China’s tech titans fight for cloud control

Tencent sees its cloud business as a major growth area as it challenges Alibaba for market supremacy. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 04 July 2020

China’s tech titans fight for cloud control

  • Tencent flexes its muscles in race with arch-rival Alibaba as pandemic opens new business frontiers

HONG KONG: For Chinese cloud services companies, the coronavirus outbreak has become a rainmaker, bringing in new business far and wide as firms shift work online, and authorities develop apps and systems to help contain outbreaks and manage social restrictions.

For Tencent Holdings, in particular, it has also become the perfect time to flex new muscles as it seeks to catch up with Alibaba Group Holding, its arch-rival and the dominant player in the country’s cloud market by far.

Tencent began to display a new level of aggressiveness after positioning its cloud business as a major area of growth in September 2018, and that has only amped up amid the pandemic, employees say.

“The competition with Alibaba is so fierce right now, the sales teams are fighting them for every deal,” said a source in Tencent’s cloud division who was not authorized to speak on the matter and declined to be identified.

This year alone, Tencent has hired more than 3,000 employees for its cloud division. And as China went into lockdown and demand for corporate video bandwidth surged in February, it added 100,000 cloud servers in eight days to support a two-month old product, Tencent Conference — a feat the company says is unprecedented in Chinese cloud computing history.

It has expanded use of cloud servers designed in-house, pledged to speed up construction of a digital industry center in Wuhan to handle cloud and smart city projects in central China and joined a central government initiative to support pandemic-hit small businesses with free cloud services.

The social media and gaming behemoth also announced in May it will invest 500 billion yuan ($70 billion) over five years in technology infrastructure including cloud computing — just weeks after Alibaba said it would invest 200 billion yuan in its cloud infrastructure over three years.

Poshu Yeung, vice president of Tencent’s international business group, notes huge interest in shifting further into the cloud from businesses and for online education.

“We actually see more demands, requests coming in,” he said in an interview in April. “It’s a good wakening call for a lot of businesses.”

During the first quarter, China’s cloud infrastructure services market grew an impressive 67 percent from a year earlier to $3.9 billion, data from research firm Canalys shows.

Alibaba commanded 44.5 percent of the market while Tencent, which started its cloud business in 2013, four years after Alibaba, had just 14 percent. Huawei Technologies also had 14 percent.

“Although Tencent came to the space later than Alibaba, I believe the company is willing to endure a relatively long period of investment cycle for this business, hoping to catch up or one day becoming the No. 1 player in this field,” said Alex Liu, tech analyst at China Renaissance.

Tencent’s cloud division accounted for more than 4.5 percent of its annual revenue last year while Alibaba’s cloud computing division accounted for 8 percent of its overall revenue.

Tencent employees have told Reuters the company is working hard to become more adept in business-to-business sales where products are often designed from the ground up for one client, as well as in government relations.

 Those are areas where Alibaba excels while Tencent’s strength lies more with consumer-centric products and design.

“Tencent has great genes in business-to-consumer, but in business-to-business, we either didn’t have product managers or we just hired folks with a business-to-consumer background so it took a bit of time to convert their thinking,” said a second Tencent source in the company’s cloud business.

Tencent declined to comment on staff observations.

One area where Tencent has gained ground in recent years is government contracts — a relatively small part of the market in revenue terms but one that brings prestige and helps attract private-sector clients.

Underscoring its determination to win tenders, Tencent in 2017 offered to complete a Fujian province government information platform project for 0.01 yuan.

From 2016 to 2017, Alibaba scored 28 cloud-related contracts for government entities, state-owned enterprises, and academic institutions, while Tencent landed just seven, government procurement records show.

But in 2018, they secured 28 each before Alibaba took the lead again last year with 49 compared with Tencent’s 46.


