Last week I popped over to the Quarry Bay HQ of Verizon Business in Hong Kong to hear more about the annual Data Breach Investigations Report.
The report’s really come on since I covered it way back in 2008, and this year pulled data from an unprecedented 19 reputable sources including Scotland Yard, the US Department of Homeland Security and many more.
The Register covered the main news from the report when it was launched the week before – that China was responsible for a whopping 96 per cent of state-affiliated attacks – so I was keen to get some other APAC-relevant insight from the team.
Unfortunately there wasn’t much to be had, in fact the report itself only mentions Asia Pacific once as a break-out region, to illustrate the top 20 threat types across the whopping 47,000 security “incidents” recorded over 2012.
What this probably tells us is that methods of collecting the data at the moment are pretty non-standardised across the globe, which makes drawing any clear comparisons difficult between regions.
Another thought that occurred: it’s fairly obvious that organisations across the globe suffer from the same kinds of information security risk – whether hacktivist, financially motivated criminal or state sponsored espionage-related.
As Verizon’s HK VP Francis Yip said: “No one is immune from cyber crime. As long as you have an IP address, you are a target, no matter how long you spend online.”
In this respect, there were no startling new trends as such to pull out of the report, aside from China’s consistent and persistent appearance as number one source of state-sponsored shenanigans.
This is probably good news for under fire CISOs, now tasked not only with deflecting financially motivated cyber crime and attempts from hacktivists to take down their sites and steal credentials, but also under-the-radar information theft from APT-style attacks.
What’s also good news, is Verizon’s assertion that the cloud is no less safe than any other form of computing system, as long as IT teams make sure they carry out due diligence on providers.
“Cloud can actually be more secure, because these providers are doing it on an industrial scale with staff who know what they are doing,” argued Verizon’s APAC head of identity and privacy services, Ian Christofis.
While all this is certainly true I definitely got the impression from the briefing that many firms are still failing on the security basics.
“Could try harder” is probably a suitable report card take-away for businesses from 2012.
There’s a great deal of ambulance chasing that goes on in the IT press. Spot any major geopolitical news event and some vendor will try and shoehorn in a thinly veiled sales pitch for their products and services in the most blatant way possible.
There are certain events which do bear closer analysis, though, and I think the situation in North Korea is one of them. Given the impact of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan 2011 and the Thai floods of that same year, on the ICT supply chain, it’s clear that major events in Asia can have knock-on effects.
The major impact of a possible conflict in Korea would be on Samsung, which is the world’s largest supplier of LCD panels, Flash and DRAM and a major producer of lithium-ion batteries and chips. However, if China were brought into the conflict, this may also spread risk to the huge number of tech manufacturers in the People’s Republic.
So are suppliers getting twitchy? Are staff and assets being moved around to minimise risk? Are customers spending their money on cans of tinned food and bomb shelters rather than Galaxy Notes?
Well, as I reported in The Reg, none of that so far actually. The main message has been one of “business as usual”, with a caveat of continued monitoring of the situation.
“We didn’t observe any significant drop in consumer sentiment so far and don’t expect any major changes unless North Korea really launches a missile. There has been no big changes in Korea’s import, export and sales activity but tourism and foreign capital inflow could be impacted,” IDC analyst YoungSo Lee told me.
“The tension in Korea won’t ease that quickly and there are people who have started stocking up on daily necessities and even pulled out some money from the banks. There is talk of some foreign vendors making plans to send senior executives back to their home countries but there is no concrete evidence of that yet. All of the above are sensible precautions in response to continued uncertainty over how the crisis might develop.”
That said, just because there is widespread public apathy towards the kinds of threats being uttered daily by Pyongyang doesn’t mean nothing will happen – it only takes one piece of military or political misjudgement to spark a full-on confrontation which could impact IT channels.
“There are low expectations of anything serious happening, perhaps only a minor skirmish in disputed seas between the North and South,” Canalys APAC MD Rachel Lashford told me. “But of course low expectations does not mean that the risk is definitely zero.”
So, long story short – no panic yet, but worth keeping an eye on for future developments. One thing North Korea is not known for is it’s predictability.
Not content with breathing down Ericsson’s neck in the telecoms equipment space and making huge gains in the global smartphone market, Chinese giant Huawei now has its sights set on becoming a leader in corporate social responsibility, but maintains it’s definitely not part of a soft power push.
Speaking at a media event in Hong Kong on Wednesday, the firm’s head of CSR, Holy Ranaivozanany, revealed that it would be extending its Telecoms Seeds for the Future project to Australia this year.
