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

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Turkey approves Internet restrictions

ANKARA: Turkey’s Parliament has approved legislation that would tighten government controls over the Internet.

ANKARA: Turkey’s Parliament has approved legislation that would tighten government controls over the Internet.

With a show of hands, the legislators late Wednesday endorsed allowing Turkey’s telecommunications authority to block websites for a privacy violation without a prior court decision.

The legislation also would force Internet providers to keep records on Web users’ activities for two years and make them available to authorities when requested, without notifying the users.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has said the measures would “compound” Turkey’s already “dismal” press freedoms. The government has said they would protect privacy and not amount to censorship.

The measures are part of a package of legislation, the rest of which is expected to be approved by Parliament on Thursday and signed into law by the president.

Google Android exec poached by China’s Xiaomi

New York City, New York – China’s Xiaomi has poached a key Google executive involved in the tech giant’s Android phones, in a move seen as a coup for the rapidly growing Chinese smartphone maker.

Hugo Barra, who was Google’s vice president in charge of Android product management, said in a blog post late Wednesday that he is joining Xiaomi to help them expand their business outside China, where they already have some market share, but are well behind Samsung and Apple.

“After nearly 5 1/2 years at Google and almost 3 years as a member of the Android team – the most amazing group of people I’ve ever worked with in my life – I have decided to start a new career chapter,”

Barra wrote.

“In a few weeks, I’ll be joining the Xiaomi team in China to help them expand their incredible product portfolio and business globally – as Vice President, Xiaomi Global.”

“I’m really looking forward to this new challenge, and am particularly excited about the opportunity to continue to help drive the Android ecosystem.”

Android is the Google-developed smartphone operating system that is battling with systems from Apple and Microsoft for dominance in the smartphone market. It is already offered on Samsung and other phones. But Xiaomi staked out in just two years a 2.5 percent share in the coveted Chinese market, according to Analysys International, with a strategy of discount prices for phones with high-end features.

Xiaomi was co-founded by a former Google executive, Lin Bin.

“We wish Hugo Barra the best,

“We’ll miss him at Google and we’re excited that he is staying within the Android ecosystem.”

Google gives Android mobile operating system software away free to gadget makers and banks on making money from its search, email, maps and other online services tailored to work well on the resulting devices.

International Data Corporation reported early this month that smartphones powered by Android software increased their global market share as iPhones lost ground in the absence of new models being unleashed by Apple.

Android’s share of the smartphone market grew to 79.3 percent in the second quarter while that of iPhone slipped to 13.2 percent from 16.6 percent in the same three-month period last year, according to IDC figures.

While analysts believe Apple is well positioned to recapture market share with the release later this year of new iPhone models, there is pressure for a low-price version of the smartphone tailored for the China market.

Barra’s move is a win for Xiaomi while likely to have little to no effect on Google or the California company’s Android team, according to S&P Capital IQ analyst John Kessler.

“Xiaomi is a really exciting and interesting story when it comes to spartphones in China, a very large market with very big opportunities,” Kessler said.

“Getting someone from Google Android’s upper-level management presumably tells something about perceived opportunities for Xiaomi.”

“We don’t really look at it as having an impact on Google,” he noted.

Microsoft sets October 17th release date for Windows 8.1

San Francisco – Consumers waiting for Microsoft’s revamped version of its latest Windows operating system will be able to get the software beginning Oct 17.

The release date for Windows 8.1 is nearly a year after the debut of Windows 8, a dramatic overhaul of the operating system that has been powering most personal computers for decades.

Microsoft Corp unveiled its plans for Windows 8.1 three months ago, but hadn’t set a release date until Wednesday. At test version of Windows 8.1 that may still include some bugs has been available since late June.

Windows 8 represented Microsoft’s attempt to create an operating system that works well on tablet computers, as well as on laptop and desktop machines.

But the overhaul confused and frustrated many people, resulting in disappointing sales of devices running on Windows 8. One research firm, International Data Corp, has even blamed Windows 8 for deepening the slump in PC sales as more people rely on smartphones and tablets to connect to the Internet.

Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Washington, also absorbed a $900 million charge to its most recent quarterly earnings to account for its expected losses from a company-produced tablet, called Surface, which relies on a slimmed-down version of Windows 8.

Windows 8.1 is Microsoft’s attempt to make the operating system easier and more appealing to use. It will be available as a free update to owners of Windows 8 machines.

The first laptops and PCs featuring Windows 8.1 already installed are scheduled to go on sale Oct 18

BlackBerry says to explore strategic alternatives

Toronto – Struggling smartphone maker BlackBerry will consider selling itself.

The company said Monday that its board has formed a special committee to explore “strategic alternatives” in hopes of boosting the adoption of its BlackBerry 10 smartphone.

The company said its options could also include joint ventures, partnerships, or other moves.

The Canadian company’s stock jumped 5.7 percent to $10.32 Monday morning.

BlackBerry Ltd. has been hammered by increased competition from its Apple and Android-based rivals. In January, BlackBerry unveiled new phones running a revamped operating system called BlackBerry 10 designed to better compete, but its market share continues to lag.