Egyptian transport start-up Swvl to list on Nasdaq after $1.5bn SPAC merger

Updated 34 min 22 sec ago

Egyptian transport start-up Swvl to list on Nasdaq after $1.5bn SPAC merger

  • Investors including Zain, Agility, Luxor Capital inject $100 million
  • Proceeds to be used to expand to 20 countries by 2025

CAIRO: Egyptian mass transit start-up Swvl said it plans to list of the Nasdaq stock exchange through a merger with US special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Queen’s Gambit Growth Capital.

Swvl will be valued at $1.5 billion in the deal, which will generate proceeds of as much as $445 million, including $100 million from investors including Kuwaiti logistics company Agility, Saudi telecoms company Zain and Luxor Capital Group, it said in a statement.

The proceeds will be used to fund expansion of the company’s business to 20 countries by 2025, it said. Swvl operates buses along fixed routes and allows customers to reserve and pay for them using an app in 10 countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Kenya, and Pakistan.

More than 1.4 million riders have booked more than 46 million rides to date, it said.

“We have succeeded in executing our business plan in some of the most challenging emerging markets, where inefficiencies in infrastructure and related mass transit systems represent a universal problem, and have now reached a critical inflection point where we are ready to share our expertise and technology with the rest of the world,” said Mostafa Kandil, Swvl founder and CEO.


Saudi Arabia Plans $15bn technology fund with private investors

Updated 29 July 2021

Saudi Arabia Plans $15bn technology fund with private investors

  • Investments in the fourth industrial technology expected to reach $200 billion in the Kingdom
  • Fund to invest in robotics, artificial intelligence, and wireless technology

RIYADH: A Saudi public-private partnership will launch a $15 billion technology fund to advance the digital infrastructure in the Kingdom, Haytham AlOhali, vice minister of the Ministry of Communications & Information Technology (MCIT) announced on Wednesday, during the Saudi 4th Industrial Revolution conference held in Riyadh.

Telecom and technology operators invest between $3 billion and $4 billion annually in digital infrastructure, fiber infrastructure, Internet networks and 5G services, and this is not enough for the Kingdom to take a lead, said AlOhali.

"We will transform in Saudi Arabia into an economy based on technology, information, capabilities and skills, and it will bear fruit for the future with huge investments from more than 10,000 industrial facilities worth $25 billion," he said, during the two-day-conference.

The investments in the fourth industrial technology are expected to reach $200 billion in the Kingdom, with value creation coming from improved efficiency and reduction in cost over a 10 year period, said AlOhali.

There are 13,000 solar energy centers that rely on 5G to implement their services, with 10 million smart meters in the Kingdom, while 60 percent of cities are covered by 5G and 45 percent of the Kingdom's populated areas receive 5G, he said.

Saudi Arabia has invested in the mobile infrastructure leading the Kingdom from rank 105 in terms of speed to the 4th in the world, he said.

Advanced technology from the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is expected to generate around $1 trillion for the Saudi economy in new revenue streams, a senior Saudi official said on Wednesday.

The Kingdom will enjoy economic boosts from robotics, artificial intelligence, and wireless production models as it pushes for more smarter cities and infrastructure.

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Saudi Arabia suspended world’s largest desalination and power plant privatization due to pandemic — official

Updated 29 July 2021

Saudi Arabia suspended world’s largest desalination and power plant privatization due to pandemic — official

  • Tender process began in summer of 2020
  • National Center for Privatization & PPP CEO Rayyan Nagadi spoke

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has suspended the privatization of Ras Al Khair Desalination and Power Plant due to the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, which slowed the responses it got from bidders, National Center for Privatization & PPP CEO Rayyan Nagadi said.

“It is clear that the pandemic repercussions affected the response of companies in the world to a project of the size of the Ras Al-Khair plant,” he said.

Suspension of the world’s biggest desalination and power plant privatization was announced by the Privatization Supervisory Committee for the Environment, Water and Agriculture on Monday.

This decision was made to capitalize on knowledge and capacity built in the Kingdom as a result of many years of experience in the areas of water desalination, new technologies, R&D and supply chains, the committee said at the time.

