Facebook mobile app to offer free, limited Internet in Zambia

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SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook Inc is launching a mobile app that gives users in Zambia free access to a handful of online services on mobile phones, broadening an effort to boost Internet usage in underdeveloped countries.

The Internet.org app will offer, in partnership with wireless operator Airtel, more than a dozen services including online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, websites devoted to weather, job listings and health information, as well as Facebook’s own social network and messaging service.

The app will be available in additional countries over the coming months and years, Guy Rosen, product management director for Facebook’s Internet.org effort said on Wednesday.

Facebook will not pay Airtel for the bandwidth, Rosen said, but Airtel will benefit as users who are exposed to Internet services eventually decide to pay for broader, unrestricted access.

Access to the information on the app’s included services is free, but links that lead to information on other websites will require that users pay wireless data charges. The free version of Facebook in the app does not allow for the video playback.

Facebook has partnered with more than 150 wireless providers over the past four years to offer free or discounted access to its social network, but the new app in Zambia marks the first time the company has added Web services beyond its own social network to the menu of free services.

The move comes as Facebook steps up investments in its Internet.org project, which seeks to connect the “next 5 billion” users to the Internet, many of whom lives in places like Africa and India.

In March, Facebook announced plans to use drones and satellites to deliver Internet connectivity to people in certain parts of the world.

The initiative has the potential to boost the size of Facebook’s audience, which currently totals 1.32 billion monthly users.

Pakistan joins the 3G club

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ISLAMABAD: The four cellular service providers bidding on licences for next generation mobile technology emerged the winners of Wednesday’s bidding war, with Mobilink, Telenor and Ufone picking up licences for 3G services while Zong being the only bidder to acquire a licence for both 3G and 4G services.

Mobilink and Zong bid for the ‘superior’ 10MHz band, while Telenor and Ufone preferred to bid on the cheaper 5MHz band. Although Mobilink, having acquired the 10MHz band, qualified for a 4G licence too, they opted not to go all the way.

This means one 4G licence is still up for grabs. Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman said that the licence would soon go under the hammer again.

Bidding began at 10am and continued until a little after 7pm at the Marriott Hotel. Bidders competed in eight rounds of 45 minutes each. A total of four 3G licences were auctioned and both Telenor and Ufone got the ‘shorter end’ of the spectrum.

“It was a strategic decision. We want to provide internet services for all our customers but at low costs. The 5MHz frequency is all that is required at the moment,” said Telenor Pakistan Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Muhammad Aslam Hayat.

Ufone had also shown an interest in acquiring both 3G and 4G licences, but on the day, they did not qualify. Under PTA rules, Ufone has to purchase the 10MHz band to be eligible for a 4G licence.

According to a Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) spokesperson, cellular companies with weaker frequencies would have to install more booster towers in their coverage areas, depending on how many cities they wanted to cover.

A taste of things to come

Visitors to the auction got a taste of next-generation mobile speeds at the stalls of various cellular vendors. Telecom reps showed off the astonishing speeds boasted by 3G services and demonstrated the power of high speed internet services on compatible mobile handsets.

Cellular companies will have to offer a minimum download speed of 256 kilobytes per second (kbps) under the stipulations of the 3G licence, which is four to eight times faster than current download speeds of 30-100 kbps that are currently on offer.

PTA Chairman Dr Ismail Shah said: “Meeting the budgetary targets is just one small aspect of this sale. We are looking at bigger benefits such as the creation of nearly 900,000 jobs and the development of newer, faster applications that will contribute to the improvement of educational, health and financial standards.”

Faster Wi-Fi on flights leads to battle in the sky

NEW YORK: Wi-Fi in the sky is taking off, promising much better connections for travelers and a bonanza for the companies that sell the systems.

With satellite-based Wi-Fi, Internet speeds on jetliners are getting lightning fast. And airlines are finding that travelers expect connections in the air to rival those on the ground – and at lower cost.

But the fast evolution of rival systems and standards, such as Ku band and Ka band, pose a big question for airlines: which one to choose?

Equipping fleets can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and airlines don’t want to see their investment quickly become outdated due to newer technology. That’s made some cautious about signing up.

“We don’t want to end up with a Betamax,” said Peter Ingram, chieffinancial officer of Hawaiian Airlines, referring to the Sony video format that eventually lost out to the VHS standard, leaving many consumers with obsolete systems.