“We thought that we needed to use the expertise in the company to bring something to the community. After stakeholder dialogue we saw there was a high expectation on us to help local schools and universities improve ICT education,” she said of the genesis of the project.
“There’s a gap between what is learned at school and what is learned in the industry, so we looked at how to bridge that gap. That’s why we launched this program in 2008.”
The project could involve scholarships and internships at local Huawei offices where students get mentored by a Huawei engineers, lectures by Huawei staff at local universities and even the creation of training centres. In Malaysia the firm is spending $30m over several years to build out such a centre, she said.
However, head of international media affairs, Scott Sykes, refuted any suggestions that this global CSR strategy might be part of an effort to soften the image of the company abroad, especially in countries like Oz which have been rather hostile to it in the recent past.
“Our top objective is not soft diplomacy but us realising our responsibility as a leading ICT company. We’re not just selling kit, we’re benefitting the communities we operate in,” he argued.
“In one sense our technology is enriching lives, making affordable high quality broadband services. Beyond that we bring jobs. 150,000 work at Huawei including 50,000 non-Chinese outside China – and that number is growing each day. In addition there’s the ecosystem. Last year we spent $6bn in the US, $3bn in Europe, $3bn in Taiwan and $1bn in Japan, so when we win this ecosystem around our business wins.”
Still, it can’t hurt the firm to show it has the interests of local communities at heart, after all the negative stories of it as a national security risk and shadowy agent of the Chinese government that usually follow it and Shenzhen rival ZTE around, especially in Australia and the US.
Ranaivozanany was even magnanimous enough to say that the firm wasn’t necessarily hoping to train up future Huawei engineers with its Telecom Seeds program, but simply “nurture a pool of talent to … keep the industry going”.
In many ways, Huawei is still learning the ropes when it comes to CSR – something that doesn’t come naturally to Chinese companies.
Ranaivozanany admitted there was “no specific measure of RoI” on Huawei’s CSR efforts, but that it was now “integral to what we do”, while Sykes emphasised that the firm was simply coming good at last on expectations of what a large multi-national industry-leading vendor should be doing in this area.
“We’re still a young company. We were only founded about 25 years ago while some of our competitors were founded 100 years back. Our focus on our core business has probably been to the detriment of other things, like communicating properly,” he admitted.
“We’re not saying we have the best ideas regarding CSR. We acknowledge we’re a newcomer in this area, but we’re building our muscle.”
For the record, Ranaivozanany outlined the “four pillars” by which Huawei defines its CSR activities as follows .
Creating and maintaining reliable networks, especially in the event of natural disasters; helping close the digital divide by connecting those in rural areas; building greener products; and the rather wooly “realising common development with stakeholders”, which basically means improving the livelihoods of employees and citizens in the countries it operates.
Asia’s unique combination of large numbers of entrepreneurs and software developers offers tremendous opportunities for dynamic cloud growth, while European and Australian companies continue to lag in the shadow of the US.
That’s the view of Nigel Beighton, VP of technology and product, for managed hosting-cum-open cloud company Rackspace, who was in Hong Kong this week to discuss how the “sleeping software giant” of Asia will soon awake.
He argued that European and Australian firms are 18 months to 2 years behind their US rivals and suffer from the same issues around legacy infrastructure.
“Asia is fascinating because it doesn’t track what happens in the US. It has its own culture and personality and if you think about software development in Asia it’s different. Even the code they write looks different. The way people think about mathematics and structure and architecture is different,” he said.
“Cloud enables business to be agile and Asia is very good at that – at being entrepreneurial. At the same time it’s cool to be a software developer here and cloud is enabling software developers to do what they want to do immediately.”
The US market, while it still has a “degree of creativity”, is very much in a phase of consolidation at the moment, dealing with legacy infrastructure and looking at changing business models, Beighton argued.
To an extent, Europe and Australian firms are in a similar boat – held back by a large legacy application estate going back 10-15 years which makes it difficult to scale vertically in the cloud, he added.
However, there aren’t many examples of cutting edge cloud innovation in the region – he gave China’s indigenous search engine companies led by Baidu as one – because it’s still early days. As a result, education remains an important part of the cloud provider’s role.
It’s worth bearing in mind here that even though it now has a successful enterprise business, Rackspace began life serving entrepreneurial SMB-type companies, which is why the firm is always keen to enthuse about this end of the market. It’s also part of the reason why it located a regional datacentre in Hong Kong rather than rival IT hub of Singapore which is geared more towards servicing larger financial organisations, according to Beighton.
“For us the entrepreneurial aspect of Hong Kong was really interesting, and how that would work in conjunction with China,” he said, adding that public cloud capabilities from the datacentre would be available in Q4 this year.
