India

Phone makers want India to declare smartphones as ‘essential’ services

India’s smartphone market has come to a grinding halt

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India is on a 21-day lockdown until 15 April due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the government is allowing movement of only “essential” commodities. The complete closure means there are no smartphone retail stores open for business and online marketplaces too can’t ship smartphones.

In response, an apex industry body of the mobile and electronics industry in the country called India Cellular and Electronics Association (ICEA) has written to the government. It’s urging the authorities to allow online sales of mobile phones, laptops, computers and tablet PCs. Furthermore, it wants servicing and maintenance of these products to also be categorized as “essential”.

The letter has been addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting him to relax the definition of essential. It’s evident that smartphone makers have taken a huge hit since they’re unable to sell a single phone for a period of at least 21 days.

According to CounterPoint research’s latest Q4 2019 report, the country saw shipments of 158 million smartphone units. India is the world’s second-largest smartphone market. So it’s natural that a 21-day lockdown would drastically affect brands who are now used to launching a new phone every other month.

India’s appetite for smartphones is unmatchable. Even supply-chain masters like Xiaomi struggle to keep up with the demand and their now-independent brand POCO had to rely on a flash sale model to ship the POCO X2. The demand is unprecedented. Backed by the cheapest data availability in the world.

ICEA, however, clarified that it does support the lockdown to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. Moreover, it’s asking for permission to start online sales in Tier 1 and 2 cities, while allowing the opening of stores, with safety measures, in Tier 3 and 4 cities.

What’s the current definition of “essential”?

Considering the government notification, essential services include goods like groceries, vegetables, and medicines. These commodities can continue moving around like they used to. The lockdown means citizens are expected to stay indoors all the time, companies have been told to vacate offices and completely shift to “work from home” model.

Only a few personnel are allowed to leave and venture outside. This includes law enforcement personnel, municipal workers, healthcare professionals, and banking or financial services staff to ensure the backbone of the country isn’t shut down.

India

Airtel starts 5G trials in India, shows off 1Gbps speed

Commercial availability still a year away, though

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India is yet to roll out 5G services, but there’s finally some good news. Airtel has kicked off its 5G trial network in Gurugram, Delhi’s neighboring city,  just a little over a month after the government gave its go-ahead to carry out trial runs.

Airtel is testing its 5G network at a speed of over 1Gbps, and the site where the trial is running is operating in the 3500MHz band. According to a report by ET Telecom, Airtel has been allotted the 5G trial spectrum in 3500 MHz, 28 GHz, and 700 MHz.

Rival telcos Jio and VIL (Vodafone-Idea) have been allotted spectrums in the 700 MHz, 3.5 GHz, and 26 GHz bands. State-backed telco MTNL has also received permission to start trials. The runs are being carried out in compliance with the guidelines of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

Airtel is currently working with Ericson on the equipment, while other providers include Nokia, Samsung, etc. Jio has announced will be conducting trials using its own indigenous technology. The trails shall go on for six months. Chinese companies like Huawei have long been sidelined.

5G in India

The Indian government is yet to auction the 5G spectrum; hence a commercial roll-out is at least a year away. Earlier in January this year, Airtel claimed that they had become the first telco in India to demonstrate 5G services over a commercial network in Hyderabad. However, these are internal runs.

It noted that in Hyderabad, users were able to download a full-length movie in a matter of seconds on a 5G phone, a demonstration that has underlined the company’s technology capabilities.

The plans to unveil 5G in the country took a backseat due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The industry couldn’t adopt the latest technology quickly as the market was devastated by low tariff wars, pending tax issues, and reducing capex. VIL was barely able to survive bankruptcy, but the debt continues to haunt it.

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India

Nord CE 5G goes official with Snapdragon 750G, 64MP camera

Enough to take on Xiaomi and realme?

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OnePlus has now transformed into a giant itself and aggressively expanding its Nord-branded offering. Designed for the affordable segment, the Nord CE aims to offer a premium experience while maintaining a pocket-friendly price tag.

The Nord CE follows its predecessor’s design language and the Blue Void color option screams OnePlus. It looks quite similar to the Xiaomi Mi A3 but has an elongated vertical camera array on the rear. The phone will be going up against the Redmi Note 10 Pro Max, Mi 10i 5G, and realme X7.

It sports a 6.4-inch AMOLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate, Full HD+ resolution, and a punch-hole cut-out. The body is made of polycarbonate, and there’s an in-display fingerprint scanner for authentication. Powering the phone is a Snapdragon 750G processor with up to 8GB RAM and 256GB internal storage. Unfortunately, there’s no SD card slot for memory expansion.

On the rear is a triple camera setup consisting of a 64-megapixel primary camera, an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens, and a 2-megapixel macro sensor. For selfies, there is a 16-megapixel shooter located within the cut-out. Further, it comes preloaded with Nightscape, UltraShot HDR, Portrait, Panorama, Pro mode, and Smart Scene recognition. Backing these internals is a 4500mAh battery with 30W fast charging.

The Nord CE 5G costs INR 22,999 (US$ 315) for the 6GB + 128GB option, INR 24,999 (US$ 340) for 8GB + 128GB, and INR 27,999 (US$ 382) for 8GB + 256GB. The phone goes on sale on June 16, and color options include Blue Void, Charcoal Ink, and Silver Ray. OnePlus has also listed an offer on its website where buyers will get INR 500 off on OnePlus Buds Z and INR 500 off on the OnePlus Band. The coupons will be added to the buyer’s account after product delivery.

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India

WhatsApp is suing India’s government over rules that endanger privacy

It’s serious when WhatsApp starts talking about privacy…

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It’s hard to imagine a Facebook-backed service talk about defending privacy. The company has a nasty reputation for handling users’ data, and it’s often considered a dystopian internet giant. But Facebook-owned WhatsApp is now suing the Indian government over new rules that endanger user privacy.

In February, the Indian government introduced new guidelines to regulate content on social media and streaming platforms. The new rules give greater power to monitor online activity, including encrypted apps like Signal and Telegram.

To be more precise, the government wants apps like WhatsApp to identify the originator of a message. The content of the message can remain encrypted, but the user should be traceable. The new rules supersede the existing law — the IT Act. Hence, it becomes impossible for the government to enforce traceability without a law.

And, even if the rule is modeled within the existing law, it’ll pose a massive challenge for encrypted apps. Giving up traceability potentially compromises all its users. WhatsApp says traceability of texts would force companies to collect and store billions of messages sent each day for the sole purpose of turning them over to law enforcement.

WhatsApp’s petition asks the High Court to declare that one of the new rules is a violation of privacy under the constitution of India since it requires social media sites to identify the “first originator of information” when asked for it.

The instant messaging app has over 400 million users in India. Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Whatsapp were given three months to comply with these rules. Although it’s suing the government, WhatsApp itself has received a lot of criticism due to its recently updated privacy policy.

“Some governments are seeking to force technology companies to find out who sent a particular message on private messaging services. This concept is called ‘traceability’,” said WhatsApp in an online statement. “WhatsApp is committed to doing all we can to protect the privacy of people’s personal messages, which is why we join others in opposing traceability.”

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