Hawaiian is still considering which system to use.

The drive for in-flight connectivity also has intensified after the disappearance on March 8 of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 with 239 people aboard. Search teams are scouring parts of the Indian Ocean for the missing aircraft, and it might have been better tracked if a satellite system capable of streaming cockpit data had been on board.

Global market

The US market for airborne Internet got a big boost last November after the US Federal Aviation Administration allowed passengers to use smartphones, tablets and e-readers throughout a flight, ending a long-standing ban on their use during takeoff and landing.

While the change hasn’t been adopted worldwide, the FAA’s move is expected to lead to greater use of devices, and bandwidth, on planes.

About 40 percent of US jetliners already have some Wi-Fi, but the race is on to wire the rest of a growing global fleet, and to make the existing connections better.

The number of commercial planes worldwide with Wi-Fi, cell service or both is expected to more than triple over the next 10 years, to 14,000 from about 4,000 currently, with much of that growth in Asia, according to research firm IHS.

Even with a tripling, only half of the worldwide fleet will be wired in 2022, suggesting demand for new systems will last longer.

Much of the US fleet will need upgrades to access satellites, since many planes currently are equipped for ground-based transmission, which is typically slower than satellite.

“Passengers of the future want to be connected when they want,” Chris Emerson, senior vice president of marketing at Airbus, told Reuters during the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.

“Everyone wants Internet the way they have it on the ground, so it has to be cheap or free.”

Greater speed

Satellite technology will speed up onboard connections sevenfold, to about 70 megabits per second next year, fast enough to download a two-hour high-definition movie in about four minutes. Of course, that bandwidth will be shared among all of the users on the flight, which could number 200 or more.

Satellites also will allow service to reach developing markets in Asia and Latin America, and to offer expanded service in the U.S. and European markets.

Investors expect the global expansion and faster speeds will fuel greater use of services, with revenue split between the providers and the airlines.

It also will drive hardware sales, as airlines outfit aircraft with antennas, radios and routers. Honeywell, for example, makes fuselage-top antennas that link to the Global Xpress network provided by Inmarsat PLC, which operates on the Ka band.

In demonstrating the GX system at the Hamburg show, Honeywell said the system can deliver up to 50 megabits per second consistently around most of the globe, and it plans to test it on its own plane this summer, while Air China is expected to start trials with it in late 2014 or early 2015.

“GX is going to be a real game changer for airlines and their passengers from 2015 when the service comes online,” John Broughton, director of product marketing for GX at Honeywell, said in an interview.

A rival standard, Ku band, operates in a lower frequency band. While it may be able to achieve higher bandwidth than Ka band in certain areas, its overall connectivity is not as consistent, especially on long-haul flights over oceans, experts said.

Gogo used the Hamburg show to announce its 2Ku system, that will use a special dual antenna made by ThinKom Solutions Inc to raise the capacity of the Ku band system to 70 mbps, a leap from its current systems that operated at 3 to 10 mbps. Gogo also offers Ka band satellite connectivity and built its business on ground-based cell-tower technology in the United States.

“Betamax” risk

The improving systems mean customers will demand better connections. Some frequent fliers with status on several airlines say they choose flights based on Wi-Fi availability.

“It becomes an ante at the table,” said Jonathan Schildkraut, an analyst at Evercore Partners, which co-managed Gogo’s IPO last June.

But the variety of systems poses tough decisions for airlines, which risk choosing a technology that could become outdated.

Ingram, the CFO of Hawaiian Airlines, said the choice and cost of a system is especially important for his fleet since it mostly carries people on vacation – people who don’t want to be tethered to the office.

“The technology in the Wi-Fi space for trans-Pacific flying is still evolving,” he said, “so we haven’t made any final decisions yet.”

German airline Deutsche Lufthansa AG knows the perils. It originally worked with Connexion, a Boeing unit developing in-flight Wi-Fi that operated a decade ago but failed to attract enough customers.

“We were a little bit unfortunate,” CEO Christoph Franz said in an interview. “We had spent millions to equip our aircraft.”

Lufthansa has since outfitted more than 90 percent of its long-haul planes with satellite connectivity.

But it is taking a step-by-step approach for other planes, outfitting about 30 Airbus A321 aircraft with a system that can stream content from an onboard server to handheld devices, but doesn’t connect to the internet.

