a strong endorsement of our strategy and India’s potential,” said Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries, in a statement.

The story was updated at 2.15 am IST to include details about TPG’s investment.

#amazon, #asia, #funding, #gic, #india, #jio-platforms, #reliance-retail

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Indian startups explore forming an alliance and alternative app store to fight Google’s ‘monopoly’

Google, which reaches more internet users than any other firm in India and commands 99% of the nation’s smartphone market, has stumbled upon an odd challenge in the world’s second largest internet market: Scores of top local entrepreneurs.

Dozens of top startups and firms in India are working to form an alliance and toying with the idea of launching an app store to cut their reliance on Google, five people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The list of entrepreneurs include high-profile names such as Vijay Shekhar Sharma, co-founder and chief executive of Paytm (India’s most valuable startup), Deep Kalra of travel ticketing firm MakeMyTrip, and executives from PolicyBazaar, Sharechat and many other firms.

The growing list of founders expressed deep concerns about Google’s “monopolistic” hold on India, and discussed what they alleged was unfair and inconsistent enforcement of Play Store’s guidelines in the country.

The conversations, which began in recent weeks, escalated on Tuesday after Google said that starting next year developers with an app on Google Play Store must give the company a cut of as much as 30% of several app-related payments.

Dozens of executives “from nearly every top startup and firm” in India attended a call on Tuesday to discuss the way forward, some of the people said, requesting anonymity. A 30% cut to Google is simply unfeasible, people on the call unanimously agreed.

Vishal Gondal, the founder of fitness startup GOQii, confirmed the talks to TechCrunch and said that an alternative app store would immensely help the Indian app ecosystem.

TechCrunch reached out to Paytm on Monday for comment and the startup declined the request.

In recent months, several major startups in India have also expressed disappointment over several of the existing industry bodies, which some say have failed to work on nurturing the local ecosystem.

The tension between some firms and Google became more public than ever late last month after the Android-maker reiterated Play Store’s gambling policy, sending a shockwave to scores of startups in the country that were hoping to cash in on the ongoing season of Indian Premier League cricket tournament.

Google temporarily pulled Paytm’s marquee app from the Play Store citing repeat violation of its Play Store policies. Disappointed by Google’s move, Paytm’s Sharma said in a TV interview, “This is the problem of India’s app ecosystem. So many founders have reached out to us… if we believe this country can build digital business, we must know that it is at somebody else’s hand to bless that business and not this country’s rules and regulations.”

Google has sent notices to several firms in India including Hotstar, TechCrunch reported last month. Indian newspaper Economic Times reported on Wednesday that the Mountain View giant had also sent warnings to food delivery startups Swiggy and Zomato.

Vivek Wadhwa, a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, lauded the banding of Indian entrepreneurs and likened Silicon Valley giants’ hold on India to the rising days of East India Company, which pillaged India. “Modern day tech companies pose a similar risk,” he told TechCrunch.

Some of the participating members are also hopeful that the government, which has urged the citizens in India to become self-reliant to revive the declining economy, would help their movement.

Other than its reach on Android, Google today also leads the mobile payments market in India, TechCrunch reported earlier this year.

The giant, which has backed a handful of startups in India and is a member of several Indian industry bodies, invested $4.5 billion in Mukesh Ambani’s telecom giant Jio Platforms earlier this year.

India’s richest man Ambani, who runs oil-to-retails giant Reliance Industries, is an ally of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Jio Platforms has attracted over $20 billion in investment from Google, Facebook, and 11 other high-profile investors this year.

The voluminous investment in Jio Platforms has puzzled many industry executives. “I see no business case for Facebook investing in Jio beyond saying we need regulatory help,” said Miten Sampat, a high-profile angel-investor on a podcast published Wednesday.

“This is a white-collar way of saying there is corruption involved, and if the government gets upset, I have invested somewhere with some friend of the government. All of us are losing at the benefit of one company,” he said. Sampat’s views are shared by many industry executives, though nobody has said it on record and in such clear terms.

Google said in July that it would work with Jio Platforms on low-cost Android smartphones. Jio Platforms is planning to launch as many as 200 million smartphones in the next three years, according to a pitch the telecom giant has made to several developers. Bloomberg first reported about Jio Platform’s smartphone production plans.

These smartphones, as is the case with nearly 40 million JioPhone feature phones in circulation today, will have an app store with only a few dozen apps, all vetted and approved by Jio, according to one developer who was pitched by Jio Platforms. An industry executive described Jio’s store as a walled-garden.

