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Gopiharan Perinpam

Gopiharan Perinpam
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a guy next-door; loves people with a smile; in love with gadgets & new media; nexus user; undergrad student; a public servant by choice & profession.

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Mobile phones are one of the essential commodities these days. Well, they do have endless uses and the Asian region has the highest adaptability rate. In a recent report published, Ericsson claims that in the next 5 year period, highest share of the smartphone growth will come from the Asia-Pacific region. We recently published the growth in smartphone sales based on a report by CMR India. And the same people have now released the Sri Lanka mobile market share report for the 1st quarter of 2014. And we have listed out the key takeaways from the report, below. We have also turned the report into a nice infographic for easy viewing.

Important: There are few things you you should note before reading the facts/ infographic. We have repeatedly used the term ‘sales’ below. But what it actually means is the ‘number of units shipped to’ retailers or distributors. Given supply shares reflect the demand in the market, the producers of the report have used it to reflect the sales in the market.

Another important fact to note is that the numbers actually mean the number of units shipped by OEMs to authorized distributors or retailers. This report does not include the devices sold in the ‘grey market’. There are also instances where devices are brought down by individuals traveling from abroad and the report does not track the numbers. Given these facts, please note that the actual market share numbers will be higher than what is shown in the charts.

Key facts from the report

1- Compared to Q4-2013 (0.8 Million), ‘mobile handsets’ sales (shipments) in Sri Lanka has seen a drop of around 5% in Q1-2014 (0.76 Million).

2- Drop in the sales of ‘feature phones’ (0.68 Million in Q4-2013 and 0.64 Million in Q1-2014) contributed to this overall drop in sales. Smartphone sales (shipments) remained unchanged.

3- Total of 0.12 Million smartphones were sold (shipped) in Q1-2014, which is around 15% of the total mobile phone sales of the quarter.

4- With 26.2% of the market share, Nokia remains as the leading mobile phone vendor in Q1-2014. Compared to 23.8% market share in Q4-2013, Nokia’s mobile handset market share has seen an increase in Q1-2014. We have clearly seen Nokia promoting the Lumia range heavily in Sri Lanka through dealers and service providers in the past few months.

5- Micromax has retained the 2nd place in among leading mobile phone vendors in Sri Lanka with 18.3% of market share. Micromax had 21.4% market share in Q4-2013.

6- With 11.4% of market share, E-tel beat Samsung to claim the 3rd spot in ‘mobile phone’ market share. Samsung occupied the 3rd spot in Q4-2013 with 12% market share. Also notable is that Samsung had the 2nd spot back in Q3-2013.

7- Samsung remains as the leader in ‘smartphone’ segment with 27.7% market share in Q1-2014, which is an increase compared to Q4-2013. Back in Q4-2013 Samsung’s market share in the smartphone segment was 21.2%.

8- Huawei retained the 2nd spot in the smartphone segment with 18.9% market share, while E-Tel took the 3rd position with 13.9% market share. Back in Q4-2013 Huawei and E-tel had 19.6% and 16.1% market shares, respectively. A notable fact is that for the year 2103, Micromax maintained the overall 3rd place in smartphone sales. But for the last 2 consecutive quarters E-Tel has overtaken the sales of Micromax in that department.

Source: CMR India

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These days we do a lot more than making calls on our mobile handsets. Many spend much more time on internet browsing or instant messaging than using the device for calling someone. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t see any innovation on the voice call front; given the ultimate purpose of phones, is to call others. In the last few weeks Mobile HD Voice has been one of the much publicised topics in the country. As the name suggests, we are talking about high quality voice calls in mobile networks, with an improved user experience.

A new innovation?

HD Voice service was first introduced to Sri Lanka by Dialog, back in early 2012. Dialog was the 42nd operator, globally, to introduce the service to their customers. Last month Etisalat became the second operator in Sri Lanka (and 107th operator globally) to add this feature to their network offerings. So, clearly it is not entirely new to Sri Lanka.

So what exactly does HD Voice mean? And how does it work?

To start with, HD Voice is an umbrella term that refers  to the technologies that enhance the quality of an audio call (or even the ‘audio’ part of a video call). Yes, that means there are more than one technology used together or separately to achieve the ¨HD Voice functionality¨…or rather the improvement.

HD Voice improves the quality of the voice call. It provides more natural sounding calls. HD Voice also helps people hear better in noisy environments by reducing the background noise, using noise cancelling techniques. Which means, with HD Voice, your caller’s voice will sound less robotic and you will be able to differentiate between ‘s’ and ‘f’ easily. Overall HD Voice improves the user experience. This is not something new. VoIP services like Skype has been using such feature for a long time and probably you have used it too, but we are talking about bringing the feature to mainstream mobile voice communication.

The technology behind HD Voice

There are three mechanisms that are widely used to achieve the HD Voice functionality.

Frequency Range: Narrowband vs Wideband. (Image Source: road2it)

Frequency Range: Narrowband vs Wideband. (Image Source: road2it)

First, doubling the audio bandwidth. Instead of limiting a voice call to the current narrow-band frequency range of 300 Hz and 3.4 KHz, HD Voice makes use of Wideband audio technology that transmits at the range of 50 Hz to 7 KHz. To achieve this, operators use an audio codec called Adaptive Multi-Rate Wideband (AMR-WB), which doubles the audio bandwidth compared to traditional  telephony. In ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) terms AMR-WB is codified as G.722.2 codec.

Secondly, improved acoustic design. This is more or less something that the device manufacturers need to focus on. Since HD Voice utilizes greater bandwidth with the help of AMR-WB codec, the devices too need to be designed in a way to utilize the greater bandwidth offered to them. Here’s where acoustic design comes into play. Components like the microphone and speaker need to be of good quality and they need to be well integrated to the device, in such a way to optimize the HD voice features.

Thirdly, redesigned signal processing algorithms. Processing of the audio (in the background ) is an essential part of the whole process. The algorithms that handle this part, are capable of handling higher ‘sampling rate’ compared to regular voice calls. Regular voice calls take 8000 audio samples per second (8 KHz) to process the call. In HD Voice it is doubled to 16000 audio samples per second (16 KHz). Hence, users will be able to hear ‘more details’ from a person’s voice. Another algorithm used in this process is a noise suppressor. This helps in reducing the background noise while a person is using HD Voice.