“We need a decent provider for that, but we didn’t want our customers to wait,” Franz said. He expects a “triple-digit-million” euro investment to outfit the full fleet.

“We are ready to do this,” he said. “But we have to look at the bill. We will see which system at the end of the day turns out to be the most affordable and the fastest.”

 

Anusha Rehman misses YouTube hearing again

LAHORE:  Federal minister for Information Technology Anusha Rehman, again failed to appear before the court and submit a written statement on the government’s position and intention with regard to lifting the ban on YouTube.

The court wishes to hear the government’s official stance on YouTube among other internet freedoms in the country before issuing a verdict in the Bytes for all vs. The Federation on Pakistan case that is more commonly referred to as the YouTube case.

The broad natured petition filed by Bytes for All seeks the courts protection on several digital rights to which lifting the ban on YouTube is only one part.

The court has now ordered to meet again on Thursday, 13th March for the 19th hearing

Facebook & Whatsapp: War is costly, War is profitable.

M/s Koum and Acton scored a coup yesterday when Facebook announced its attention to acquire their instant messaging startup Whatsapp for $19 billion dollars.

Twitter is overflowing with media outlets, venture capitalist’s, silicon valley and the entire business world offering their perspective on this unprecedented landmark deal. There are many reasons to scrutinize every aspect of the deal including how its per user and per employee acquisition cost compares to the likes of Google’s acquisition of Youtube etc, but its also worth reviewing holistically and what this symbolizes for the shifting landscape.

Did Facebook have a choice? I don’t think so. Despite what their quarterly earnings state, Facebook is becoming increasingly less popular in public opinion for a myriad of reasons. Some of these are the advent of new, more interesting apps, the continual privacy problems and the shift in the average age of the ‘monthly active users’. With the billion dollar acquisition of a profitless and indeed revenue-less Instagram, and now the 19 billion dollar acquisition of Whatsapp, which monetizes by charging it’s 450 million users $1 (one US Dollar a year) it’s clear that Facebook isn’t valuing the profitability of it’s takeover targets, rather it’s buying relevance.

It’s an expensive deal – currently about 9% of Facebook’s capitalization – but it feels fairly necessary. Zuckerberg says that Whatsapp, like Instagram, will continue to operate independently; a decision perhaps borne of necessity, not desire. With Instagram ads being introduced recently, the no-ads policy of Whatsapp, and the persistent intrusiveness of Facebook, there seems to be no logical way to amalgamate the product offerings without experiencing attrition in the user base.

Why $19 billion though?

If Whatsapp currently generates $450 million dollars a year, even at their impressive user acquisition rate, it would be many, many years before Facebook sees a return on their investment. Facebook’s $3 billion acquisition offer for Snapchat was publicly refused as was Google’s $4 billion follow up offer for the same company. These offers are more about territory than financial viability and feasibility. What is interesting is that Google offered to pay Whatsapp handsomely, only for the privilege of being informed if and when it entered into acquisition talks with any other company.

Google is paying for information about its competitors. It isn’t revelatory, it isn’t espionage, but its certainly indicative of a fiercer form of competition; one where your own survival is threatened – war.

Using the same analogy, the profiteers in this scenario are the venture capitalists. Sequoia Capital invested $8 million dollars in Whatsapp a few years ago, and it was the only venture firm to back the company. Following the announcement, they stand to make approximately $3.5 billion dollars on their paltry investment. The number of successful exits via mergers and acquisitions has grown consistently and is a trend that is expected to continue in 2014 with North America dominating the field.

In the past couple of months, Google has tried to acquire Snapchat for $4 billion, offloaded Motorola, bought Nest, and expressed interest in laying down Fiber in dozens of cities. Is there a cohesive vision guiding these plans? Maybe.

Facebook also made a failed bid to buy Snapchat for $3 billion, acquired Whatsapp, launched Paper for iOS, begun testing ads with Instagram, and celebrated its 10-year anniversary.

With multiple acquisitions north of 100 million dollars in the past few months, the previously software-only companies are making a habit of encroaching across industries in the war for user dominance. Apple has been stuck in a process of refinement for the past couple of years, Microsoft, under its new leadership, will likely enter a period of consolidation in the interim. Yahoo is continuing to redefine itself slowly.