Rackspace is not the only cloud provider waxing lyrical about the huge potential in the Asia region. EMC Greater China president Denis Yip argued at a conference in Hong Kong last summer that China is actually trumping the US and the rest of the world at the cutting edge of cloud computing deployments.
However, despite huge building projects by local government in China, there is a real risk datacentre capacity will lie idle because not enough thought has gone into working out what to use it all for and how to generate profits once the infrastructure is completed.
An interesting bit of research cropped up on one of the few English language sites covering Chinese news in this region, Taiwan’s WantChinaTimes, claiming the average lifespan of a Chinese electronics manufacturer is a shade over 13 years.
Now this sounded pretty low to me, not having anything to compare it to, but it struck as an interesting stat which serves to illuminate a lot of the pressures Chinese manufacturers are facing today, and where the country wants to be in a few decades time.
The research itself came from a Chinese manufacturer called Global Market Group, which interviewed over 1,000 firms in the economic zones of the Pearl River Delta and the Yangtze River Delta. It’s not a huge sample, given the sheer size of the industry in the PRC, but it’ll have to do.
The first thing to note is that 13.2 years is much longer than the average for survey respondents of 11.1 years – the report argues that this could be because electronics makers are forced to adapt quickly to changing tech to keep afloat.
More generally, though, 13.2 years doesn’t seem like a long time for a firm to be in business. But it does illustrate the rapid pace of change in the tech industry – where many fall by the way side in time because they simply can’t keep up with the latest trends.
It also shows, as Forrester analyst Dane Anderson told me, the intense pressure on Chinese manufacturers burdened with rising labour and energy costs and competition from other low cost suppliers in Asia.
US politicians and loathsome right wing media outlets often make out China to be the bad guy – taking American jobs by offering brand owners by far the lowest cost of production. However, increasingly it’s becoming a more complex picture than this.
“The perception in the West is often that the manufacturing industry in China is a bullet-proof juggernaut, but this view is inaccurate,” said Anderson. “It is a dynamic and highly competitive sector squeezed by thin margins and demanding customers.”
But as China looks to move up the stack, away from being a land of contract manufacturers mass producing at low prices in incredibly competitive market conditions, things might change, according to IDG’s senior research manager William Lee.
“The electronics industry is typically a high clockspeed industry, meaning the average product lifecycle time span is shorter than say automotive, aerospace, industrial equipment. So electronics manufacturing companies’ lifespan is typically shorter than other companies in other industry,” he told me.
“However when the manufacturing industries mature and many of these companies begin to evolve to brand owners, the average lifespan will increase.”
With China still some way behind Taiwan, South Korea and other countries, it will be a while before this happens, but it surely will, as this is the direction the Chinese government wants it to go in. It recently announced ambitious plans to create eight super-companies in the tech space each the size of Lenovo ($100bn in revenues per year), which would have globally recognised brands.
When that finally happens, and the sweat-shops move out to Vietnam, Indonesia and elsewhere, maybe the US will have to invent another bogeyman.
It’s not been an easy year for it or Shenzhen rival Huawei, who were both named as a national security risk in a US congressional committee report released at the tail end of 2012 in the bi-partisan hubbub typical of pre-election months.
In addition, ZTE has been under lengthy investigation by the FBI on suspicion of selling embargoed US-made tech to Iran and then covering it up when found out. Then there were the false rumours of swingeing job cuts at the firm and a $5bn cash injection from the Chinese government.
Despite its problems, however, ZTE remains on the move in the smartphone space, an innovator in telecoms infrastructure with its LTE offerings and has plans to grow the enterprise business despite the kind of government roadblocks put up in Australia, the US and now India.
Head of handset strategy Lv Qian Hao battled manfully with the flu to show me the firm’s latest high-end handset, the 5.7in Grand Memo (no pics I’m afraid). It comes across as a smallish version of Huawei’s massive six-incher the Ascend Mate and probably benefits from not being quite as large – in other words I could just about use it as a phone without looking daft.
In the rapidly developing smartphone space, specs like 13 megapixel camera, quad core 1.7Ghz Snapdragon processor and a 720p screen – specs which might once have elicited gasps of awe from the assembled masses – are now pretty standard at the high-end.
This is no criticism of ZTE but it certainly makes its job of climbing up the smartphone rankings and a goal of 50 million shipments this year that bit harder.
So where can it differentiate? Well, with high-end specs almost commoditised now, design is obviously one key area. With the best will in the world ZTE is not know for its beautiful design, but it’s hoping to change that with Hagen Fendler on board.