Global availability

According to the latest report published by Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) on 2nd June 2014, 109 mobile operators across 73 countries around the world have launched the HD Voice service for public. And Sri Lanka is one of the 22 countries which has more than one operator offering the service.

HD Voice: Global Availability. (Image Courtesy: Global Mobile Suppliers Association)

HD Voice: Global Availability.
(Image Courtesy: Global Mobile Suppliers Association)

As I mentioned before, Dialog (the largest mobile service provider in Sri Lanka) introduced the service on their 3G/HSPA network back in February, 2012. Etisalat joined the club last month (May 2014) by upgrading their 3G/HSPA framework with this capability. On GSM/HSPA platforms, all it takes the operator is to upgrade their existing network infrastructure(i.e no need to add new base station components), in order to offer HD Voice service. Since HD Voice feature is an upgrade to the operators existing infrastructure, they will not be charging you extra for the service. You will be charged the regular rates when you make a call, while the call quality gets better. Sounds cool, right? Well, read further!

Requirements to experience HD Voice

That brings us to the important part. As an end user (customer/ subscriber) what does it take you to experience mobile HD? Well there are few requirements.

1- Your phone and the phone on the other end need to be HD Voice compatible.

Imagine this like calling someone on Skype. Just like you both need to have Skype installed on your devices to make the video call, both devices need to be ‘HD Voice compatible’ to use the HD Voice service offered by your mobile service provider.
According to GSA report of March, 2014, there are at-least 329 mobile phones from 19 manufacturers that support HD Voice (AMR-WB, currently available. Most of the new devices introduced daily, are compatible with the feature. You can have a look at the device list here.

Does my phone needs to be a smartphone?

Not really. AMR Wideband was first developed by Nokia. HD Voice technology was first implemented in 2009, when the number of smartphones were limited. And Nokia was one of the first manufacturer to integrate the technology in their handsets including the ones that ran S40 and Symbian S60 OS. Hence, your device does not need to fit into ‘smartphone’ category to experience HD voice. But it should be compatible with AMR-WB. Most new devices released these days support it. (So, in my opinion, ‘lack of smartphones in the market’ is not the only reason for ‘less public awareness’ about the service, over the years). Given many phones don’t come with extensive user manuals these days, you can simply Google the model name or refer to this list provided by GSA to check the availability of AMR-WB on your device.

2- Both devices need to be connected to HD capable base station

Both the caller and receiver need to be connected to the HD Voice capable base station of their respective network. In Sri Lanka’s case it should be 3G/HSPA stations of Dialog and Etisalat since both networks support HD Voice over 3G/HSPA network. (Instead of GSM(2G) or LTE).

Does that mean you need to be connected HSPA (Data)?

No. Actually some media outlets have reported that you have to be connected to 3G (as in data) to experience this. Even Etisalat’s media report claims you need to be ‘connected to 3G’ – but what they actually mean is that you need to be connected to a 3G capable  base station.

This should not be confused with VoLTE or Voice over LTE which puts voice and data in a single radio layer. Here calls are carried over IP technology (same as data) instead of circuit switched path (regular calls) used in HSPA networks like Dialog or Etisalat. VoLTE supporting networks are currently limited  to 8 worldwide, and VoLTE supporting device are limited too. LTE offered by Sri Lankan networks is limited to data only at the moment. (i.e – you can’t make voice calls when your network mode is set to ‘LTE Only’ on Dialog or Mobitel)

Again, just because your carrier supports HD voice does not mean they support it all around the country. Reason is, there are places that have only GSM(2G) base stations instead of HSPA ones. So if your device is connected to a 3G base station and your friend’s is not, even though you both have compatible devices, then you will not be able to experience it.

Interoperability: Another less publicised, but very important requirement for HD Voice is that when the call involves two different networks, they both need to be using HD Voice on compatible network modes in-order for HD Voice to work. (Wait, what?) Yes, that is because HD Voice technology is not inter-operable at the moment. At the time of writing, as I mentioned above, both Etisalat and Dialog support HD voice on their HSPA network. But, I have not got enough data that confirms that both networks are compatible with each other. Which means there is a chance that caller and receiver need to be on the same network to experience the feature. The problem widely exists in the US since different networks support HD Voice in different modes like GSM, CDMA and LTE. And not many devices are compatible with all these modes. Now, you know why HD Voice has not got great public attention over the years. That is because not many people have been able to experience it even though they have a compatible phone and they are on a compatible network.

Growth of HD Voice (Image Courtesy: Global Mobile Suppliers Association)

Growth of HD Voice
(Image Courtesy: Global Mobile Suppliers Association)

So that brings us to the important question…is HD Voice another gimmick?

I will safely say it is not. It has been practically proved that HD Voice improves user experience by increasing call quality and reducing background noises. (Simply do a YouTube search to check some demos). In my opinion it should be supported by default on all handsets and all networks should adopt to it. What is keeping us behind is the compatibility issues, which is a shame.

What does the future hold?

Sri Lanka has been one of the first countries to bring latest mobile innovations to public, thanks to our wonderful service providers (yes, seriously). We are one of the first to have LTE in the region. VoLTE or Voice over LTE is seen as the next big trend in voice communications. GSA says that Sri Lanka is actually testing this service. I foresee a future where major networks in Sri Lanka adopt to VoLTE that provides seamless connectivity and HD Voice on the same platform without any hassle. It is always good to be optimistic!

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    Let’s be honest. We all love software updates on our smart devices. Be it Android, iOS or Windows Phone, we all love to run the latest OS version. It is surprising because, not so long ago when we were all using feature phones made by Nokia or Sony Ericsson (now Sony), we never bothered about any such OS updates. But the smartphone era has changed the way we see our handsets. We do a lot more than making a call or sending a text message on a smartphone.

    iOS distribution across devices

    iOS distribution across devices
    (source: https://developer.apple.com)

    OS features define which platform we choose. And new updates to the system software means new and improved features. But getting updated to the latest OS on your device is not fun always. Especially if you are on Android. Take for example Android 4.4 KitKat, the latest version of Android which debuted at the end of October 2013. As of May 2014, only around 8.5% of Android devices run KitKat (4.4.x). On the other hand, iOS 7, the latest version of Apple’s iOS, which saw public release in mid September, 2013, runs on at least 88% of iOS devices(7.x.x).

