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Bahrain to use Huawei in 5G rollout despite U.S. warnings
March 26, 2019 12:10 pm|Comments (0)

DUBAI (Reuters) – Bahrain, headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, plans to roll out a commercial 5G mobile network by June, partly using Huawei technology despite the United States’ concerns the Chinese telecom giant’s equipment could be used for spying.

FILE PHOTO: Logos of Huawei are pictured outside its shop in Beijing, China, February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

Washington has warned countries against using Chinese technology, saying Huawei could be used by Beijing to spy on the West. China has rejected the accusations.

VIVA Bahrain, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabian state-controlled telecom STC, last month signed an agreement to use Huawei products in its 5G network, one of several Gulf telecoms firms working with the Chinese company.

“We have no concern at this stage as long as this technology is meeting our standards,” Bahrain’s Telecommunications Minister Kamal bin Ahmed Mohammed told Reuters on Tuesday when asked about U.S. concerns over Huawei technology.

The U.S. embassy in Bahrain did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet uses its base in Bahrain, a Western-allied island state off the Saudi coast, to patrol several important shipping lanes, including near Iran.

Bahrain expects to be one of the first countries to make 5G available nationwide, Mohammed said, although he cautioned it would depend on handset and equipment availability.

Early movers like the United States, China, Japan and South Korea are just starting to roll out their 5G networks, but other regions, such as Europe, still years away and the first 5G phones are only likely to be released in the second half of this year.

Bahrain’s state controlled operator Batelco is working with Sweden’s Ericsson on its 5G network, while the country’s third telecom Zain Bahrain is yet to announce a technology provider.

No foreign company is restricted by the government from providing equipment for Bahrain’s 5G network, Mohammed said, adding that the mobile operators chose who they worked with.

Australia and New Zealand have stopped operators using Huawei equipment in their networks but the European Union is expected to ignore U.S. calls to ban the Chinese company, instead urging countries to share more data to tackle cybersecurity risks related to 5G networks.

Mohammed said the rollout of the 5G network was an “important milestone” for Bahrain, which is hoping investments in technology will help spur the economy which was hit hard by the drop in oil prices.

“It is something we are proud to have,” he said.

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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Facebook plans innovation hub in China despite tightening censorship
July 25, 2018 12:00 am|Comments (0)

BEIJING (Reuters) – Facebook has set up a subsidiary in China and plans to create an “innovation hub” to support local start-ups and developers, the social media company said on Tuesday, ramping up its presence in the restrictive market where its social media sites remain blocked.

FILE PHOTO: A Facebook panel is seen during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, in Cannes, France, June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/File Photo

The subsidiary is registered in Hangzhou, home of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, according to a filing approved on China’s National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System last week and seen by Reuters on Tuesday.

“We are interested in setting up an innovation hub in Zhejiang to support Chinese developers, innovators and start-ups,” a Facebook representative said via email, referring to the Chinese province where Hangzhou is located. Facebook has created similar hubs in France, Brazil, India and Korea to focus on training and workshops, the spokesperson said.

Facebook’s website remains banned in China, which strictly censors foreign news outlets, search engines and social media including content from Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook logo is seen at a start-up companies gathering at Paris’ Station F in Paris, France on January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

Setting up a company-owned enterprise in China does not mean Facebook is changing its approach in the country, the company said, adding that it was still learning what it takes to be in China.

Last year Facebook’s messaging app WhatsApp was blocked in the run up to the country’s twice-a-decade congress, and it has remained mostly unavailable since.

The filing listed only one shareholder of the new entity, Facebook Hongkong Ltd.

While censorship controls have hardened under Xi Jinping, who was formally appointed president in 2013, U.S. tech firms with blocked content are increasingly looking for new ways to enter the market without drawing the ire of regulators.

Google has several hundred staff in China and recently launched its own artificial intelligence (AI) lab. It has also tentatively launched several apps for the Chinese market in recent months, including an AI drawing game and file management app.

Apple Inc has also heavily modified its app stores to fit Chinese censorship restrictions in the past year, removing hundreds of apps at the request of regulators.

Reporting by Cate Cadell, Lusha Zhang, Se Young Lee and Jonathan Weber; additional writing by Peter Henderson; Editing by Kirsten Donovan, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Cynthia Osterman

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BMW to double self-driving car testing fleet despite U.S. fatality
March 21, 2018 6:05 pm|Comments (0)

MUNICH (Reuters) – BMW will not change its strategy on autonomous vehicle testing despite the death of a pedestrian struck by a self-driving car during tests by ride-hailing firm Uber [UBER.UL], senior executives said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: A logo of the German luxury carmaker BMW is seen during the company’s annual news conference in Munich, Germany, March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Michael Dalder/File Photo

The German carmaker added it would double the size of its autonomous vehicle testing fleet to around 80 this year.

