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Vodafone scores a victory in $3 billion tax dispute with India

NEW DELHI, Sept 25: Vodafone Group Plc. won a crucial victory in a years-long tax dispute with the Indian government, a development that could potentially save the UK wireless carrier almost $3 billion.

An international arbitration tribunal ruled Friday that India’s efforts to claim 200 billion rupees ($2.7 billion) in past taxes were in breach of fair treatment under the bilateral investment protection pact between the south Asian nation and the Netherlands, according to a lawyer representing the company in the case. The tribunal has also asked India to halt its efforts to claim the tax dues. India can appeal.

Shares of Vodafone Idea Ltd., Vodafone’s money-losing India unit, jumped 14% in Mumbai after CNBC-TV18 reported the ruling, the biggest gain since Sept. 3.

The ruling may ease the burden on Vodafone’s India venture at a critical time when it is already facing a demand for billions of dollars in back-fees India’s Supreme Court ordered it to pay last October in a separate case. The joint venture between Vodafone and billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla’s conglomerate has been weighed down by a $7.8 billion bill from the government -- biggest among peers -- eight straight quarterly losses and over $14 billion of debt.

“Vodafone has finally got justice,” said Anuradha Dutt, managing partner of DMD Advocates, a New Delhi-based firm which argued for Vodafone. “They have held that the government trying to recover from Vodafone the tax, interest, and penalty, is unfair and it breaches the fair and equitable standards laid down by international law.”

A Vodafone spokesman in London confirmed the tribunal has ruled in the company’s favor. “The award is confidential,” he said. “We are studying the lengthy documents and can make no further comment at this time.”

A spokesperson for India’s finance ministry did not answer calls seeking comment on the arbitration court ruling.

This marks the latest twist in over a decade-long tax dispute that started when Vodafone entered India by acquiring Hutchison Whampoa’s Indian operations in 2007 and was slapped with this tax bill. Vodafone disputed this tax demand and the country’s Supreme Court agreed that no local law supported the levy of this tax. But the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee amended the tax rules to apply retrospectively, triggering a legal battle that ended up in the Hague arbitration court.

Apple online store launched in India

NEW DELHI, Sept 23: Apple earlier this year said that it would introduce its online store in India later this year. The company kept good on its promise today by launching its online store in India.

Up until now, Apple sold its products in India via third-party sellers such as Amazon India, Flipkart and Croma among others. But now, the company is offering its entire product lineup in India via its online store. The list of devices that the company is offering via its online store includes, Apple Watch series, iPhones, Mac computers and laptops, iPad, Apple TV and its music accessories which includes HomePod, AirPods and iPod Touch among others.

On the occasion, Apple is offering a bunch of special offers to its customers. Here are the details:

-- No-contact delivery: Apple said that all orders from its online store in India will be shipped in a contact-less manner. While the orders that do not need a signature will be left on the customer’s door, the ones that do require a signature, the company will take a verbal confirmation instead of a written one. The customer will also not be charging any delivery charges to the customers.

-- Payment offers: Apple is offering a host of payment options, which includes credit cards, debit cards, credit card EMIs, UPI and net banking to the customers. Customers will get a cashback of up to 6% on the purchase of new products purchased using HDFC Bank cards. This offer, however, is valid only up to October 16.

-- Students offer: Apple is offering special discounts on the purchase of Apple devices to students. The company is also offering extended warranty under its AppleCare+ program. This offer is available for students in universities, parents and staff members.

-- AppleCare+: Apple is also offering its AppleCare+ facility to its customers. This service extends the warranty of Apple devices with up to 2 years of technical support and accidental damage cover.

-- Apple Trade-In program: As a part of this program, customers can exchange any eligible smartphone for credit towards a new iPhone. The list includes Apple iPhones, Samsung smartphones and OnePlus smartphones.

-- Apple Support: As a part of this program customers will get support with hardware or software issues from an Apple expert. This includes support while setting up a device to recovering an Apple ID or even replacing a screen.

-- Others: Apart from the above-mentioned services, customers will be able to contact Apple specialists while making purchases, customise their Mac devices and get a free one-on-one online session with an Apple Specialist while purchasing a device.

Reliance Jio Captures 52.3% Market Share In Internet User Base: TRAI

NEW DELHI, Sept 21: Ever since Reliance Jio came into existence, the telecom sector has been seeing intense competition and tariff war. In just four years of its operations, the company has become the largest telecom operator in the country.