    Yes, Apple does have an advantage since they build their own hardware and software. On the other hand there are a number of manufacturers (or OEMs – Original Equipment Manufacturers) with 100s of Android devices under their brand name with varying hardware specifications. And providing the latest software to all those devices is harder than you might think. But lets focus on high end devices or flagships. You spend a good amount of money. But there are times you have to wait for months to receive your updates from the date Google announces a new version of Android. So why does this happen? Why does it take so long for your OEMs to provide software updates? Few months ago both Sony and HTC tried to shed some light into what actually goes behind the whole process. I’ll try to present a breakdown based on these reports:

    Android platform distribution across devices

    Android platform distribution across devices
    (source: http://developer.android.com/)

    Before we get into the process, note that android devices can be categorized into 4 main categories.

    1- Carrier Devices - Devices that are released for/by a particular carrier (like the Dialog branded devices in Sri Lanka). These devices are locked to the network, most of the time. They may be sold on a contract at subsidized prices. And the updates are pushed by the carriers with support from OEMs. (This category is not seen in our local market. Even Dialog’s self branded devices are not latest flagships)

    2- Unlocked Devices – the regular devices you get in the market. Sold by country dealers or distributors for the manufacturers. The OEMs are responsible for updating these devices.

    3- Nexus Devices – Sold directly by Google via Google Play (There were times before Google Play, when manufacturers sold it. Still some do in countries where Google Play is not present). Updates are pushed directly by Google. Updates usually arrive as soon as a new Android version is announced.

    4- Google Play Edition Devices – Once again, sold by Google via Google Play, These devices are based on manufacturer models (i.e flagships) except they run mostly pure Android. Updates are mainly pushed by Google, with help from the OEMs.

    Now to the process. Carrier edition devices go through a complex process to get updates. We are not going to talk much about them since they are not much relevant here. Also the carrier branded ones are locked to that particular network, so you can’t use them in a different country.

    The regular unlocked devices have the largest market here. Nexus devices too are catching up locally, as of late. Even though Google Play edition devices are not widely available, that does not mean they cannot be used here. They are basically unlocked flagships with a nexus feel.

    The update process can be divided into 5 phases.

    Phase 0 – Evaluation

    This is when Google releases the Platform Development Kit (PDK) to the OEMs or hardware partners. The PDK is usually released at least 2 months before a major android version is announced, enabling hardware manufacturers to come up with innovative ideas for their devices. This also means the hardware partners will actually know what’s in store for the next big OS release. And some time after (around two months) the PDK is released, Google announces the newest version of Android. Major android versions are usually released along with new Nexus hardware (smartphone/tablets). And Google also announces update to existing Nexus devices. This updates starts rolling out (via OTA) globally within few days of the announcement. This actually completes the update process for Nexus devices, which is pretty fast.

    Once the OS is announced, Google provides source codes to the OEMs and the chipset manufacturers (like Qualcomm). The OEM will evaluate the source code to see the requirements. The chipset manufacturer plays an important role here. they will evaluate and decide whether to support the newest version on their chipsets and if so which models will actually support. (In the case of Nexus devices, these are done in-house at Google before announcing the updates). The chipset manufacturer may take their time delaying the process.

    Phase 1 – Development.

    At the early stages of this phase the chipset manufacturer will announce (to the OEMs) which of their chipsets will support the new OS. If any of their chipsets are excluded from this support, then whichever the device that is powered by that chipset, will be excluded from the update. If the chipset manufacturer decides to support the OS, they will go ahead and release the necessary drivers along with optimizations. And the chipset manufacturer will release what is known as a Modified Board Support Package (MSP) to the OEM.

    Much of the work required to update the Google Play Edition devices ends here. Since they essentially run an unadulterated version of Android, the process is shorter, and goes directly to Phase 3.

    Phase 2 – Integration

    This phase involves the regular devices and the ones specially designed/modified for carriers. It is in this step that the OEMs decide whether to support  the new OS and if so on which devices. They also release a maintenance release (MR) and assign teams to work on integrating the OS with their own custom UI skins (i.e Sense by HTC, TouchWiz by Samsung). This is an important step since this defines how the OS will look and function on the device. If the OEM decides to exclude support for certain models, those devices will not get any update. They do it for various reasons, including that – continuous updates to older devices has a chance of affecting sales of newer models. It is also in his phase that OEM works with carriers to add any modifications to the OS to support carrier exclusive features (read: bloatware).

    Phase 3 – Testing/ Certification

    During this phase all versions of devices (including GPE) go through internal testing. If any issues or critical bugs are found, a newer version is created and tested again. Once done,more testing and certifications are done by Google and other players like regulators. If this process is a success, then Google issues a Technical Acceptance (TA). For carrier versions, a TA is issued by the carrier too.

    Phase 4 – Push to end users

    And now it is time to roll out the update! Updates are mostly done as OTA (Over The Air) and carrier updates are handled by carriers along with OEM. OEMs handle the updates for the regular devices while Google come into play when GPE devices are updated.

    So, now you get an idea as to how the update process works in the background. It is obvious such a lengthy process requires time, since it involves multiple parties. And there is no surprise that the OEMs take a long time to release updates. Sometimes Google might actually release another version of android by the time this process comes to an end. All hail Nexus!

    Check out the detailed infographic by HTC, describing the process, here.

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    Android holds more than three times the market share of iOS when it comes to smartphones. Well, Android has been leading the race for some time now. Availability and affordability have played a huge part in this development. But market share is not everything. Take ‘mobile Ad traffic’ – Apple’s iOS has been generating much more Ad traffic than Android for a long time. And thus more and more advertisers preferred iOS over Android, to market their products and services, which ensured that Apple earned more advertising revenue from iOS than Google from Android. But times appear to have changed in favor of Android lately.