“Our estimation about autonomous driving technology remains unchanged even though this appears to be an extremely regrettable accident,” Klaus Froehlich, BMW’s board member responsible for research and development, said of the fatality. [nL1N1R1168]

“The path to autonomous driving is a long one. I have spoken about a mission to Mars,” he said, adding BMW was conducting its own tests under a high level of security.

Froehlich said BMW’s self-driving cars would undergo a test regime equivalent to 250 million driven kilometers (155 million miles).

Of this, 20 million km will be on real roads, while a giant supercomputer will simulate traffic scenarios in a virtual test regime equivalent to 230 million kms, Froehlich explained.

Self-driving cars will appear sooner if cities dedicate special lanes for autonomous cars in ring-fenced areas.

“In a dedicated space for only autonomous vehicles, it is easier to anticipate what other vehicles and traffic will do,” Froehlich said. “This makes it easier to program vehicle reflexes and may even allow a car to have fewer sensors and less processing power than a vehicle which needs to navigate normal traffic with things like bicycle couriers.”

BMW plans to launch an autonomous vehicle in 2021. Introducing a vehicle earlier than this is not plausible, since chipmakers and software designers have not yet developed a computer capable of processing the sheer volume of data generated by a self-driving car, Froehlich said.

BMW is preparing for a new era of on-demand mobility where customers locate and hail vehicles using smartphones. Ride-hailing and car-sharing could be replaced by fleets of autonomous cars, once self-driving cars are roadworthy, Froehlich said.

Reporting by Edward Taylor; Editing by Mark Potter

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Here’s Why Analysts Are Still Frustrated With Twitter Despite It Reporting Its First Profit
February 8, 2018 6:05 pm|Comments (0)

Twitter surprised investors and followers Thursday with revenue gains and its first profit, but some analysts say the company is still withholding vital information.

Twitter (twtr), on its earnings conference call, declined to give hard daily active user (DAU) statistics, simply saying it achieved its fifth consecutive quarter of double digit DAU growth, with a 12% year-over-year increase. That’s all well and good, say analysts, but without actual numbers, it’s a relatively meaningless boast.

“The DAU growth metric is literally the FIRST THING in their shareholder letter,” said Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter via Twitter. “Their excuse that they won’t disclose is lame. If they can’t tell us the numbers, why brag about growth? It’s either important (and should be disclosed) or not (and should be ignored).”

Pachter’s frustration grew as the call went on.

And he wasn’t the only critic.

Relying on percentage growth figures without giving any sort of base is an old trick of corporations. The reigning king of this strategy is Amazon, which has yet to give hard numbers regarding Amazon Prime members, though it has regularly touted the service’s membership growth.

While Twitter won’t disclose the number of daily users, it did, however, shed some light on monthly active users. That number was roughly the same as the prior quarter at 330 million, a lower-than-projected total that the company attributed in part to stepped-up efforts to reduce spam, malicious activity, and fake accounts.

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Keeping the competition out: Iran startups thrive despite sanctions
October 6, 2017 12:00 pm|Comments (0)

LONDON (Reuters) – Low on cash but high on hope, Iran’s technology entrepreneurs are learning to live with revived hostility in the United States and growing suspicion – or worse – from hardliners at home.

Their startups and e-commerce apps are flourishing, driven by government infrastructure support and young Iranians educated both in the country and abroad. Some are even drawing foreign investment in a way that Iran’s dominant oil industry has yet to achieve since most international sanctions were lifted early last year under a nuclear deal with world powers.

Life remains tough despite the easing of Iran’s international isolation. The atmosphere in Washington has soured again, with President Donald Trump signing legislation tightening domestic U.S. sanctions on Iran and threatening to pull out of the nuclear accord.

On top of this, Google and Apple have withdrawn some services temporarily or indefinitely for Iranian users in recent months for reasons including the U.S. sanctions.

Still, the absence of U.S. giants such as Amazon and Uber has allowed their Iranian equivalents Digikala and Snapp to grow rapidly. Many other local internet firms are following suit.

Ramin Rabii, chief executive of Turquoise Partners, which facilitates foreign investment in Iran, said Trump’s rhetoric could paradoxically help the tech sector.

“If he keeps talking about sanctions, that would increase the risk of investment in Iran, but at the same time it will keep a lot of competition out,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview from Tehran. “Major global players are not here.”

No figures are available on foreign investment in Iranian tech firms. Rabii, however, estimated it at hundreds of millions of dollars since the nuclear deal came into force.

By contrast, an expected rush into Iran’s huge energy reserves has yet to materialize. French group Total is investing in a gas project but Tehran has yet to seal any major oil deals with international partners.

Foreign investment in Iranian tech remains modest compared with regional mega-deals such as Amazon’s purchase in March of Dubai-based retailer souq.com. Amazon did not reveal the price but beat off a rival offer worth $ 800 million.

Still, Rabii sees a bright future. “Many foreign investors ask me what is the best performing sector in Iran for the next decade. I always name e-commerce and the tech sector,” he said.