Pinched from cross-town rival Huawei, Fendler’s appointment and a new design centre in Shanghai certainly serve to highlight the firm’s vaulting ambitions in this space.
Fendler explained that his job is to create a design DNA which can be seeded throughout the firm’s handsets to help create a brand identity. It got off to a flyer with the launch at CES of the Grand S, an HD handset which at 6.9mm is currently the world’s thinnest.
It won’t be an easy job creating handsets that are both beautiful and distinctively “ZTE” but with 400 staff working on design alone, they’ve as good a chance as any.
It can be a frustrating time for a journalist talking to a designer, because so many of the concepts they tend to reference are abstract, ethereal and emotive rather than the nuts and bolts practicalities of engineering.
However, Fendler did reveal that much of his design inspiration comes from outside the immediate environs of the smartphone space – from books, magazines and films.
1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner was singled out for particular praise for sparking interesting ideas about “how humans interact with the technology around them”.
Just don’t expect to see the ZTE Blade Runner phone anytime soon. Actually, Google already got there with the Nexus, didn’t it?
Do you have superfast fibre optic broadband? The answer is probably not, because in the US, UK, Australia and elsewhere projects are riven by funding issues, political in-fighting and delays, delays, delays. The answer just might be right in front of our eyes.
Take this new report from Ovum on smart grids. Before you fall asleep, the smart grid pilot project it refers to in China is being undertaken by the SGCC, the largest utility in the world, so plenty of food for thought for utilities globally depending on what happens with it.
The crux of the Ovum piece is that the pilot – if it goes nationwide – is likely to offer a potential windfall of up to $2bn for international fibre infrastructure vendors. Yup, the project is basically running power alongside fibre to kill three birds with one stone – deliver power, run a smart grid (ie collect and monitor smart meters in customer homes) and potentially offer triple play services.
This hasn’t really been done with any great degree of success outside of Japan, where investments were made over a long period of time, report author Julie Kunstler told me. But if it works out in China, the big question is whether it could show US utilities a way forward – yes fibre is pretty costly but apply for a telco license or lease the lines to comms providers and they could fund such an investment.
It’s sorely needed, in the US and elsewhere, to manage that difficult last mile problem. As Kunstler told me, it solves this issue because power companies already shoot their cables right into the customers’ home, and are pretty much ubiquitous to boot.
In the end it’s still very early days, and although a technology supplier in China I spoke to said they were confident of this 80,000 home pilot going nationwide, even then, the unique political and economic conditions in the People’s Republic may make it the only country where such a huge project can work.
As Clive Longbottom of analyst Quocirca told me, “getting Verizon and AT&T to work together is like getting Democrats and Republicans to agree on a new fiscal package”.
This is where China has the edge – a basically homogenous, state-run set up where what the government says goes…a government, by the way, which has seemingly bottomless pockets and huge aspirations to lead the world in technology deployments, the bigger the better.
In the meantime, the citizens of the UK, US, Australia and elsewhere will continue to suffer from the kind of political indecision and selfish stakeholders which have thus far hampered any kind of coherent national superfast broadband strategy.
Just finished an interesting piece on what to expect from Chinese tech firms in 2013 so thought I’d précis the key points below.
To be honest as with any year end predictions to an extent there’s always more-of-the-same than anything else, and to that point there’ll be greater international expansion on the mobile handset front by ZTE, Huawei, Lenovo, and potentially TCL-Alcatel.
Aside from the big names, Canalys analyst Nicole Peng told me there could also be attempts by feature phone vendors like Gionee and K-Touch to make it overseas, claiming that the technical and business support offered by chipset companies like Qualcomm and MediaTek is making it easier than ever to break into new smartphone markets.
But away from hardware, what about China’s growing raft of web companies?
It would be easy to write a story saying “the Chinese are coming, look out Facebook, Twitter et al!”, but the honest truth is that the likes of Tencent, Sina, Alibaba and others have become successful in China in part by copying their US rivals and in part thanks to local restrictions banning their rivals.
Where they have done well is in localising their platforms for the domestic user – something Alibaba and Baidu are doing now even for their mobile OS platforms – and innovating on top of what has gone before.
Aside from the odd service like Tencent’s WeChat which has managed to cross the Great Firewall to acceptance elsewhere, I’m sceptical that these firms will expand successfully in 2013, and to an extent, with less than half of the vast Chinese population online, there’s probably enough untapped growth left domestically to keep them busy for now.
Peng is slightly more optimistic, however.