    Smart-device Ad Traffic - Q1 2014 (Source: Opera Mediaworks)

    Smart-device Ad Traffic – Q1 2014 (Source: Opera Mediaworks)

    According to the latest quarterly report from the leading Ad network, Opera Mediaworks, Android has finally become the top smart-device platform with highest share of mobile Ad traffic. Android smartphones and tablets have managed to capture 42.83% of total smart-device mobile Ad traffic in Q1 of 2014, up from 37.71% during Q4 of 2013. Android was leading the ‘mobile phone’ Ad traffic volume during the 4th quarter of last year, but Apple’s tablet traffic made sure Android didn’t reach the top in overall volume. This is the first time Android has grabbed the top slot for ‘smart-device’ (phones+tablets) Ad traffic volume. Apple managed to capture 38.17% of the mobile Ad traffic, down from 43.39% in Q4 of 2013.

    Traffic Share vs Revenue Share - Q1 2014 (Source: Opera Mediaworks)

    Traffic Share vs Revenue Share – Q1 2014 (Source: Opera Mediaworks)

    Apple may not be worrying much with these numbers, though, since they are still leading the race when it comes to the total revenue earned from the Ad traffic. Apple is continuing to get more than 50% of the total revenue (through iPhones and iPads), despite drop in traffic. iPads make around 10.6% of the revenue while Android tablets make only around 1.64%.  Overall Android made around  33.46% of the Ad revenue. It is also notable that Android has seen some steady growth during the last few quarters. It is expected that this change will attract more advertisers and developers towards Android OS.

    Samsung, unsurprisingly, remains the leading device maker with more than 60% of the Android Ad traffic coming from their devices. The report also notes that Social networking services attract more ‘Ad traffic volume’, than any other app categories. But most of the ‘Ad revenue’ comes from the Arts and Entertainment category. When comparing traffic from different geographical areas, Asia Pacific region continues to hold a steady second place behind US market. For those who are interested in learning more on the ‘Mobile Advertising Traffic’, you can check the quarterly reports at the source here.

     

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    As usual, Google has published the updated data on Android platform distribution numbers. The latest report, available on the Android Developer Dashboard, is based on data collected during a 7 day period ending on 1st of April, according to Google. The latest version of Google’s mobile OS, Android 4.4 (KitKat) now hold 5.3% of the share. This may sound like an underwhelming number for an OS version that was released around 5 months ago. But as many of us know, Android updates are affected by multiple factors. There are various parties including the device manufacturers and service providers, apart from Google, who control these software releases. The good news is that KitKat has actually seen a growth of more than 50% within a month, compared to the 2.5% share it held a month ago.

    Android Platform Distribution Numbers - April 2014

    Android Platform Distribution Numbers – April 2014

    Overall Jelly Bean versions (4.1.x, 4.2.x, 4.3) control around 61.4% of the total share, which is a very slight decline from the 62% share they held a month ago. From the older versions, Ice Cream Sandwich holds 14.3% of the share while “more than three year old” Gingerbread still holds 17.8% of the share (down from 19%, a month ago).

    What is important to note about this data is that it reflects only the devices that run the latest Play Store App, which is compatible with Android 2.2 and above. So, devices that still run Android versions older than Android 2.2 (less than 1% as of August 2013 according to Google) and devices that doesn’t come with support to Google Play Store (Amazon’s Kindle Devices, Latest Nokia X series and many more devices coming from China etc.) are not reflected in this data.

    For developers who are interested, the dashboard provides more data on screen sizes and Open GL Version among Android devices too.

     

    Source: Android Developer Dashboards

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    Last month we reported how 2013 became the year that saw annual smartphone sales surpass that of feature phones, globally. Well, that may not be reflected in the Sri Lankan market yet, but smartphone sales are surely on the rise in Sri Lanka, according to the latest quarterly Sri Lanka Mobile Handset Market Review by leading Market Intelligence and Advisory firm CyberMedia Research.

    As of today, there are already more LTE-based devices shipped into Sri Lanka than India!

    Compared to 2012, smartphone sales (percentage of number of units) in Sri Lanka have seen 80% year-on-year growth, according to the report. There are multiple reasons for this exceptional growth. More and more people are moving to smartphones. Communication, Social Networking and workplace productivity play a huge role in this move. This is fueled by the increasing number of “affordable” smartphones available in the market now. Mobile service providers are also investing more on launching and promoting smartphones with special offers and services, especially on the “data” front. The chart below will give you an idea on the changing trend in mobile phone sales in Sri Lanka. The rise in smartphone sales have clearly contributed to the decline of feature-phone sales, even though feature-phones still maintain the highest number of sales in the local market.

    Nokia is still king of feature-phones

    According to the CMR’s report, Nokia ended the year 2013 with 27.3% of feature phone market share which was enough to retain the top spot. Nokia was followed by global market leader Samsung in the second place and Micromax in the third spot. Interestingly Samsung had a bigger competitor in Micromax in the local market, when it comes to feature phones. The market share margin between the two brands was less than 1%. This is also evident by the fact that Micromax actually sold remarkably higher number of feature phones than Samsung in the 4th Quarter of 2013. Micromax had 21.4% market share in Q4 2013 (up from 16.1% in Q3 2013) compared to Samsung’s Q4 2013 market share of 12% (down from 17.4% in Q3 2013).

    Samsung remains market leader of smartphones

    When it comes to smartphones, Samsung showed its global dominance in the local market too, by leading the list with a comfortable 37.7% of market share. But one should also note that Samsung’s  Q4 2013 share (21.2%) is noticeably lower than its Q3 2013 share of 39%. We are not aware of the exact reason that could have affected the sales, but we guess it’s due to availability of larger number of smartphone options from different players at highly competitive price points. Huawei followed Samsung in the second spot with 11.9% of market share while Micromax, with 10.3% share ended up at the 3rd place. But if you take Q4 2013 alone, it’s E-Tel which took the 3rd spot (16.1%) beating Micromax. Introduction of multiple Android powered smartphones at relatively cheaper price points might have contributed to the success of E-Tel.