LOCAL INCARNATIONS

After the relative isolation of the international sanctions era, the tech sector has attracted many young Iranians back from the United States, Canada and Europe. They hope to marry their experience of the startup scene with locally-educated talent.

Reza Arbabian left Canada, where he went as a teenager, to join his family textile business in Iran. But in 2012 he launched Sheypoor, the Iranian answer to Craigslist, a U.S. classified advertisements website.

Sheypoor now employs 200 and recently marked its fifth anniversary. Cash, however, remains tight.

“Many foreign companies are still hesitant and Iranian investors don’t understand the value in e-commerce. They cannot accept that they need to wait for five years for a startup to make profits,” said Arbabian.

Some outside Iran, especially in Europe where the sanctions net is not quite so tight, are nevertheless willing to take the plunge. Swedish-based Pomegranate Investment, for instance, has taken a 43 percent stake in Sheypoor.

On a larger scale, Sarava, Digikala’s main shareholder, is 45 percent-owned by foreign investors. These include Pomegranate, which raised its stake to 15 percent with a 41 million euro ($ 48 million) investment in 2016.

Following the Amazon model, Digikala has grown into Iran’s biggest internet company with a market share of 85-90 percent, according to Pomegranate. Staff numbers have leapt in the past two years from 800 to more than 2,000.

INFRASTRUCTURE

FILE PHOTO: Employees work with their laptops at Takhfifan company in Tehran, Iran January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA/File Photo

Iran came late to mass internet access but has invested heavily under President Hassan Rouhani, hoping to attract foreign cash and create more jobs.

According to the Measuring Information Society of Iran, a government-linked portal, more than 62 percent of households were connected to the internet by March 2017. This was up from only 21 percent in 2013, the year Rouhani took office.

Smartphone ownership has also rocketed. Iran, a country of 80 million people, had only two million smartphone users three years ago but the number hit 40 million in 2016.

Such developments encouraged Kamran Adle, an Iranian born and raised in London, to move to Tehran last year.

“Iranian infrastructure has dramatically improved in recent of years. 3G and 4G is much more commonplace than it was a couple of years ago,” said Adle, whose firm Ctrl+Tech invests in early stage startups and helps them to develop apps.

Some Iranian apps are copies of foreign equivalents, made out of the reach of international lawyers. But the years of isolation also forced domestic talent to be more innovative, and Adle says there is no shortage of app developers.

One such is Farshad Khodamoradi, who has designed the app for a job-hunting startup being launched this month. Unlike traditional sites, “3sootjobs” will use an algorithm-driven matching system to connect candidates with the right employers.

FILE PHOTO: Employees work with their laptops at Takhfifan company in Tehran, Iran January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA//File Photo

Khodamoradi complains about difficulties in accessing foreign tech services, many of which are U.S.-based. “The main problem is that the global services Iranian startups are using can be cut off overnight,” he told Reuters from Tehran.

He cited Google’s Firebase, a platform used to generate push notifications – such as messages to passengers that a taxi has arrived to pick them up – without their having to open the app.

This was unavailable in Iran on a number of occasions in June and July, disrupting startups including taxi hailing apps, he said. Google did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Although technology firms can gain exemptions from the sanctions, U.S. corporations appear unwilling to risk involvement in Iran. In August, Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi threatened to take legal action over Apple’s removal of Iranian apps from its app stores. Apple did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

MESSAGE FROM OBAMA

All this seems in contrast to U.S. promises after the nuclear deal. In March 2016, in a message to the Iranian people, then President Barack Obama said ending international sanctions “would mean more access to cutting-edge technologies, including information technologies that can help Iranian startups”.

Since that message, anti-U.S. Iranian hardliners have followed the growth of startups suspiciously, branding them as vehicles of enemy infiltration. Two foreign-based tech investors have also ended up in prison.

Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese information technology expert with permanent U.S. residency, was jailed in 2016 for 10 years for collaborating against the state. He had attended a conference in Tehran the previous year at the invitation of one of Iran’s vice presidents, only to be arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as he was going to the airport to leave the country.

Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi also got 10 years in 2016 on charges of cooperating with the United States. While under arrest, Namazi appeared in an Iranian documentary seen by Reuters in which he said his mistake had been to accept money for his startup from an organization linked to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Revolutionary Guards, a military force that runs an industrial empire, largely control telecommunications in Iran.

However, tech entrepreneurs say the environment is generally supportive. “We haven’t come across any of those governmental push-backs,” Adle said.

In the longer term, the sanctions would make using the souq.com model to cash in on Iranian investments much harder.

But Eddie Kerman, of London-based Indigo Holdings which links retail investors to Iranian tech firms, is optimistic.

“American companies like Amazon might not be able to enter the Iranian market, but there is a significant possibility that European or Asian companies buy the larger Iranian players,” he said.

Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; editing by David Stamp

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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