BlackBerry also announced Monday that board member Prem Watsa, the company’s largest investor, resigned from the board“due to potential conflicts that may arise during the process.”

Watsa has said that he’s a “big supporter” of current CEO Thorsten Heins, and he would be an obvious bidder for BlackBerry. He has said that he believes BlackBerry can turn itself around, but that it might take three to five years. He’s the founder of insurance company Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. and is one of Canada’s best-known investors.

The BlackBerry, pioneered in 1999, had been the dominant smartphone for on-the-go business people and other consumers before the iPhone debuted in 2007 and showed that phones can handle much more than email and phone calls.

The company faced numerous delays modernizing its operating system with the BlackBerry 10. During that time, it had to cut more than 5,000 jobs, and shareholder wealth declined by more than $70 billion.

Monday’s announcement marks the second time Blackberry has said it has hired bankers to help weigh its options since Heins became CEO in early 2012. Heins had said then he was not actively looking to sell BlackBery, but said he wanted to be prepared.

BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis said if BlackBerry is able to go private this time it would allow management to focus on a turnaround and get out of the glaring public spotlight.

Watsa, partnered with some financial backers like a pension fund, are likely bidders, Gillis said. He said technology companies like Apple, Google or Microsoft would not be interested because already have their own mobile platforms.

“Anyone who is a player in the space has taken a sniff and moved on,” Gillis said. “Now you’ve got financials.”

Gillis also said he doesn’t see Canadian or US regulators allowing BlackBerry to be owned by a Chinese company. Major clients like the US Department of Defense would abandon the company, he said.

“Its core reputation for security would fall apart really fast,” Gillis said.

BlackBerry said in its release that there can be no assurance that the exploration process will result in any transaction and declined further comment unless and until its board approves a specific sale or concludes a review of strategic alternatives.

JP Morgan Chase & Co. is serving as its financial adviser and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Torys LLP are legal advisers.

Delays hang over Pakistan 3G lifeline

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s cash-strapped government has promised to sell 3G mobile telephone licenses to raise revenue, match regional rivals and drive prosperity, but the process has been beset by delays.

Even Afghanistan, Pakistan’s far less developed western neighbour with a weaker economy and more fragile state, has the technology.

But Pakistani consumers struggle to transfer data by phone, video streaming is often interrupted — although technically YouTube is banned — and video calls problematic.

Two months after the new government took office, there is little sign that the process will start soon.

Pakistan’s state minister for information technology Anusha Rehman told DSS that the auction alone could take six to eight months.

“The base price for 3G licenses is not set yet. Only once it is done will I be able to give a figure on how much revenue will be generated by the licenses sale,” she said.

But first the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) needs to be constituted and Rehman conceded there could be substantial delays.

“I am not sure how long it is going to take because the appointment of members have to be made by the cabinet,” she said.

A senior civil servant initially told DSS that key appointments to the PTA were expected to be finalised in July. The first half of August in Pakistan is dominated by religious and national holidays.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, elected for a historic third term in May, faces the daunting challenge of bringing down an 8.8 per cent budget deficit, yet his first budget was conservative.

He offered no major tax reforms and within weeks, his government was forced to seek a $5.3 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund: enough only to keep on top of old loan repayments.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar sought to fend off some criticism about the lack of tax reform by saying that a 3G auction would fetch a “considerable amount of foreign exchange”.

Cheap mobile phone telephony took Pakistan by storm in the early 2000s and according to the PTA there are more than 122 million mobile phone subscribers — or 68.6 per cent of the population.

PTA officials estimate that a 3G auction could raise $1 billion in annual license fees, which could be ploughed back into reducing the crippling $5 billion circular debt in the energy sector.

But delays are not the only problem.

“The previous government could not auction 3G licenses because it wanted to bypass the standard tendering practices,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

“There was infighting within the PTA over the auctioning of licenses as the previous government wanted to bypass standard procedures and there was resistance by the members which delayed the process,” the official said.

Raza Rabbani, a leading senator from the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, has criticised the inclusion of 3G license sale proceeds in the first budget of the Sharif government.

“These are illusionary figures. There is nothing concrete,” he told DSS

Of the five mobile phone companies in Pakistan, only Oslo-based Telenor has so far expressed public interest in acquiring a 3G license, saying it could be operationally ready at the end of 2013.

“Telenor Pakistan is presently going through a massive network modernisation exercise which is expected to finish by the end of this year and is essential in making our state-of-the-art network 3G, 4G and LTE enabled,” a company official told DSS.

He said the technology would drive prosperity and that increasing Internet penetration by just 10 per cent would raise GDP by 1.5-1.6 per cent.

“It is a paradigm shift from voice to data that will open many doors for GSM operators in the country to serve their customers through innovative avenues,” the official said.

Shahzad Ahmad, country director of Bytes for All, an independent technology think tank, says Pakistan should forget 3G and move directly to more advanced 4G LTE bands.

But he also called for clean bidding.

“The process should be transparent so that Pakistan gets a better price for its asset and ensure that there is no corruption,” he told DSS.