In fact, its affordable tariff plans helped India to have the second-largest internet base in the world. Similarly, TRAI has issued new data, which says that Reliance Jio has managed to garner 52.3 percent share in the Q1 of this year. This means Jio is leading in terms of providing data to people in the country, while Airtel has only 23.6 percent market share during the same quarter.

On the other hand, Vodafone-Idea gets the third position and manages to achieve an 18.7 percent market share. "A total number of internet subscribers increased from 718.74 million at the end of December 2019 to 743.19 million at the end of March 2020, registering a quarterly growth rate of 3.40 percent," the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) said in its report.

The telecom regulator said that the wireless internet user base stood at 720. 7 million and the wire internet base manages to stand at 22.4 million. "The broadband internet subscriber base increased by 3.85 percent from 661.94 million at the end of December 2019 to 687.44 million at the end of March 2020," TRAI added.

BSNL Is Leading In The Wired Internet Segment

The telecom regulator highlighted that BSNL is leading with a 50.3 percent market share. The user base of the BSNL stood at 11.27 million subscribers, while Airtel has 2.47 million subscribers, which means the state-run telecom operator is leading the segment.

If we talk about the top five-wire and wireless areas, then Maharashtra gets 63.01 million users, Andhra Pradesh has 58.65 million users, Tamil Nadu has 51.64 million subscribers, and Madhya Pradesh has 48.72 million subscribers in the country.

Apple launches watch that monitors blood oxygen

CUPERTINO, Sept 15: Apple Inc on Tuesday introduced a new Apple Watch Series 6 that monitors blood oxygen and starts at $399, kicking off a fall product lineup for a holiday shopping season that will be unlike any other due to Covid-19.

Apple is also introducing a low-cost Apple Watch SE starting at $279 that does not monitor blood oxygen saturation.

Apple was expected to update several products including iPads and headphones at an event on Tuesday broadcast from its Cupertino, California, headquarters. Its biggest seller - the iPhone - is expected to be announced next month after executives have said its launch will be delayed by several weeks because of pandemic-related disruptions.

Apple shares have soared this year even as the virus has crippled economies around the world, thanks in large part to booming sales of work-from-home items.

Apple shares were up 2% on Tuesday after climbing more than 50% for the year, well ahead of the 23% gain for the Nasdaq. Even though Apple stock has fallen from a record high earlier this month, it remains near its $2 trillion stock market valuation.

How the new products sell during the holiday shopping season in many markets will largely define how well Apple performs for its entire fiscal year, which started this month.

Apple said the Series 6 watch’s new ability to monitor blood oxygen using infrared light should be used for fitness and wellness purposes. Doctors in India and other countries have used pulse oximeters to remotely check on Covid-19 patients and ensure their oxygen saturation level does not fall too low.

A level between 95% and 97% is considered normal by the American Lung Association https://www.lung.org/media/press-releases/pulse-oximeter-Covid-19. Patients below 95% should call their doctor and those under 90% should go to the emergency room, health experts advise.

Low oxygen levels are usually not the sole indicator of having Covid-19, the association said.

The previous version of the Apple Watch can already take measurements similar to electrocardiogram.

Apple’s Heart Study found that the watch could accurately detect atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heartbeat, according to a study that explored the role of wearable devices in identifying potential heart problems. Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of stroke more than fivefold, according to the American Heart Association.

Apple rival Fitbit Inc introduced a way to measure changes in blood oxygen earlier this year.

US government confirms receiving Oracle bid for TikTok

WASHINGTON, Sept 14: Ahead of a deadline set by President Donald Trump over video sharing app TikTok, US officials will evaluate a bid that could see American tech giant Oracle become a partner to a Chinese company that has been called a national security risk.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin confirmed on Monday Washington had received a bid from Oracle concerning TikTok’s American operations after the video-sharing app’s parent ByteDance rejected a proposal from Microsoft.

But key details about the deal were murky and it remained unclear whether the venture would pass muster with Washington regulators.

“I will confirm that we did get a proposal over the weekend that includes Oracle as the trusted technology partner,” Mnuchin said on CNBC, adding that the bid would be handled by a government panel that reviews foreign transactions for national security concerns.

“We need to make sure that the code is, one, secure, Americans’ data are secure, phones are secure, and we’ll be having discussions with Oracle over the next few days with our technical teams,” Mnuchin said.