A possible viable option for startup founders is Indus OS, a Samsung-backed third-party store, which last month said it reaches over 100 million monthly active users. As of earlier this week, Paytm and other firms had not reached out to IndusOS, a person familiar with the matter said.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #google, #india, #jio-platforms, #payments, #paytm, #reliance-jio, #sharechat

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Silverlake adds a $2 billion “longterm” hedge fund backed by Abu Dhabi to its tech finance toolkit

Silver Lake Partners, the multi-billion dollar tech-focused investment firm, is adding a longterm hedge fund backed by Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala, to its array of investment vehicles to finance technology companies.

The move into multi-strategy investing represents the diversification of financing vehicles that companies have at their disposal and gives the private equity firm the tools it needs to compete in a world awash with capital and new ways for companies to access public market financing.

It’s probably not a coincidence that the public-private, long-only, investment structure is happening as more tech companies are eschewing later stage financing to find cash on public markets through things like special purpose acquisition companies (SPACS).

According to a statement from the firm, the new strategy has a 25-year deployment life cycle and can be invested across structures, geographies and industries. The agreement makes the two financial entities a couple that will really span time together.

In addition to the new strategy, Silver Lake’s partnership has a new minority shareholder in the Abu Dhabi-backed sovereign wealth fund. Mubadala took a minority stake in the firm by buying up half of the 10% chunk of the firm that Silver Lake’s partners sold to Dyal Capital Partners, a subsidiary of Neuberger Berman.

“Silver Lake is a top performer for Dyal, having innovated, evolved and expanded to prudently grow its assets under management from $23 billion when we first acquired our stake to more than $60 billion today,” said Michael Rees, Managing Director and Head of Dyal Capital Partners, in a statement. “This transaction with Mubadala and their commitment to Silver Lake’s new long-term capital vehicle is a strong endorsement of Silver Lake’s differentiated, global capabilities and underscores our conviction in the ability to generate compelling returns by owning stakes in the world’s leading private investment firms.”

It’s not the first time that the two firms have hooked up. Mubadala is a co-investor alongside Silver Lake in the talent agency and entertainment giant, Endeavor; the autonomous vehicle technology developer, Waymo; and the India-based Jio Platforms.

The firm’s co-chief executives Egon Durban and Greg Mondre said in a joint statement that the new deal would allow the firm to capitalize on a wide range of investment opportunities, including ones outside of the mandates of existing funds.

“As an institution that has long seen the potential of investing in the technology sector, we are excited to partner with Silver Lake, one of the world’s most respected technology investors, to capitalize on major opportunities within and beyond the industry,” said Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Mubadala, in a statement.  “Technology is the bedrock of the global economy, and fundamental to all other sectors that are being significantly digitalized.  Our goal is to be well positioned to take advantage of this accelerated digital transformation and its potential, and we believe Silver Lake is the right partner and that this is an optimal structure for us.”

Mubadala’s tech portfolio investments kicked off in 2007 with an investment in the chip manufacturer AMD and then through the creation of the semiconductor manufacturing company GlobalFoundries. It’s also backed the medtech company PCI Pharma Services, and a number of ridesharing and e-commerce companies in Abu Dhabi and Silicon Valley, the company said.

The deal with Silver Lake could also be seen as a slap in the face for Softbank — a long time partner for Mubadala, which was an investor in the Japanese investment firm’s $100 billion Vision Fund and a $400 million European-focused investment vehicle which launched in February of last year.

#abu-dhabi, #amd, #finance, #investment, #jio-platforms, #money, #mubadala, #mubadala-investment-company, #neuberger-berman, #private-equity, #semiconductor, #silver-lake, #silver-lake-partners, #softbank, #softbank-group, #tc, #vision-fund, #waymo

0

TikTok-rival Triller inks deal with Reliance’s JioSaavn in India push

Triller, an app that functions similarly to TikTok, has inked a strategic partnership with a platform owned by India’s richest man to cash in on the Chinese app’s ban in its biggest international market.

The Los Angeles-headquartered firm said on Monday it has partnered with Reliance’s JioSaavn music app to embed Triller videos into the streamer “front and center.”

As part of what Triller said was the “first of many announcements to come from these two digital powerhouses,” JioSaavn app will also provide a “prominent” button on its main screen that will enable its users to create a triller video, the American firm said.

The announcement comes as scores of local startups have rushed to fill the void New Delhi’s ban on TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps over cybersecurity concerns created at the end of June this year.

