Thursday, June 28, 2012

Philippines allows visa-free entry for Indians from Singapore, USA, UK, EU, AU, Canada, Japan

Source: Philstar

A decision in the right direction. Perhaps one of the best decision by Philippines government and this improves the business travel tremendously and reduce the problems faced by tourists/businessman from these countries.

Today it takes approx 5 business days to get a entry VISA from Philippines consulate in Singapore and two trips (you must go yourself and no agents) which is a waste of time and resources. For multiple entry it may take 20+ days and again three trips to the consulate.

A simple decision will remove all these limitations. If Phil government feels that it might lose $ from visa issuance, they can charge a flat fee (say $250) similar to multiple entry visa/year.

Wish to see more nations following suite. If money is the issue I'm sure people are willing to pay for it.

Update: Comments from Immigration Philippines

Also managed to capture a photo of the circular (not very clear though, but the content is same as above)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

ID Photo in Changi - Instant passport photo

I've got this strange requirement, that is I need passport photographs while I was at Changi. This is for one of the country visa on arrival requirement and I am not quite sure whether the destination airport would have an instant photo booth.
First thing is try to look in internet. The popular ID Photo (Instant Photo Booth) which is very common in MRT Stations and public malls seems to be a 'missing thing' in internet.
I couldn't find their website as well as their locations. Four Square showed me there is one but when I asked the Customer Service stall @ Changi T2 they stared at me blankly. But the Guardian staff came to my rescue and Yes, There is a ID Photo booth in Changi.

The location in T2 is near the City/MRT Escalator. This is right next to the ATM's (OCBC, DBS) and you can't miss it if you walk there.
Excuse me for the bad quality of the picture as I took it in a rush :)

Understood that there is another booth @ T3 / Terminal 3 near the entrance too. T1 seems to be missing one;

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Apple Macbook prices in India vs Singapore

Here is an excellent post from Amit summarizing the prices.

If you are one of those guy who wants to buy the 15" Retina Macbook pro, then it may be better to make a trip to Singapore to purchase.

The price in Singapore is SGD 3,788 including GST (Apple Store SG) which is roughly INR 160,000. In India this is INR 193,000.

And as a tourist (if you stay for a min 3 days) you can avail GST refund which makes it 7% more cheap. So in total it's 193K vs 150K. A flight ticket is max 40K and you can easily break even..A budget flight can be around ~20K. So choice is your..;)

No iOS6 for iPad 1st Generation. LIfetime of less than 2 years ??

Source: CNET
I am surprised by the decision of Apple to drop iOS6 support for 1st gen iPad or iPAD-1. Some says, this is due to the slower processor, less memory or low hardware spec. Whatever the reason is this is really a strange way Apple behaved.

I've invested $500 around 18 months back (SG got the iPad few months later) and now no more updates from Apple. Hopefully they won't stop the support :)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sarpinos Pizza - Singapore Pizza delivery

If you've noticed there is a huge growth in number of delivery services in Singapore lately. I've used pizzahut, Mcdonalds, Brindas & Komalas in the past.

Last week one of my friend introduced me to Sarpinos, and at first I thought this is another imitation pizza product. But we've ordered and the taste is quite good. The pizza is a bit juicier and tastes 'fresh'.

Delivery is punctual (took only 30 min. WoW) and with acceptable price tag ($25 for two 10" pizzas including delivery - This is the one-for-one offer; $38 for another set of special pizza ). Not too bad but wish their online ordering system works after 5 PM :)

Government rejects all proposals for NIMS aka Common Set-top Box

Source: CNA

My immediate reaction. We've killed a revolutionary product successfully.

I know what you're saying. This doesn't work, Singapore market is too small... But please wait.