    The future looks bright for smartphones

    As you can see in the charts, quite a large amount of market share was dominated by brands/vendors who could not make it to the top 3 list. For instance, Nokia has been promoting affordable Windows Phone devices as of late. Launch of Android powered Nokia X series will also give Nokia a chance to shine in the smartphone department in 2014. It should also be noted that a large number of Sri Lankans use Apple iPhones. Recently Dialog Axiata became an authorized seller for iPhones. Even though we could not find any reliable data on Apple’s market share in Sri Lanka, we can be certain that it is fast becoming one of the widely used smartphones in Sri Lanka. Samsung’s latest flagship, the Galaxy S5 and LG’s G Flex are also expected to launch in Sri Lanka, in days to come.

    According to CMR’s analysts, “the share of entry level smartphones in the Sri Lankan market is expected to increase, along with a matching uptake in 3G and 4G data consumption”. They also expect more Indian handset brands to enter Sri Lankan market this year. To quote a more interesting fact from the report – “as of today, there are already more LTE-based devices shipped into Sri Lanka than India!”. CMR’s analyst said that “this reflects the technological advancement achieved by the island nation’s market”

    Source: CMR’s Sri Lanka’s Mobile Handset Market Review – 4Q 2013, March 2014 Release and 3Q 2013, December 2013 Release

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    Dialog eZ Cash has become the world’s first fully integrated mobile money service after joining hands with Etisalat, another leading mobile service provider in Sri Lanka. There were speculations from last month about this landmark deal which has been in works from last year, after Dialog announced that the next phase of eZ Cash service is to expand it to other service providers. Even the outgoing Etisalat CEO Dumindra Ratnayaka recently said in a local interview that Etisalat is considering joining hands with eZ Cash and mCash, for mobile banking solutions, rather than starting their own service. And yesterday, the two companies hosted a joint press briefing where they officially announced the expansion of the service, after relevant approvals were obtained from the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

    According to GSMA, there are more than 225 mobile money deployments around the world, as of March 2014. And this is the first time that such a partnership has been formed between two rival service providers to deliver end to end interoperable mobile money service. Speaking at the press meet, operations expert from the GSMA’s Mobile Money for the Unbanked programme, Gerald Rasugu stressed the importance of awareness on the mobile money/ mobile banking initiatives to the general public.

    eZ Cash: Introduction and Current Status

    Dialog, Sri Lanka’s leading mobile service provider launched the revolutionary eZ Cash service around 2 years ago, approved by CBSL under the payments and settlements act No.28 of 2005. I used to have a personal blog at that time and did a post on how eZ Cash works on any USSD enabled mobile phones. You can check it out here. eZ Cash turns your mobile phone into a secure mobile wallet, and allows you to make transactions or send and receive money around the country. Last year when the service completed its first anniversary, the GSMA published a detailed infographic showing the growth of eZ Cash in Sri Lanka. According to that, Dialog – the market leader in Sri Lanka has around 8 million mobile subscribers and Etisalat, third in line in terms of market shares boasts more than 4.5 million subscribers.

    The new partnership will bring the eZ Cash service to around 12.5 million Sri Lankans around the country, which by number, is equivalent to more than 60% of the Sri Lankan population. Last June, Dialog announced 1 million registered users for the eZ Cash service out of which 20% were active users. Dialog also reported that they handled Rs.6 Billion worth of transactions last year and currently they are processing Rs.700 million worth of transactions per month. These numbers are bound to rise with Etisalat joining the club. Speaking at the press conference, Dr. Hans Wijesuriya, Group CEO of Dialog Axiata PLC, thanked the CBSL for maintaining open regulations that let to the success of the eZ Cash service.

    For The New Users: What Can You Do With Ez Cash

    Dialog eZ Cash allows anyone to send and receive money through mobile phones. One can top up for eZ Cash at any merchants and then send the money to anyone around the country. The receiver has the ability to withdraw the money at a similar merchant outlet. This hassle free method also becomes useful to those who can’t utilize the conventional banking facilities. eZ Cash model offers more secure and widely available service options. (Verification PINs are sent to the user’s handset before completing the transactions). Ez cash also allows the users to pay various bills including utility bills (CEB, NWSDB etc). It also gives the option to pay insurance premiums through mobile phones. The service provides secure option for users to make payments for their online purchases. There are also more than 100 partner merchants who accept eZ Cash payments. Dialog also has a dedicated hotline (7111) for eZ Cash. They have also launched a very informative website for the service as well as an Android app for ease of use on smartphones.

    How Does The New Inter-Operable Model Works?

    As you already know, eZ Cash services can be accessed through #111# USSD commands on the mobile phones. Etisalat subscribers who register for the eZ Cash service will be able to use the same method to perform the transactions. The USSD menu will consist of the same options which are offered for Dialog customers. The user experience will not be affected for different service providers. Even the costs (service charges) born by customers will be the same. Dialog currently has over 16000 eZ Cash merchants around the country. It will continue to remain responsible for managing this agent network, while adding any customer service networks of the new providers on request. As a first step Dialog has added the flagship stores of Etisalat that are located around the country, and selected service points to this network. Dialog will also manage overall customer service issues that arise during the transactions. But Etisalat will be requested to look into any issues faced by customers they bring into the service. Hatton National Bank continues to act as the custodian bank for the service and the service will be further secured by a trust agreement administered by Deutsche Bank. A third party service provider like KPMG or PWC will act as a Customer Profile Manager in between the eZ Cash platform and Etisalat.

    eZ Cash: World's First Inter-operable Mobile Money Service (Pic. Courtesy: GSMA)

    eZ Cash: World’s First Inter-operable Mobile Money Service (Pic. Courtesy: GSMA)

    There will also be a revenue share agreement between Dialog and any other provider joining hands with them – in this case, Etisalat. Accordingly, Etisalat will be sharing the transaction revenue from the eZ Cash service with Dialog,

    1- for using the eZ Cash brand which has been established and marketed by Dialog

    2- for making use of the eZ Cash platform built by Dialog and

    3- for benefiting from the already established & managed Dialog merchant network

    On Dialog’s side, they will be getting additional revenue and wider user base for their eZ Cash platform. And from Etisalat’s point they get to offer mobile banking service to their customer base at a fraction of a cost that they would have encountered to deploy their own service.