Some of the local firms that are attempting to cash in on TikTok’s absence include on-demand video streaming service Zee5, news aggregator app DailyHunt, and Times Internet’s music streaming service Gaana and video streamer MX Player.

So Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s JioSaavn, one of the largest music streaming services in India, showing user-generated videos doesn’t sound like an absurd idea anymore.

Triller claims JioSaavn has amassed over 300 million users in India. I don’t think so: Its Android app had fewer than 30 million weekly active users earlier this month, according to one of the top mobile insight firms. And a press release from two months ago on JioSaavn’s website says it had over 104 million monthly active users.

But what is more interesting about this partnership is that it exists at all. As of early this month, Reliance Industries, the firm that runs telecom giant Jio Platforms, was in early-discussions with ByteDance to invest in TikTok’s operations in India. (Jio Platforms, which has raised over $20 billion from Facebook and a dozen other investors this year, operates a bouquet of digital services including JioTV, JioCinema, and Haptik.)

At any rate, Rishi Malhotra, co-founder and chief executive of JioSaavn, said the partnership with Triller will enable “artists to create and express our culture in the most innovate ways. We are confident that this partnership will exponentially grow both companies.”

Bobby Sarnevesht, executive chairman of Triller, said he was pleased, too, in a statement.

#apps, #asia, #india, #jio-platforms, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance, #reliance-industries, #social, #tiktok, #triller

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Facebook tests TikTok-style video format on its main app in India

Facebook is going all in on short-form videos. After flirting with the idea in Lasso, a TikTok-clone it tested in select markets, and adding a similar feature to Instagram recently, the company is exploring a new venue for this TikTok-esque experience: The big blue app.

The company confirmed to TechCrunch that it is testing short-form videos in the Facebook app in India, its biggest market by users. In the current avatar, ‘Short Videos’ has a dedicated section within the news feed. On top of it sits the ‘Create’ button, tapping which prompts Facebook Camera to launch, and users can browse through videos by swiping up.

“We’re always testing new creative tools so we can learn about how people want to express themselves. Short form videos are extremely popular and we are looking at new ways to provide this experience for people to connect, create and share on Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Matt Navarra, a social media consultant, first revealed the existence of the new test.

The test comes as Facebook continues to cash in on the absence of TikTok, the ByteDance -owned app that was banned by India in late June, in the country. Facebook launched Reels in India last month weeks before launching it to dozens of additional markets. A source familiar with the matter said the daily engagement of Facebook’s services in India has increased by more than 25% since the ban on TikTok.

Scores of local startups, including Twitter-backed ShareChat and Times Internet’s Gaana and MX Player streaming services, have launched standalone apps or integrated features to replicate the social experience TikTok provided to users in recent weeks. The local apps have claimed to have added tens of million of new users during the period.

YouTube has also rolled out a similar feature, still in testing phase, to more users in India in recent weeks.

Image: TechCrunch

The urgency in Facebook’s attempt to court users with short-form videos comes as TikTok is plotting ways to re-enter the market. ByteDance is engaging with Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries to sell stake in TikTok’s local business, TechCrunch reported earlier this week.

#apps, #asia, #bytedance, #facebook, #facebook-india, #instagram, #instagram-reels, #jio-platforms, #lasso, #reliance, #reliance-jio, #social, #techcrunch, #youtube

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Amazon reportedly in talks to buy a 9.9% stake in India’s Reliance Retail

Amazon may join its global rivals Google and Facebook in backing one of Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s ventures.

The American e-commerce giant is in preliminary talks to acquire a 9.9% stake in Reliance Retail, local TV news channel ET Now reported Thursday afternoon, citing unnamed sources.

Reliance Retail, founded in 2006, is the largest retail chain in India. It serves over 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country.

Reliance Industries, which is the most valuable firm in India and runs Reliance Retail and Jio Platforms, declined to comment on the report. Amazon also declined to comment.

The reported talks between Amazon and Reliance Retail comes days after Ambani, who is India’s richest man, said several firms had expressed interest in backing the retail chain. Ambani’s other venture, Reliance Jio Platforms, has secured over $20 billion by selling 33% stake to more than a dozen investors including Facebook, Google, Silver Lake, and General Atlantic since April this year.

During Reliance Industries’ annual general meeting earlier this month, Ambani said the company will “induct global partners and investors in Reliance Retail in the next few quarters.”