Oracle confirmed its submission, saying the company “is part of the proposal by ByteDance to the Treasury Department over the weekend in which Oracle will serve as the trusted technology provider.”

Trump effectively ordered the sale of the Chinese company’s US operations by September 20, after which the app would shut down.

However Chinese state media outlets CGTN and China News Service on Monday reported that ByteDance will not sell TikTok to Oracle, while The Wall Street Journal said the transaction is being structured as a partnership and probably won’t be an outright sale. All three outlets cited unnamed sources.

Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said Oracle’s description of itself under the venture was ambiguous and may not assuage national security concerns.

“It is unclear what Oracle means by saying it will serve as ‘TikTok’s trusted technology provider.’ This idea is critical because one major reason for Trump’s executive orders was concern over the threat to national security from Tiktok,” Tobias said.

“Unless much more is done to clarify exactly what the contours of the deal are and how they will work in practice, many observers and I wonder whether the deal will be sufficient to prevent the app’s ban in the US.”

TikTok’s brand of short, quirky videos made on users’ cellphones has grown popular in the United States and beyond, but Trump’s claims that TikTok could be used by China to track the location of federal employees, build dossiers for the purpose of blackmail and conduct corporate espionage has sparked a diplomatic storm between Washington and Beijing.

TikTok has rejected the charges and sued over the crackdown, contending that the US order was a misuse of its International Emergency Economic Powers Act because the platform is not “an unusual and extraordinary threat.”

Last month, China’s commerce ministry published new rules potentially making it more difficult for ByteDance to sell TikTok to an American entity by adding “civilian use” to a list of technologies that are restricted for export.

ByteDance had vowed to “strictly abide” by the new export rules.

Downloaded 175 million times in the United States, TikTok is used by as many as a billion people worldwide. It has repeatedly denied sharing data with Beijing.

Microsoft had indicated at the beginning of August that it was interested in acquiring TikTok’s US operations, but announced Sunday that bid had been rejected.

“We believe Microsoft would only buy TikTok with its core algorithm, which the Chinese government and ByteDance was not willing to budge,” Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives said in a note.

“Given the need now to get a green light from Beijing after its export rules were changed a few weeks ago, TikTok’s days in the US likely are numbered with a shutdown now the next step.”

S&P warned Monday that the transaction for TikTok could result in a downgrade of Oracle’s credit rating, depending on whether the company needs to take on significant debt for the transaction.

“A deal in which Oracle is a technology partner rather than a full owner could lower the price,” S&P said. “And if Oracle has co-bidders, that could further reduce the financial impact.”

Shares of Oracle were halted shortly after the open due to the pending news on the company but resumed trading later in the day. Near 1700 GMT, shares were up 4.6 percent at $59.61.

Vodafone Idea launches new brand identity ‘Vi’

NEW DELHI, Sept 7: Vodafone Idea on Monday unveiled its new unified brand identity. Vodafone Idea is now known as “VI” (pronounced we). Vodafone Idea Ltd has merged both telcos into one using both the red and yellow colours.

On occasion of the new branding announcement, Vodafone Idea has also launched a new Vi app. The telco has also launched a programme through which one can win gifts such as a GoPro, Netflix subscription and more. It’s called “Happy Surprises” and one has to spot the new VI logo on the app. Vodafone Idea users and non-users can also get their own customised and unique ringtone from the Vi app or website. Once users enter their mobile number they’ll receive a unique ringtone. Vi plans more such offers in the coming days.

“The brand integration not only marks the completion of the largest telecom merger in the world, but also sets us on our future journey to offer world class digital experiences to 1 Billion Indians on our strong 4G network. VIL is now leaner and agile, and the deployment of many principles of 5G architecture has helped us transform into a future-fit, digital network for changing customer needs,” said Ravinder Takkar, MD & CEO of Vodafone Idea Limited.

Vodafone India merged with Idea Cellular on August 31, 2018, and the merged company was renamed Vodafone Idea Limited. Although the two telcos merged, both brands continued with their individual identities.

Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone Group Plc commented on the new brand saying, “As the integration of the two businesses is now complete it’s time for a fresh start. That’s why we believe that now is the perfect time to launch Vi, one company which combines the strengths of Vodafone and Idea. Vi’s focus will be to deliver to citizens and businesses in India a superior network experience, better customer service and leading products and services.”