My thoughts were similar until I realized the power of internet television or streaming video; couple of years ago. I was working very closely with an IP TV operator in APAC and I tried my best to convince that the way to move forward is not 'simulating/copying cable tv' where people subscribe for packages but more in to Youtube model. Which means you've the content and people simply watch what they want (money is deducted ofcourse)

If that's the case, then we'd have a appstore model or youtube model in our Pay TV market. The beauty of it is this model will leverage on the power of IP (or packet transport). From user point of view the advantages were endless. User can watch "Any Program, Any Time on Any Device"

From SP point of view, they can monetize the content much more easily and effectively. However the big roadblock was the Set Top Box. The SP need to have a STB which works like a pure IP Router but at a much lower price point and with features to support future requirements. The models then couldn't support and the Operator even looked ad X-Box as a viable option. In the end the outcome was different.

If Singapore were to invest in a common STB which can works exactly like a universal IP box, this could have resulted in few patents and more importantly "valuable experiences". The world is moving towards IP and if not today, we'll see VoD gaining upperhand and context/consumer based advertisement taking precedence. Imagine the kind of knowledge, experience we've lost. This might have been used in future contracts/entertainment systems.

Anyway, back to the old days. We'll be stuck with multiple set top boxes and remotes in our living rooms till one day we'll through all and opt for Apple TV or Google TV.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

IIFA 2012, Singapore - What a flop show

If you've been to IIFA, Singapore chances are high you left the place early. This is by far the ugliest (yes, ugliest), unorganized and boring show. The organizers never mentioned that there would be any big stars (Salman etc) so the interest levels're low already. The location is quite bad too. In Singapore we don't have the critical mass unlike in Dubai. But thanks to the popularity of our Khans in Malaysia/Indonesia there are plenty of locals. But they don't really understood the jokes, moves so the crowd was silent and the energy levels're low.

On top of it the tickets're priced too high. If the organizers really want to make money they can try on video rights or other stuff. Not on the tickets. If they dont want people joining there then they could do it in a studio.

By the way ticket costs a min $110 and I believe this is for 'audio' only ticket which means you can hear but you can't see. If you want to see some reasonable visual it would make you poorer by $750. This is not the expensive one as there are others @ 1500, 2500.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Reliance to invest billions & big bet on Internet in India - What Technology, Commercial Model???? Questions but no answers..

Source: Reliance AGM

This is the basic necessity for any country in information century. Sadly enough  the country, that generating millions of Software Engineers couldn't offer a decent broadband connectivity to its people. (Ok. also water, clean air, land, sanitation, medicines, etc etc. Wait I shall say it can offer corrupted politicians & irresponsible people). Anyway the point here is about Broadband so let me focus there.

Technically speaking the wireless technology that can offer internet throughout India at cheaper rates is WiMAX. However the Ecosystem is dead for a while.

So what's the choice? Is it going to be LTE?. If they choose LTE, then the challenge is the deployment & commercial model. The LTE mobiles/smart phones are not cheap and if Reliance to build a new handphone, cost is still an issue. If it's high there won't be a critical mass. If it's cheap then it'd impact the experience. Those who used a < $ 200 touch screen smart phone knows what I am saying.

Still Internet is required at homes on Computers & Laptops. So are they going to use LTE for Fixed Internet?. Commercially this doesn't make sense. Today Mobile Operators are doing Offloading from LTE to remain profitable. So how RIL can use LTE for fixed internet ?

Even if they decided to offer as a Fixed Internet, then how they are going to connect it to Desktops/Laptops? Mi-Fi device? But this is going to be extra cost. So RIL can work with Huawei or they can even build their own. Still the cost is not going to be cheap and Mi-Fi with 24x7 (with 10-20 power outages a day) might end up in customer support centers in few months time.

Or a weird thought. Is it going to be based on Wi-Fi at City levels in a mesh interconnected with MPLS backbone? No idea..

Well,certainly I don't have any answers but will try to find out from my contacts in the industry. Will update this post then.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Singapore Mobile operators go for Tiered pricing. Both SingTel & StarHub slashes data volume by greater than 90%

Source: CNA

Good news to Telco's & Employees/Engineers working there. But bad news to end users.

Yesterday SingTel announced the new plans for LTE and at the same time announced that they would be reducing the 12 GB limit to 2GB. Within minutes StarHub followed suite and in a more aggressive manner they slashed to 1GB.

This means all you can do with the mobile price plan on SH is watching around 8 hours of Youtube (My observation here) in a month or 40 min / work day of youtube.