Reliance Industries’ new venture JioMart is increasingly becoming a new challenger to Amazon, which has invested more than $6.5 billion in its India business, and Walmart’s Flipkart in recent months.

Morgan Stanley, which served as the financial advisor to Reliance Industries for Jio Platforms’ deals, recently valued Reliance Retail at about $29 billion.

Both Amazon and Reliance Retail, according to local media reports, have also been locked in a battle to acquire majority stake in Future Retail, India’s second largest retail chain.

#amazon, #asia, #ecommerce, #facebook, #flipkart, #funding, #google, #india, #jio-platforms, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms, #walmart

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Intel to invest $253.5 million in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms

Intel said on Friday it will invest $253.5 million in Jio Platforms, joining a roster of high-profile investors including Facebook and Silver Lake that have backed India’s top telecom operator in recent months.

The chipmaker’s investment arm said it is acquiring a 0.39% stake in Jio Platforms, giving the Indian firm a valuation of $65 billion. Intel Capital is the 12th investor to buy a stake in Jio Platforms, which has raised more than $15.5 billion by selling a 25% stake since April this year.

“Jio Platforms’ focus on applying its impressive engineering capabilities to bring the power of low-cost digital services to India aligns with Intel’s purpose of delivering breakthrough technology that enriches lives. We believe digital access and data can transform business and society for the better. Through this investment, we are excited to help fuel digital transformation in India, where Intel maintains an important presence,” said Wendell Brooks, Intel Capital President, in a statement.

The announcement today comes weeks after Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man and who controls Reliance Industries — the parent firm of Jio Platforms — suggested that Saudi Arabia’s PIF $1.5 billion investment on June 18 in his digital empire had marked the “end of Jio Platforms’ current phase of induction of financial partners.”

In a statement today, Ambani said he was excited to “work together with Intel to advance India’s capabilities in cutting-edge technologies that will empower all sectors of our economy and improve the quality of life of 1.3 billion Indians.”

More to follow…

#asia, #funding, #india, #intel, #intel-capital, #jio-platforms, #reliance-jio-platforms

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India’s richest man takes on Zoom

India’s Reliance Jio Platforms, which recently concluded a $15.2 billion fundraise run, is ready to enter a new business: Video conferencing.

On Thursday evening, the firm — backed by Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man — formally launched JioMeet, its video-conference service.

Like Zoom and Google Meet, JioMeet offers unlimited number of free calls in high definition (720p) to users and supports as many as 100 participants on a call. But interestingly, it’s not imposing a short time limit on a call’s duration. Jio Platforms says a call can be “up to 24 hours” long. The service currently has no paid plans and it’s unclear if Jio Platforms, which has a reputation of giving away services for free for years, plans to change that.

Jio Platforms, which began beta testing JioMeet in May this year, said the video conferencing service offers “enterprise-grade” host controls. These include: password protection on each call, multi-device login support (up to five devices), and ability to share screen and collaborate.

Other features include the ability to switch “seemingly” from one device to another, and a ‘Safe Driving Mode’ for when a participant is in commute. Hosts can also enable a ‘waiting room’ to ensure participants have to ask for permission to enter a call.

Reliance Jio Platforms is taking on Zoom with JioMeet, which looks a lot like Zoom

JioMeet is available for use through Chrome and Firefox browsers on desktop, as well as has standalone apps for macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android. It also has an Outlook plugin.

In a call with analysts earlier this year, Jio executives had described JioMeet as a platform that they think would some day have features to enable doctors to consult their patients, prescribe them medicine, and have a system in place to let them buy medicines online and get test results digitally. Similarly, they said JioMeet will allow teachers to host virtual classrooms for their students, with the ability to record sessions, assign and accept homework, and conduct tests digitally.

JioPlatforms, which is India’s top telecom operator with about 400 million customers, operates a number of digital services including JioMusic, a music streaming service; JioCinema, which offers thousands of TV shows and movies; and JioTV, which allows users to watch more than 500 TV channels. All of these services are available at no additional charge to Jio Platforms subscribers. It costs less than $2 a month to be a Jio subscriber.

The launch of JioMeet today comes as tens of millions of Indians are working from home and using video conferencing services for work and to stay in touch with friends.

Zoom app, currently the most popular video conference service in India, on Android had about 35 million monthly active users in the third week of July, up from about 4 million users during the same period in March, according to mobile insights firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. (Android powers nearly 99% of smartphones in India.)

#apps, #asia, #google-meet, #india, #jio-platforms, #microsoft-teams, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms, #zoom

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