Airtel announces unlimited broadband plans up to 1 Gbps, starting from Rs 499

NEW DELHI, Sept 6: Less than a week after Reliance announced competitive high-speed, unlimited JioFiber broadband plans, Airtel has hit back. The telecom service provider recently announced the launch of its new Xstream Bundle.

The new Airtel Xstream Bundle plans will combine the company’s high-speed Xstream Fiber with speeds of up to 1 Gbps, unlimited data, access to OTT content, and the Airtel Xstream Android 4K TV Box. According to Airtel, the new plans will come with unlimited data, starting at 499. The Airtel Xstream bundles will be available to home customers starting from Monday.

Airtel Xstream Fiber Plans
Plans (Rs) 499 799 999 1,499 3,999
Speed 40 Mbps 100 Mbps 200 Mbps 300 Mbps 1 Gbps

All Xstream plans include unlimited data and unlimited calling. All plans will also include the Airtel Xstream 4K TV Box along with over 10,000 movies, shows, and original content from seven OTT platforms and five studios. Additionally, all plans above Rs 999 will include Amazon Prime Video, ZEE5, and Disney+ Hotstar subscription.

The Airtel Xstream Box, which is worth Rs 3,999, is now included with all plans. The Xstream Box is designed to turn any TV into a smart TV, giving customers access to all Live TV channels as well as the best video streaming apps. This Android 9.0 powered box comes with a smart remote with voice support for Google Assistant. It will also offer access to the Google Play Store and a plethora of apps that come with it.

Samsung tops India premium smartphone segment in H1 2020: Report

NEW DELHI, Sept 2: Despite the pandemic hitting the smartphone sector, shipments of smartphones in the premium segment grew by 18 percent Year-over-Year (YoY) in H1 of 2020. Samsung has managed to lead the positive stride with a market share of 37 percent, states a report by CMR, an Industry Intelligence Group.

According to the CMR data, the Premium smartphone segment comprised smartphones in the range of Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000 and Apple had the second-largest share in the market with 26 percent share, followed by OnePlus with 15 percent share.

The premium smartphone segment amounted to 5 percent of the total shipment of smartphones and Samsung Galaxy A71 emerged as the topper in this segment, with a 19 percent share.

Anand Priya Singh, Analyst at CMR, said the first half of 2020 was a "tough period" for the "overall smartphone industry". But, the premium smartphone segment emerged as one of the "least affected segments".

The analyst mentioned that the segment showed expected growth instead. It was due to "strong consumer demand and good supply-side dynamics."

On the other hand, Amit Sharma, another analyst belonging to the Industry Intelligence Group, said that consumer demand in the premium smartphone segment continued to remain high in H1 2020, which, in turn, fuelled the market growth.

According to him, the positive result will be reflected in the second half of 2020 as well, "Especially, in the run-up to the all-important festive season. Beyond the incumbents €" including Samsung and Apple, aspirational premium brands will seek to make in-roads into the premium segment."

It is important to note that the first wave of 5G smartphones debuted in the premium smartphone segment in H1 of 2020. This along with several strategic moves by top brands like Xiaomi, Vivo, Realme, Oppo and Motorola aided to the positive graph in the segment.

India bans 118 more Chinese mobile apps

NEW DELHI, Sept 2: India on Wednesday banned 118 mobile applications linked to China including the widely popular game PUBG Mobile Lite, saying there were reports that these apps were ‘stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorised manner.

The government said these apps promoted activities “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”.

“This move will safeguard the interests of crores of Indian mobile and internet users. This decision is a targeted move to ensure safety, security and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace,” the ministry of electronics and information technology (MEITY) said on Wednesday afternoon, announcing the ban that could hurt some of China’s technology giants such as Tencent Holdings Ltd, the country’s search engine leader Baidu Inc, Xiaomi’s ShareSave and online payments giant Ant Group Co.’s platform Alipay.

India accounts for over a quarter of PUBG Mobile’s lifetime installs though revenues from the country are still minuscule, a Bloomberg report said citing data from research firm Sensor Tower. PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds, popularly known as PUBG, had seen its user numbers rocket in India as the coronavirus-related lockdowns boosted gaming. The banned versions of PUBG included PUBG Mobile Lite, a leaner version of the app suited to inexpensive smartphones, as well as PUBG Mobile Nordic Map: Livik, a newer game played on a Nordic terrain.

PUBG was developed by a South Korean company, but the mobile version that has taken off around the world was developed by Chinese tech giant Tencent.