No more downloads/videos/streaming on mobile. Ok, no more complaining and as a consumer, now I want few things from SingTel/StarHub.

1. Reduce the prices 

Based on SingTel price plans, a basic plan with 100 min voice min is priced at $25.68/month
at the same time based on current plans the 12GB data with 100 min is priced at $39.90/month
So the current charges are estimated as ~ $14/month for 12 GB.

Now I don't expect them to charge based on the same but based on SingTel pricing itself they intend to charge $5.35/GB. If I apply the same principle, then we shouldn't be paying $14 but $10.70. But I am not optimistic as the market is kind of fixed in Singapore and without real competition all the operators simply price in the same ranges.

2. Improve Coverage, Speeds

I'm sure majority of the people have noticed that lately the mobile coverage/speed in Singapore sucks. I travel quite frequently in the region so I carry the local SIM cards. To my surprise even the developing nations (India, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia) offers much better voice clarity & data speed compared to Singapore. In Australia Optus offers $2 / day package where you can enjoy unlimited voice/data/sms by simply paying $2 a day (info here).

By the way, recently Google study made it official that Singapore offers one of the slowest mobile speeds among developed nations. Now Operators can't give an excuse that they can't go on expanding spree forever because users are using data without paying for.

3. Service

Not really related to tiered pricing or buffet pricing but in general I believe this is high time that Operators need to improve on service levels and treat customers as 'humans'. When we try to reach out to technical support it is common to wait a min of 20-30 min in Q listening to a boring music. The same operator can reach us any time and blast SMS advertisements at middle of night.

IDA as regulator should come in here and stipulate certain SLA/SLG. Not the typical 'paper' SLA but real experience.

In summary I don't mind paying if I am getting the quality, reliability & service.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

New Telecom Policy (NTP) - India Inc 2012

I've written about NTP some time back here

Now let me summarize the key points of the minister announcement and the release.

  1. m-governance policy has been drafted to provide services via mobile phone. Basic banking services can be accessed via the mobile phone. Individual intimation of all kinds of public and private services like school/college admission/ assignments, pension payment, utility bill payments, first level health services, cash withdrawals/deposits will become the norm. A single number could be called for all government services across all three tiers, 24/7. 
  2. Aadhar will enable IDs to be authenticated online or via the mobile phone. 
  3. A National Broadband Plan has been initiated that aims to provide Broadband Connectivity across the length and breadth of the country by 2014 through a combination of wireless and OFC/ wireline
  4. Telecom service providers will be able to support IPv6 services
  5. A concerted effort to boost manufacturing activity is now exigent and Government to Create corpus to promote indigenous R&D, IPR creation, entrepreneurship, manufacturing, commercializing and deployment of state-of-the-art telecom products and services
  6. One Nation - One License
  7. One Nation - Full Mobile Number Portability & One Nation -Free Roaming.
  8. Make available additional 300 MHz spectrum for IMT services by the year 2017 and another 200 MHz by 2020
  9. Transition to new Internet Protocol (IPv 6) in the country in a phased and time bound manner by 2020
  10. To revise the  existing broadband download speed of 256 Kbps to 512 Kbps and subsequently to 2 Mbps  by 2015 and higher speeds of atleast 100 Mbps thereafter
As usual, the ambitions are good and targets are high. But the billion dollar question is How, When & Who.
Again, as usual there is no mention and no details provided. Details will be shared in due course.

This is the problem with Indian policy makers and the objectives are good, planning is good and intentions are 'holy' (pun unintended) but what seriously lacks is the "Execution Plan". This is where nations like Singapore, Korea etc excels and move fast.

Out of the 10 key points I've summarized I believe the biggest change agent is point no.5. Rest are supported statements and offering speeds of greater than 100 Mbps (even if it's in 2020 or 2050) is still a dream which I don't think I can see it in my life time in India. 

We seriously lack respectable Hardware market and this is where we need to move our resources and R&D effort. A billion+ people and more than 50% of code in any software is generated by Indians but the platform that runs the code is not manufactured in India. This is where we can overcome our dependency on services sector too.