    Looking at the customer base numbers after the new partnership, eZ Cash service looks less challenged by the competitor mCash service offered by Mobitel. But it is also notable that outgoing Etisalat CEO recently noted that they are also considering to join hands with mCash along with eZ Cash, though I’m not sure whether there will be any need to proceed with that move.

    Challenges and Future

    The primary challenge I noticed when the service was first announced, was the adaptability issues faced by merchants. The merchants were reluctant to allow customers to withdraw money since the business model was new and strange. But Dialog had taken much efforts to educate merchants on the benefits of the service.

    According to experts, there are more than 225 mobile banking services deployed in various ,markets. It shows the growing trend of mCommerce. But it is notable that many of the services around the world are facing adaptability issues due to various reasons and Dialog’s interoperable model is expected to be adopted by many other service providers around the globe.

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    In Summary

    What we like:
    High speed 4G LTE connectivity
    Compact design
    Nexus like OS experience
    Reasonable price
    What we don’t like:
    Limited amount of internal storage
    Outdated OS
    Average camera performance

    Introduction

    Around an year ago, Dialog Axiata PLC, Sri Lanka’s largest and leading telecommunication service provider, took a bold step with the launch of their own “Dialog branded” smartphones to the local market. The Dialog i-series as it was known, offered smartphones running Android OS at less than Rs.9000. Decent hardware offerings and competitive pricing made the devices popular around the country. This led Dialog to launch an upgraded K-series later that year.

    Meanwhile, Dialog also became the the first operator in Sri Lanka to introduce 4G LTE for mobile devices, last year. Mobile LTE brought unprecedented high speed internet on smartphones at affordable prices. On the other hand, it also had hardware limitations since subscribers needed to have 4G enabled smartphones, that cost a fortune in Sri Lankan market. To overcome this limitation, and as part of expanding their self-branded device line-up, Dialog has launched Dialog Q 143L – an affordable 4G enabled smartphone to the Sri Lankan market. This Android powered device has been priced at Rs.34,990. Dialog also offers free voice, SMS and data bundles along with the device for a limited period of time. Dialog also offers credit card payment plans to their customers who want to purchase this device. And yes, the device is network locked for Dialog.

    This Android powered device has been priced at Rs.34,990.

    We were lucky enough to try out the device at the time of launch. I have been playing with the device for a while now and even took the risk to use it as my daily driver for few days.

    Inside the Box

    Inside The Box

    Inside the box: Power adapter, Data cable, Headset, Battery, and the Device

    The device comes in a simple packaging. Inside the package, you get a wall adapter, a USB cable that can be used for charging and data transfer, and a standard headset along with the device itself and a battery. For a detailed look, check out our exclusive un-boxing video below:

    Hardware Specifications and Design

    The Dialog Q143L can be considered as a mid-range device, considering the specifications and price. The device is manufactured by ZTE, which holds a huge market share in many Asian countries along with competitor Huawei. To be more specific, Dialog Q 143L is a re-branded version of  ZTE Grand X LTE T82, which was originally released during the latter part of 2012. True, the original hardware is pretty old for 2014, but it still manages to  stack up well against the mid range offerings available today.

    Specs Sheet

    The Dialog Q143L packs a 1.5 GHz Dual Core Qualcomm MSM8960 Snapdragon chipset powered by ARMv7 processor, a power efficient model in the market. The device has 1GB of RAM along with 4GB of internal storage. If that sounds underwhelming, note that it supports upto 32GB of external storage support via a microSD card and thankfully the device comes with a 4GB microSD card preinstalled. I did not encounter any issues related to internal storage during my temporary usage. But I do think installing large games and apps might pose an issue if you are a heavy user, and specially if the apps cannot be moved to external storage. The Q143L sports a 4.3 inch qHD screen (540 x 960 pixels) with around 256 ppi of pixel density. The screen looks crisp. I did not encounter any specific issue while browsing or playing games. The device measures 130.9 x 65 x 11.2 mm and weighs around 150 grams. The device does feel a bit bulky once the battery is inserted. I did feel the difference since my current device weighs around 20 grams less than Q143L.

    But I do think installing large games and apps might pose an issue if you are a heavy user, and specially if the apps cannot be moved to external storage

    Front View: Plain and Simple

    Front View: Plain and Simple

    The front display looks plain, except for the speaker grill on top. There are no physical buttons on the front. The nexus-style onscreen buttons appear only when the device is unlocked. The silver-outline gives the device a premium look. The device does not feel cheap on hand. The overall design is compact, and well suits one handed usage. The rear of the device has a textured finish which provides a good grip. It also has a little hump at the bottom edge, which reminds me of the Galaxy Nexus. Another notable addition is a rear flap next to the camera, which, once opened,  reveals the external antenna connector. Even though we rarely see this on devices these days, it can be useful if you are planning to use the device as a 4G hotspot and require steady coverage.

    Textured back. The little hump reminds me of Galaxy Nexus.

    Textured back. The little hump reminds me of Galaxy Nexus.

    Camera

    Dialog Q143L is equipped with an 8MP camera with autofocus capabilities and an LED flash. It is also capable of recording 1080p videos. There’s nothing extraordinary here. But 8MP is the best offering on a mid-range device. It more than enough for the daily Instagramming needs one might have. But I must admit, I am not a fan of the camera interface. It takes up almost half of the screen thereby limiting the viewfinder area. The camera software does not have anything special to offer either. The device also has a 1.3 MP front facing camera which can be used with video calling apps.

    Battery

    The device is powered by a 1900 mAh removable battery which is one of the positive aspects of the device. The device has been optimized well that it easily managed to last more than one day of average use, with 4G data switched on almost all the time.

    Connectivity: LTE for the win!

    If you are not aware, Dialog offers it’s mobile LTE connectivity on 1800 MHz band.

    The connectivity options are what make this device stand out from the rest and make it worth the buck. Apart from supporting, the usual 2G, 3G and even DC-HSDPA (dual carrier) the Q143L provides support to 1800 MHz and 2600 MHz LTE bands on category 3, which means download speeds upto 100 MBPs. If you are not aware, Dialog offers it’s mobile LTE connectivity on 1800 MHz band.