Officials said there had been reports by parents, civil society activists and other stakeholders about PUBG’s ‘violent’ content. “The apps have been banned to ensure there is no data theft,” said the official. The official added that the Indian alternative to PUBG, Scarfall, may now gain more traction.

This is the third round of bans after India decided to take down Tik Tok and 59 other applications on June 29. The second round of blocks came on July 23, when the ministry decided to take down mirror applications that were functioning despite the ban. These applications were also banned for being a ‘threat to the sovereignty of the country and national security’. IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had then called the order a ‘digital strike against China’.

Wednesday’s fresh order comes in the wake of border tensions with China spiraling in the sensitive Ladakh sector after China’s People Liberation’s Army (PLA) made an abortive bid to grab Indian territory in a stealthy midnight move on August 29, officials familiar with the developments said on Tuesday. The Indian army, however, preempted the PLA and occupied key heights on the southern bank of Pangong Tso.

The PLA made a second provocative move on August 31 but the Indian Army took “timely defensive action” to thwart the Chinese attempt to unilaterally alter the status quo in the sector, the ministry of external affairs said on Tuesday.

The third round of ban on China-linked mobile applications was ordered against this backdrop and is widely seen as an effort by New Delhi to send a message to Beijing that its aggressive posturing along the Line of Actual Control would come with costs elsewhere. India’s ban on TikTok had prompted several other countries to take a hard look at the company earlier and led to US President Donald Trump’s decision to ban the mobile app from carrying out any transactions in the United States from mid-September.

The IT ministry, however, did not allude to the border situation. Instead, it cited a report from the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre located within the Ministry of Home Affairs that had sent an exhaustive recommendation “for blocking these malicious apps”.

A MEITY official, who did not wish to be named, said that the ban had been affected under the ‘emergency provisions of the IT Act'.

The ministry invoked its power under section 69A of the Information Technology Act read with the relevant provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 and in view of the emergent nature of threats has decided to block 118 mobile apps ‘since in view of information available they are engaged in activities which is prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order’, the public statement said.

“We got a report of the violations yesterday and have immediately ordered blocking the applications,” he said, explaining that notices are being sent to mobile apps to give their counter to the decision.

The same process was followed for the previous round of bans. “They will be given a chance to put forth a representation on their behalf,” he added.

“The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has received many complaints from various sources including several reports about misuse of some mobile apps available on Android and iOS platforms for stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures,” the ministry said.

Intel debuts 11th generation Core processors for thin and light laptops

NEW YORK, Sept 2: Intel's 11th Gen processors for laptops come with new integrated Xe graphics, Thunderbolt 4 support, Wi-Fi 6, and a massive improvement in battery and battery life.

Intel on Wednesday announced the 11th generation of its Core processors for thin and light laptops. The new processor family -Codenamed Tiger Lake – is based on the new 10nm Willow Cove architecture. The Tiger Lake chipsets succeed the Ice Lake processors.

The new Tiger Lake processors come with Intel’s new Xe graphics, which promise a massive upgrade in graphics performance. Intel’s 11th generation Core processors will be available in Core i3, i5 and i7 varieties.

Intel has confirmed that Tiger Lake processors will support the new Thunderbolt 4 interface. Thunderbolt 4 will offer data transfer speeds of 40Gbit/s, support for two 4K displays or one 8K display and fast storage speeds of 3000 megabytes per second.

Intel has also announced a new version of its Project Athena certification standard, called “Intel Evo.” If your next laptop comes with Intel Evo branding, then it will last over 9 hours on a single charge. The new laptops with Intel Evo will also get fast charging support as well as Wi-Fi 6 and Thunderbolt 4 support.

Some features of Intel’s 11th Core processors are as follows:

*The Tiger Lake family is based on 10nm Willow Cove architecture

*The new processor lineup is based on Intel’s new XE graphics.

*11th Gen Tiger Lake processors support Wi-Fi 6, Thunderbolt 4.

What is Thunderbolt 4?

Intel says over 50 new laptops with the latest 11th generation Core processors will hit retail shelves this fall. Dell, HP, Acer and Lenovo are some of the brands that will launch thin and light laptops with 11th Gen Tiger Lake processors. Many of those laptops have already been announced like Lenovo Slim 9i, Samsung Galaxy Book Flex 5G, Asus’ new ZenBooks and Acer’s updated Swift 5 laptops.

 

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