“So far there is no transparency in the process, nobody knows how many licenses are going to be auctioned and to whom?” he added.

Ahmad said that 4G technology will speed up telecommunication in Pakistan and create new jobs in online media content creation.

Consumers seem unfazed, saying they already have to pay more than 40 per cent taxes and service charges on recharges and calls.

“The amount of taxes on mobile phone calls is insane. I recharge a 100 rupee card and get only 60 rupees credit. The rest all goes into taxes, duties and service charges,” construction worker Mohammad Afzal, 35, told DSS

Samsung emphasises components as smartphones peak

SEOUL, South Korea – Samsung plans to invest a record pile of cash into its semiconductor and display panel businesses, hoping to reduce reliance on sales of high-end Galaxy smartphones that are poised to peak after two years of blistering growth.

Samsung Electronics Co., the world’s largest smartphone maker, reported record profit for a sixth straight quarter on Friday. But the result still disappointed investors who expected Samsung to book even higher earnings after the Galaxy S4, its latest iteration of the flagship smartphone, was launched in April. The handset scored 10 million sales in the month after its launch.

Samsung’s division that makes and sells handsets, smartphones and tablet computers has been the motive force behind the South Korea company’s run of bumper profits, with Galaxy smartphone shipments jumping every quarter. In the three months ended June 30, the division contributed two-thirds of the company’s entire operating profit.

Samsung, which does not disclose its smartphone sales figures, is estimated by research firm IDC to have shipped 72.4 million smartphones in the April-June quarter, compared with Apple’s 31.2 million iPhone sales. Samsung’s second quarter smartphone sales were double what it sold in the final quarter of 2011, an indication of how fast the company expanded its business and outpaced rivals.

But investors who once cheered the explosive sales growth now fret that consumer appetite for top-of-the-range smartphones is close to being satiated. Cutting-edge features have lost some of their lustre as there is now a wide choice of new devices with equivalently fast processors, powerful cameras and crisp roomy displays.

Emerging markets remain a source of growth but the middle classes in such countries flock to cheaper smartphones that are less profitable for manufacturers such as Samsung and Apple Inc. They also face additional competition from Chinese companies that specialize in affordable handsets.

Samsung’s share price has dropped 14 percent since January, cutting $30 billion from its market value. Robert Yi, senior vice president of investor relations at Samsung, blamed global economic conditions that prompted foreign investors to pull funds from Asian financial markets including South Korea.

But many analysts said weaker-than-expected sales and profit from Galaxy smartphones is the key factor behind the tumbling share price. Analysts including those at JP Morgan Chase cut their sales forecasts for the Galaxy S4 by more than 20 percent in June, predicting shipments would weaken after the first quarter it was on sale.

Samsung said it expected a higher profit contribution from its components businesses in the future.

It plans record-high capital expenditure this year, which will help ramp up production of its mainstay memory chips and strengthen its expansion in the mobile processor market. Out of 24 trillion won ($21.6 billion) of annual capital spending, it allocated 13 trillion won to the semiconductor business and 6.5 trillion won to its display panel business.

“It’s a move to seek all-around growth and balance out what is now centered on sets, which include mobile handsets”, said Lee Sei-chul, an analyst at Meritz Securities.

In the latest quarter, Samsung’s display panel business posted a higher profit over a year earlier thanks to demand for advanced displays called OLED, primarily used in Galaxy smartphones. Even as PC shipments fell in the spring quarter, demand for tablet PCs and data servers propped up prices of memory chips accounting for larger semiconductor profit.

In smartphones, Samsung is also facing a similar challenge to Apple in that consumers are increasingly buying its older less expensive models rather than the latest version.

IDC said discounted prices of the Galaxy S III, a predecessor of the S4, renewed consumer interest during the second quarter and contributed to Samsung’s shipment growth. Yet it also likely dragged on earnings from handsets.

Samsung’s mobile business posted a lower profit in the three months ending June compared with the previous quarter because of higher marketing costs after the S4 launch. It was first time in a year that the mobile division did not report an increase in profit from the previous quarter.

Samsung said the average selling price of handsets will moderately decline in coming quarters as the proportion of mid-tier smartphone sales increase. It also released variations of the Galaxy series to offer cheaper handsets and fend off competition from Chinese rivals.

Many analysts also expect Samsung to mark down the Galaxy S4’s price in the fall and winter quarters as rivals, including Apple, will release new models.

They said that will result in earnings from the mobile business being flat in the third quarter versus the April-June quarter. Components businesses that sell semiconductors and display panels will report a higher profit, driving another record quarter for the South Korean tech titan.

“Entering into a typically strong season for the IT industry, we expect earnings to continue to increase. However, we cannot overlook delayed economic recovery in Europe and risks from increased competition for smartphone and other set products,”Yi, Samsung’s executive vice president, said.

Samsung’s April-June net profit jumped 50 percent over a year earlier to 7.77 trillion won ($6.9 billion), below the market forecast of 7.96 trillion won, according to a survey of analysts by FactSet, a financial data provider.