2014 is already shaping up to be a primer for a volatile 2015, when acquisitions, disruptions and advances in materials will likely culminate in the large companies adding additional dimensions to themselves. By definition, this makes for an unlikely scenario of unifying product offerings and instead, these companies will likely expand as holding companies, at least for the time being.

Whichever way it unfolds, its a phenomenal time to be a consumer since we, the consumers are now contentiously and publicly 

Why Facebook is buying WhatsApp for $19 Billion?

 

WhatsApp Facebook Secure Chat app

Popular Smartphone Messaging app WhatsApp’s $19 billion acquisition by Social Network giantFacebook made Headlines this week.

While Some are applauding the move, and many other users are worried about WhatsApp’s future and their privacy after this acquisition.
Why So Serious?
WhatsApp currently having 450 million active users and processes 50 billion messages a day. Service charges a nominal service fee of $1/year, that means Facebook is buying at $42.22 per user.

$19 Billion / 450 million users  = $42.22 per user

These figures show, obviously future revenue from WhatsApp can’t cover the acquisition cost in the short or mid-term.
You can still count on absolutely no ads interrupting your communication. There would have been no partnership between our two companies if we had to compromise on the core principles that will always define our company, our vision and our product.” WhatsApp founder said in a blog post.
So, What Facebook is planning for?

Facebook is by far the world’s most popular social network, with over 1.2 billion users worldwide, but all WhatsApp users may not have an account on Facebook. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted on his wall, “Our mission is to make the world more open and connected“, that means Facebook could merge WhatsApp data with them, but Mark also said, “WhatsApp will continue to operate independently within Facebook“.

Facebook Mobile Messenger is widely used for chatting with your Facebook friends, and WhatsApp for communicating with all of your contacts and small groups of people. Since WhatsApp and Messenger serve such different and important uses, we will continue investing in both and making them each great products for everyone.” Mark Zuckerberg added.

Mark said,’Making them each great products for everyone’
By design, WhatsApp collects all contact information from phones and uploads that information to the company’s servers. This is hugely valuable data that Facebook has apparently been after from last two years. In simple words, ‘Facebook Just Bought 450 Million Phone Numbers in $19 Billion‘.
WhatsApp claim that users’ messages are never stored on their server after delivery to the recipient. So we are expecting that Facebook could never dig into our private messages history, but that doesn’t mean — it will not store in the future.
Can we trust Facebook and WhatsApp?
Well, 70% users don’t trust Facebook with their personal information, whereas a large percentage of users still trust WhatsApp for sharing personal information.
WhatsApp has many Security issues as well as privacy issues, but that hasn’t scared off its more than 450 million users around the world.
Alternate Secure & Encrypted messaging Smartphone apps? 
If you care about your privacy a lot and don’t want to hand your communication to Facebook, you might want to look into secure messaging solutions, like – Surespot an open-source Android and iOS messaging solution and Threema, end-to-end encrypted app for Android and iOS.
What would be the next in Facebook’s shopping list? A mobile handset company?

Samsung 5G Test ‘Hundred Times Faster’ Than 4G

Samsung Debuts Its New Flagship Smartphone, The Galaxy S IV

The company says its test on next- generation mobile technology give speeds several hundred times faster than current 4g network.

Samsung has developed 5G mobile technology which could let users download a film to their phone in just one second.

The electronics giant claims it is “several hundred times faster” than current 4G services and will allow users to send massive data “practically without limitation”.

“As a result, subscribers will be able to enjoy a wide range of services such as 3D movies and games, real-time streaming of ultra high-definition (UHD) content, and remote medical services,” the company said on its blog.

Unfortunately for smartphone fans, the technology is still early in its development phase with Samsung saying it is unlikely to appear in a handset before 2020.

Customers using 4G services – currently provided in the UK by EE – get average speeds of between eight and 12 megabits per second (Mbps), with some cities to be boosted to 20Mbps this summer.

Other UK networks are preparing to launch their own 4G services.

However, Samsung’s research puts those speeds in the shade and offers a glimpse of a future where data arrives almost instantly.

Its 5G tests, using “adaptive array transceiver technology”, gave speeds of “up to 1.056 gigabytes (Gbps)” – but only over a distance of two kilometres.

The South Korean firm, the world’s top smartphone maker, hopes its work will prompt other groups to step up their own 5G research.

China set up a government-led 5G research group in 2012, while the European Commission is also lining up millions of euros of funding into the technology.