“Many of the local mobile services/applications we have seen in China, such as Tencent Weixin, Sina Weibo provide great user experience and innovative features that we could not find from the international big name,” she told me.
“As long as they continue to innovate and own their IPs, I do not see Chinese internet companies having any major disadvantages in competing, as mobile services become device/OS agnostic in the future.”
Perhaps. But with local incumbents like Twitter, Facebook, Google et al, mature Western markets will certainly be too tough a nut to crack.
On top of this, Chinese tech firms will have to put up with increasingly hostile attitudes from various national governments.
National security concerns will continue to dog Huawei and ZTE on the telecoms infrastructure front, and there are signs that US regulators may soon begin the process of de-registering Chinese firms from US stock markets for failing to comply with domestic securities laws.
Oh, and there’s the small matter of a potential conflict over that bunch of barren rocks known as Diaoyu/Senkaku.
Plenty to look forward to, then, in 2013!
Last week Asian chip giant MediaTek launched its latest System on a Chip design, the 28nm quad core MT6589. Before you click on to something more interesting, here’s why it should make anyone with a mobile phone sit up and take notice.
First, MediaTek. It’s probably the most ubiquitous chip company you’ve never heard of. Asia’s biggest and the fourth largest fabless chip company by revenue globally, it lists LG, Huawei, Sony and others among its clients. Until now the firm has largely been focused on the 2G feature phone market, especially in China where demand was huge until recently, but this announcement sees it really break out into the high end smartphone space.
The analysts I spoke to pretty unanimously agreed that MediaTek and arch rival Qualcomm between them are making a seriously disruptive play in the mobile space. Put simply, MediaTek is making quad core affordable by sticking CPU, GPU and wireless modem on the same SoC, which means the MT6589 will end up in plenty of cheap smartphones as well as some higher end ones.
The result? The big brands are going to have to differentiate on something other than quad core. In effect, as IDC analyst Teck-Zhung Wong told me, it’s going to kick off a whole new round of price competition, which is great for users and will spur the industry forward to keep on innovating, which is good for all stakeholders.
In the background there’s also the tussle between Qualcomm and MediaTek.
Qualcomm is doing amazing things this year and now sits third by revenue in IHS iSuppli’s new ranking of global chip companies. It has already produced a quad core aimed at the same market and has an advantage in its modem capabilities, which even MediaTek admitted to me. So it’s Taiwan versus the US in the battle of the budget quad cores. MediaTek historically has that huge customer base in China to tap and is likely to be faster to market but Qualcomm is catching up and apeing many of MediaTek’s technical advantages and customer relations strategies.
The jury’s out but it will be an interesting 12 months to see who the smartphone winners and losers will be.
I’m not one to believe everything I read in the papers, especially if that paper happens to be one of China’s state run media outlets, but an interesting stat caught my eye in a recent article in China Daily.
The piece detailed how China – infamously a country which has a huge trade imbalance with the rest of the world, flogging it cheap exports – is actually importing more technology products than it exports.
The tech trade deficit apparently stands at $10bn – imports at $32bn and exports $21bn – which is a far cry from its huge overall trade surplus with the US which stood at around $300bn in 2011.
It is an interesting one because with China becoming an increasingly affluent and sizeable market in its own right it’s likely that more and more goods made in the country will not be exported but sold to its own consumers, so it’s hard to see how the government is going to be able to close this gap.
That aside though, the article pointed out that 89 per cent of China’s exports were in the sphere of “computer software”.
Really? The country famous for being the technology manufacturing centre of the world? Where the huge Taiwanese ODM/OEMs have plants the size of small towns, building everything from iPhones to children’s toys?
Yes, China has its successful web companies like Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba, but could its computer software industry really be that successful on the world stage?
Well, no is the short answer.
Gartner’s Matthew Cheung explained to me the likely reason for the unusually high figure is that they have counted revenue from a certain type of outsourced service in that figure.
Companies such as HiSoft, Beyondsoft and VanceInfo offer a raft of services to big name foreign companies looking to localise their own software products in China.
These services, Cheung said, have effectively been calculated as exports, as they are carried out on behalf of foreign companies, even though, aside from some work for the Japanese and Korean market, they are basically China-centric.
I have to say it’s a market I never knew existed but will be an interesting one to follow, because while China may not be the software centre of the world yet, it’s certainly an area where it could end up dominating if it decides to devote the full weight of its resources.
These companies are by no means minor players; some are NASDAQ listed, $10-$100m businesses and they’re already acquiring foreign rivals, said Cheung.
This could yet be the first stirrings of a Chinese software revolution to match that which propelled the country to become the pre-eminent tech manufacturing hub.