Reaching the decision to cancel the project had passed through stages that took into account that the desalination assets had developed their own strategies for a long time, and the tender process began in the summer of 2020 through the development of studies, with the interest of local and international developers, he told Al Arabiya on Wednesday.

The country aims at launching such major projects with efficiency, and will resume privatization of other projects in other sectors, including the education sector, said Nagadi.

Several ministries are working on initiatives aimed at facilitating the process of establishing companies, and facilitating the process of participation from the private sector, all in the context of strengthening the privatization environment in the Kingdom, he said.


Volkswagen lifts margin outlook again after record profit

Updated 29 July 2021

Volkswagen lifts margin outlook again after record profit

  • H1 operating profit reached 11.4 billion euros
  • Lowers outlook for deliveries on chip shortage

FRANKFURT: Europe’s largest carmaker Volkswagen on Thursday raised its profit margin target for the second time in less than three months, pointing to record earnings in the first half of 2021 that even blew past pre-pandemic levels.
The company said it now expected an operating return on sales of 6.0-7.5 percent, having previously guided for 5.5-7 percent and nudged up its forecast for net cash flow at its automotive division, now expected to be much stronger in 2021.
First-half operating profit before special items reached 11.4 billion euros ($13.5 billion), above the previous record of 10 billion euros achieved in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc in the global economy.
The strong increase was in part driven by high demand for high-margin luxury Porsches and Audis.
“We’re keeping up our high pace, both operationally and strategically,” Chief Executive Herbert Diess said in a statement, published only hours after the carmaker, along with partners, launched a bid for French-listed Europcar.
“Our electric offensive is picking up momentum and we will keep on increasing its pace in the months to come,” said Diess, who aims for Volkswagen to overtake Tesla as the world’s largest electric vehicle player by 2025.
Porsche SE, Volkswagen’s largest shareholder, also raised it outlook following the carmaker’s result, now forecasting profit after tax of 3.4 billion to 4.9 billion euros in 2021.
Shares in Volkswagen were indicated to open 0.7 percent higher in pre-market trade.
The global car sector has been hit by a shortage of crucial semiconductors, with numerous rivals, including Daimler , BMW and GM, adjusting or halting production, and Volkswagen accounted for that in its deliveries forecast.
“The risk of bottlenecks and disruption in the supply of semiconductor components has intensified throughout the industry,” the company said, lowering the outlook for deliveries to customers.
It now expects deliveries to be up noticeably in 2021 from the 9.3 million last year, having previously expected them to rise “significantly.”


Shell profit soars to two-year high as oil and gas prices rebound

Updated 29 July 2021

Shell profit soars to two-year high as oil and gas prices rebound

  • Profits surge to $5.5 billion, highest since late 2018
  • Shell boosts dividend by 38 percent

LONDON: Royal Dutch Shell boosted its dividend and launched a $2 billion share buyback program on Thursday after a sharp rise in oil and gas prices drove second quarter profits to their highest in more than two years.
As profits across the industry recovered from last year’s pandemic-led collapse in energy demand, peers TotalEnergies and Norway’s Equinor also announced share buybacks.
The Anglo-Dutch company saw a surge in cash generation, boosted by higher commodity prices and a recovery in global energy demand, which also helped it to cut debt.
“We are stepping up our shareholder distributions today, increasing dividends and starting share buybacks, while we continue to invest for the future of energy,” Shell Chief Executive Ben van Beurden said in a statement.
Adjusted earnings rose to $5.53 billion, the highest since the fourth quarter of 2018, exceeding an average analyst forecast provided by the company for a $5.07 billion profit.
That compares with earnings of $638 million a year earlier.
Apart from higher fuel prices, stronger profits from Shell’s marketing division, the world’s biggest network of petrol stations, also boosted the results.
Still, fuel sales in the quarter were well below pre-pandemic levels at 4.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in the second quarter, up 9 percent from 4.16 million bpd in the first quarter.