    The OS: Outdated but doesn’t disappoint.

    The Dialog Q143L runs on Android 4.0.4 aka Ice Cream Sandwich. In my opinion, this is the only notable area (apart from internal storage) where I would have loved improvement. The reason is that the OS is pretty outdated for 2014, even though there are large number of devices still running ICS. But since ICS is visually similar to Jelly Bean, you will not need to worry much. It also offers support to almost all the latest apps in Google Play. Google recently released Android 4.4, aka Kitkat, a much smoother and updated version. Notable part of KitKat is that it is designed in a way to run smoothly even on low end devices with standard hardware configurations. I do feel Dialog should consider providing an OS update to KitKat on Q143L which will definitely improve the quality of the device.

    The UI gives a Nexus feel

    The UI gives a Nexus feel

    Since this is a Dialog branded device, Dialog has added their personalized booting animations to the device. Dialog Q143L also comes pre-installed with many Dialog branded apps including D-App, MyTV, Star Points App and My Traveller App. It also has SETT browser, which supports browsing local language websites, pre installed. It is specially useful since Android ICS does not offer full support to local language font rendering. Overall experience feels smooth since there is no noticeable visual changes done to the default look of Android (unlike Samsung or HTC devices). The UI almost feels like that of a Nexus device. Other little additions are the unlocking pattern/animation and the shortcut options available on the home screen when you swipe the unlock icon. It is enabled through the Mi-EasyAccess app that comes pre installed.

    Performance

    The overall performance is good. The device feels snappy. I did not face any issue in running most apps. Those who love to play games on their phones need not to worry too. Dialog Q143L is powerful enough to run most of the games, including the ones with heavy visual effects. But when running heavy apps, I did  feel a slight lag. It is rather common in any device of this specs in my opinion. I do feel this can be overcome with a software update. I also ran some benchmarks tests on the device. The Q143L scored 10879 on AnTuTu Benchmark; slightly higher than galaxy S2. It also scored 1633 on PassMark performance Test. In this case slightly lower than Galaxy Nexus. On Quadrant Standard, the Q143L performed better much better than Galaxy Nexus and got a score of 4577. On CF-Bench, the CPU and memory benchmark tool, the Dialog Q143L  once again scored better than Galaxy S2 with a score of 11727. Even though the benchmark scores are affected by various factors, the Q143L gave some consistant results mostly in the range of galaxy S2 and Galaxy Nexus, two extremely popular Android devices. AnTuTu Score

    Competition

    So how does the Dialog Q143L stack up against the competition in the current market? Is it really worth spending 35K on this 4G enabled smartphone? As I mentioned earlier, the options available for 4G enabled devices in Sri Lankan market is very limited, specially when it comes to affordability. So the Digit team did some market research and came up with a head to head comparison of the cheapest 4G LTE enabled handsets in the Sri Lankan market. There are two types of offerings in the local market. One is from the authorized dealer of a certain brand. The dealer provides the warranty and after-sales service. Prices are standardized by dealers for the local market. Usually smartphones sold through Sri Lankan mobile service providers also come through these authorized dealers. Apart from dealers, there are mobile phone shops that import the devices directly and sell it locally. The warranty and service is provided by the respective shops.

    The difference I am trying to highlight is the price. In the local market the authorized dealer prices are usually very high compared to prices at mobile phone shops in places like Liberty Plaza. Also availability of certain variants/ models of the smartphones also differs between authorized dealers and non-dealers. Taking all this into account we came up with the following chart.

    Note that there is a wide gap between price ranges. For example the cheapest of the list, LTE enabled Galaxy Ace 3 variant was available only at selected shops. (Not with authorized dealer). The closest competition to Dialog Q143L in terms of price were, Xperia V and Lumia 820. But then again their prices from authorized dealers were clearly higher than that of Q143L. Overall, considering the warranty, after sales services and the additional benefits, I feel Dialog Q143L can be considered as the most affordable 4G LTE enabled smartphone in the Sri Lankan market. This is specially applicable if you are a Dialog customer.

    Verdict

    Dialog Smartphone score 7/10Q143L is a mid range Android device targeted at Dialog customers who want an affordable device to experience the high speed internet offering.  In other words, Dialog has tried to bridge the gap between high end specs (LTE) and affordability, with the Q143L. It is a welcoming move. It is also a bold step taken by a Sri Lankan service provider to launch their own branded device which may lead to them launching latest devices with affordable contract plans like in many other countries. Looking at the specs and network limitations, the Q143L may not be for the expert users who like more customization. It is rather suitable for new users looking to convert to Android from other platforms (like Blackberry) or users who want to try a smartphone for the first time. The LTE connectivity is definitely the winning point of the device while the OS and internal storage could have been better.

    Dialog Smartphone performance chart

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    It is February – the month of GSMA Mobile World Congress which is undoubtedly, one of the largest exhibitions for the mobile industry. With much speculations that wearable tech will dominate this year’s event in Barcelona, we have already been presented with exciting stuff from Samsung.

    Toady, Samsung has officially announced the next generation of their smart watch lineup with Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo. Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch was launched less than 6 months ago, along with Galaxy Note 3. If you were in the loop, you would probably know that the Galaxy Gear was more of a miss than a hit, in terms of how it was received by the industry. From day one, it had mixed reviews. Some did not like the design. But more than that, it had very limited compatibility with devices. It also came with “Samsung Apps” that lacked polishing, resulting in criticism from both consumers and experts. Hence you may understand why they had to rush to unveil the 2nd Generation so fast.

    What Has Changed?

    The biggest change from the 1st Generation Galaxy Gear is that the new Gear lineup comes with Tizen OS (Samsung calls it as Tizen based wearable platform). Samsung is a heavy investor in the Linux based Tizen platform. Samsung has also opted out the “Galaxy” part in the naming of the new Gear devices. They have not given a direct reason for going with Tizen. But one has to understand that the smart watch and related ecosystems are still in infant stage and even Android has very limited apps for this form factor. So, investing on Tizen (in which they have greater control, compared to Android) is a smart decision by Samsung to add more apps and grow the platform in a way to suit their own products. Remember how everyone hated the S-Voice app on the Galaxy Gear and asked for Google Now integration since the device were running Android? Well, now you have your answer. A big NO.

