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Wednesday
Jul292015

Chinese villagers attack base station to save 'dragons'

Angry villagers in Jiangxi, southern China, have attacked a mobile base station under construction because they feared it would destroy 'dragons.'

A man who smashed the base station equipment with a wooden club during the attack in mid-June has been taken into custody, website C114 reports.

The residents of Mao village in Guangfeng district, Shangrao, had objected to the new tower, sited on a hillside, because they believed its transmissions would harm their health and destroy the fengshui 'dragons' in the hill.

The entire base station, under construction by the new state-owned tower company, China Communications Facilities Services Corp, required rebuilding after the attack. Police said the equipment had incurred 7,934 yuan ($1277) in damages.  

Thursday
Jul232015

Handset sales drove Huawei’s big 1H 

About that robust Huawei 1H result: it’s mostly about the device.

After the vendor yesterday reported a 30% boost in first-half sales to 175.9 billion yuan ($28.3 billion), the consumer group today issued its own mini-statement

Like the company, it’s on a considerable roll, only more so. Revenue for the division increased a hefty 69% year-on-year to 56.3b yuan. It now accounts for 32% of the total, up from 24% this time last year.

Devices have become a big part of Huawei, and perhaps never more so in this period. Of the 40.1b yuan extra topline revenue, almost three-fifths came from the device team. While that includes tablets, wearable and smart home gear, smartphones are far and away the biggest part. Smartphone revenue rose 87% to 44.9b yuan, which the company attributed to a “focus on mid to high-end handsets.”

Unit numbers are impressive, too, with shipments up 39%. Huawei had an 8.8% market share in April, according to Gfk, while Gartner ranked it fourth in Q1 behind Samsung, Lenovo and Apple.

Perhaps the big message here is not just the financials but that Huawei has now become a smartphone as well as a carrier equipment heavyweight. Handset quality, like market share, has been building since it decided four years ago to go after the device market.

So is the brand. In a media briefing Huawei reminds that last year it became the first ever Chinese brand on the Interbrand top 100, and it ranks 79th on the BrandZ chart of valuable brands.

The device group is well ahead of its $16b revenue target for 2015. It's now aiming for $20b.

Tuesday
Jul142015

In Shanghai with the Great Firewall

In Shanghai ahead of the Mobile World Congress event, and getting my usual education on who's inside and who's outside the Great Firewall of China (GFW).

 

The usual suspects – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube – are permanently out of bounds. But in the new normal since 2014 sites such as scmp.com and even the Hong Kong government broadcaster RTHK have disappeared from view.

 

One surprise on this visit is the blocking of BBC World Service radio. The English language service has usually been available, though not the Chinese. The BBC English website is accessible, but not their video. The same goes for CNN.

 

The filtering is often (and presumably intentionally) erratic. When living in Beijing I'd find sites such as Yahoo would disappear for a few hours or a day or two and then return. This may be why Google.com.hk, Gmail and Google Translate are back online, though it's likely a more permanent change. Last year all Google services were restricted. Currently just Google Drive and YouTube are blocked.


The one positive about this sustained assault on knowledge diffusion is it provides a good cutomised test of which tools are the most valuable. In order I'd say Twitter, Wordpres and Google Drive.

 

This is an obviously unscientific and personal list. For comprehensive coverage of the GFW, visit Greatfire.org.

OUT

YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Google Drive, Blogger, scmp.com, RTHK News, nytimes.com, bloomberg.com, BBC World Service radio, Delicious, Wikipedia (Chinese), WordPress (any WordPress blog), WSJ.

IN

BBC News website (but not radio), CNN (but not video) Guardian, Google HK, Google Translate, Gmail

 

Wednesday
Mar112015

Milestone: VC legend backs HK biotech startup

Hong Kong has won acclaim over the years for its kung-fu movies, excellent dining, spectacular skyline and free economy. 

But never for its technology.

So today may eventually be regarded as a modest milestone in its path to becoming a technology hub. It's probably fair to say few Hong Kong citizens are aware that that is a path they are on. In fact, governments over the past 15 years have built science parks and incubators and tipped in growing amounts of R&D cash.

Today's news is that a local startup, Vitargent, has taken on Taiwan-American VC firm W.I. Harper as an investor for an undisclosed amount.

That may sound modest in the extreme, but Harper chairman Peter Liu has enormous cred in the tech investment community. In a career that goes back to 1983 in Taiwan and 1992 in China, his successes include Singapore's Creative Technologies, the inventor of the PC soundcard, and video software firm Divx. Currently, he is an early stage investor in apps search firm Quixey, which has attracted investment from Alibaba and Softbank that values it at $600m. 

Vitargent's back story isn't as long but it's impressive. An incubatee at the Hong  Kong Science Park, it uses fish embryo to test for toxins way more effectively than anyone else. Traditional tests can identify five to ten toxins; it can test for 1,000 (that's transgenic medaka, or Japanese rice fish, glowing fluorescent green, above).

The company has sold its product to international cosmetics and food companies, and according to Liu another major deal is in the pipeline. It has won a brace of awards: The Clinton Global Initiative, the Lee Kwan Yew Global Business Competition, the HSBC Young Entrepreneur Awards. the Hong Kong Awards for Industries.

Vitargent founder Eric Chen says since word leaked of the Harper investment he's had investors beating a path to his door. Although that sounds like startup hyperbole, VCs are herd animals and that's exactly how they behave. The biggest impact from this could be to put Hong Kong finally on the tech investment map.

Thursday
Mar052015

Here comes 5G

The 5G genie has finally escaped from the bottle. After the first day of MWC  I wrote this piece about  the relatively restrained advocacy for 5G radio access technologies. For the record, among the big four vendors, only two actually have a candidate technology: Alcatel-Lucent's UF-OFDM and Huawei's SCMA/F-OFDM combo. Ericsson and Nokia are weighing their options.

 

Within hours a proliferation of groups emerged to stake out their 5G territory (no, I'm not suggesting a causal connection). Heavy Reading analyst Gabriel Brown points out the emergence of these different interests is no bad thing:

 

It's good if you're an operator or a vendor to have done work before you go into standardisation because then you come armed with something useful to contribute,” Brown says. “The standardisation progress will go better if there has been proprietary work.”

 

The 5G process will take up a lot of industry air time over the next five years. It's a tight timetable. NTT DoCoMo wants a commercial-ready network for the 2020 Olympics and the Koreans are keen to have at least a demo system for the 2018 Winter Games.

 

But Takehiro Nakamura, MD of the NTT DoCoMo 5G Lab, worries that countries outside northeast Asia don't have the same sense of urgency. They have “a very relaxed schedule – 2021, 2023 even as late as 2025.”

 

Plus he thinks the lack of a rival technology might itself be a hindrance. “Competitiveness is important to promote systems development and system enhancement,” he said, citing 3GPP vs. 3GPP2 and LTE vs. Wimax. “Thanks to that competition, we developed our new system very quickly. Everybody could focus on the same direction.”

That said, there is, following the stunning success of LTE, a widely-expressed sentiment that the industry get to agreement on 5G. 

But with aspirations to  support a thousand-fold increase in both throughput and the number of connections, and to accommodate low-latency, low-demand connecitivity IoT as well as high-speed millimetre wave while also integrating LTE and Wi-Fi, 5G is not short on ambition.