    It is also worth mentioning that Samsung recently came to an agreement with Google that they will limit stop copying core android apps in their Galaxy devices (E.g ChatOn, S-Voice etc). Hence Tizen gives more freedom for Samsung, than Android.

    Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo: Tizen for the win? (Pic courtesy - Samsung)

    Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo: Tizen for the win? (Pic courtesy – Samsung)

    The Specifications

    Something tells me that Samsung is yet to figure out a perfect mantra for their wearable product, for they have come up with not one but two new Gear 2 Smart Watches that look almost identical. Overall they have maintained the same design as their predecessor. The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo sport a 1.63” Super AMOLED (320 x 320) display, 1 GHz dual core processor (Galaxy Gear had an 800 MHz processor), 512 MB of RAM along with 4 GB of internal memory. Both smart watches are IP67 certified which means they are Dust and Water resistant. Both smart watches come with a 300 mAh battery (Galaxy Gear had a slightly larger 315 mAh battery). Samsung guarantees a 2-3 days of typical usage with a single charge, which is a good improvement. Samsung has also included IrLED Sensor (and WatchON remote app) for the devices enabling consumers to control household devices. A stand alone music player has also been included in the new generation of smart watches, which will allow users to directly output music to their headphones via Bluetooth 4.0 connection (without having to pair it with their phone.)

    Samsung Focuses on Fitness

    Samsung has given more importance to their S-Health app with the new smart watches. The devices come with heart rate monitor and pedometer. They can also monitor your exercise program and sleep cycle and offer real time personal fitness coaching. With an emerging trend of fitness centered wearable tech (including the rumored device from Apple), it’s not a surprise that Samsung has tried to integrate these options to the Gear line.

    Gear 2

    Gear 2 (Pic Courtesy – Samsung)

    As of now you may have realized that both Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo are identical. Well they are, except for the camera, which seems to be the most prominent difference. The Gear 2 comes with a 2 MP camera, which the Grear 2 Neo does not have. The camera is capable of recording HD (720p) videos. Also Samsung has moved the camera to the main body of the watch alongside the IR sensor, unlike the Galaxy Gear which had the camera on the strap. Both smart watches can perform all other regular tasks. The Gear pairs with Samsung Galaxy phones via Bluetooth using the Galaxy Gear app. Users can check incoming texts, calls, emails, tweets, etc. without having to take the phone out. Users can also make calls from the watch using a built-in speaker and microphone. The Gear line will also have an app store with number of apps. Samsung says initial lineup will include apps from the likes of CNN, Feedly, Evernote, eBay, GM, Path, PayPal, Runtastic, Weather Channel etc.

    Gear 2 Neo

    Gear 2 Neo (Pic Courtesy – Samsung)

    Gear 2 weighs 68 grams while Gear 2 Neo weighs 55 grams, meaning both are lighter than the original Galaxy Gear (73.8 grams). The Gear 2 will be available in Charcoal Black, Gold Brown and Wild Orange colours whereas the Gear 2 will be available in Charcoal Black, Mocha Grey and Wild Orange colours. Samsung is yet to reveal the prices of the devices. The new Gear smart watches are expected to be available for purchase by April.

    Hit or Miss?

    If you remember right the original Galaxy Gear supported only a handful of devices at the time of launch. Samsung says the new lineup will support “more than dozens of Samsung Galaxy smartphones at the time of launch”. Compared to so many other smart watches out there that support almost all latest devices, this is once again, a bit underwhelming. But Samsung seems to be focused adding value to their own Galaxy lineup of devices. They have faced huge competitions from the likes of Pebble which has probably the best smart watch on earth, which is both beautiful and functional. So if your Galaxy device happens to support the new Gear smart watches you may consider getting it, for it will be a cool companion. Else it will be another expensive music player strapped to your wrist…

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    2013 will go down in history as the year of inevitable change in the mobile industry. Yes, according to the latest report by Gartner, the Information Technology research and advisory company, annual smartphone sales surpassed the sales of feature phones, for the first time in 2013.

    Worldwide Smartphone Sales 2013

    I still remember the day I got hold of my Nokia 3120c. Having access to mobile internet and video calling was a huge thing for me back in 2008. BlackBerry devices were being used by an elite group of people. iPhone was the new kid and costed a fortune. Android was not a thing yet. Five years later, it’s a different story. According to gartner’s report, smartphones accounted for 53.6 percent (968 million units) of the overall mobile phone sales in 2013 (1.8 billion units). Compared to 2012, 968 million units is an increase of 42.3 percent, which is a remarkable change.  Smartphones accounted for 57.6 percent of the total mobile phone sales in the fourth quarter of 2013.

    According to the report, this high sales record became possible with the increasing growth in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, Asia/Pacific and Eastern Europe. India exhibited the highest smartphone sales growth among the countries tracked by Gartner. China also contributed significantly to worldwide smartphone sales in 2013.

    Worldwide Smartphone Sales

    Samsung took the number one spot as the vendor with highest number of mobile phone sales, with 31 percent of market share. But it is also noted that that the competitiveness in the high-end device market is on the rise and Samsung faces a huge challenge. Apple took the second spot, thanks to strong sales of iPhone 5S. Huawei was placed third in the list. The manufacturer has shown strong sales records in Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific region.

    Worldwide Smartphone Sales

    In terms of mobile phone operating systems, Android once again showed the dominance by taking more than 78 percent of the share (see statista.com article for full details here). This was also confirmed by a recent report from IDC. It is also notable that Android share for 2012 stood at little over 65 percent. In 2013, Apple’s iOS took the second spot with 15.6 percent of market share.

    Worldwide Smartphone Sales

    Even though there’s no surprise in that, it should be noted that iOS had around 19 percent of market share during 2012. With the huge challenge, Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS managed to end up at the third spot with just over 3 percent of share. It’s highly unlikely that 2014 will see any huge change in the report. But we can expect to see growth for Windows Phone OS with new high and low end hardware options. Even though 2013 was sort of a disappointing year for Mozilla, we may see some good performance from Firefox OS too.