India’s Reliance Jio rolls out Wi-Fi calling feature

Two of the top three telecom operators in India are beginning to address one of the biggest challenges hundreds of millions of their subscribers face in the country each day: poor call quality and abrupt voice drops.

Reliance Jio, India’s second largest telecom operator, announced today that it now supports voice and video calling functionality over Wi-Fi network. The 4G-only network said it has started to roll out the feature to all of its subscribers in India and expects to reach all of its 360 million consumers by next week.

The rollout of calls over Wi-Fi functionality on Jio comes weeks after Airtel, India’s third largest telecom operator with over 260 million subscribers, began to support this feature in select places in the country. Neither of the operators are levying any additional fee for this feature and say that their subscribers can place phone calls over Wi-Fi across the networks.

Wi-Fi calling is a popular feature that enables users to latch onto their wireless internet connection to make phone calls. These calls tend to be of much better quality than those that rely on traditional telecom infrastructure. In the U.S., T-Mobile, Verizon (which owns TechCrunch), and AT&T began to offer this feature in late 2015 and early 2016.

In many markets such as India, calls over internet began to gain traction four to five years ago after services such as WhatsApp enabled such functionality. In the years since, telecom operators have also rolled out support for calls over LTE network.

Airtel currently supports Wi-Fi calling in select circles — such as Mumbai, Kolkata, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu — and requires its users to be a subscriber of Airtel broadband service. It also works only on a handful of smartphone models.

Reliance Jio, on the other hand, supports more than 150 smartphone models including several recent iPhone generations and a wide-range of mid-tier and high-end Android smartphones. A Reliance Jio spokesperson told TechCrunch that Jio’s Wi-Fi calling functionality works on any Wi-Fi network.

Akash Ambani, Director of Jio, said Reliance Jio consumers already use over 900 minutes of voice calling every month. “The launch of Jio Wi-Fi Calling will further enhance every Jio consumer’s voice-calling experience, which is already a benchmark for the industry with India’s-first all VoLTE network,” he said in a statement.

Vodafone, which at the last count (PDF) was ahead of Reliance Jio by a few million subscribers, is yet to offer this functionality. The announcement follows price hike by all the top three telecom networks in India.

Impossible adds ‘ground pork’ and ‘sausages’ to its lineup of plant-based foods

Impossible Foods made huge waves in the food industry when it came up with a way of isolating and using “heme” molecules from plants to mimic the blood found in animal meat (also comprised of heme), bringing a new depth of flavor to its vegetarian burger.

This week at CES, the company is presenting the next act in its mission to get the average consumer to switch to more sustainable, plant-based proteins: it unveiled its version of pork — specifically ground pork, which will be sold as a basic building block for cooking as well as in sausage form. It’s a critical step, given that pork is the most-eaten animal product in the world.

Impossible has set up shop in CES’s outdoor area, situated near a line of food trucks, and it will be cooking food for whoever wants to come by. (I tasted a selection of items made from the new product — a steamed bun, a meatball, some noodles and a lettuce wrap — and the resemblance is uncanny, and not bad at all.) And after today, the new product will be making its way first to selected Burger King restaurants in the US before appearing elsewhere.

It may sound a little far-fetched to see a food startup exhibiting and launching new products at a consumer electronics show, attended by 200,000 visitors who will likely by outnumbered by the number of TVs, computers, phones, and other electronic devices on display. Indeed, Impossible is the only food exhibitor this year.

But if you ask Pat Brown, the CEO and founder of Impossible Foods (pictured right, at the sunny CES stand in the cold wearing a hat), the company is in precisely the right place.

“To me it’s very natural to be at CES,” he said in an interview this week at the show. “The food system is the most important technology on earth. It is absolutely a technology, and an incredibly important one, even if it doesn’t get recognised as such. The use of animals as a food technology is the most destructive on earth. And when Impossible was founded, it was to address that issue. We recognised it as a technology problem.”

That is also how Impossible has positioned itself as a startup. Its emergence (it was founded 2011) dovetailed with an interesting shift in the world of tech. The number of startups were booming, fuelled by VC money and a boom in smartphones and broadband. At the same time, we were starting to see a new kind of startup emerging built on technology but disrupting a wide range of areas not traditionally associated with technology. Technology VCs, looking for more opportunities (and needing to invest increasingly larger funds), were opening themselves up to consider more of the latter opportunities.

Impossible has seized the moment. It has raised around $777 million to date from a list of investors more commonly associated with tech companies — they include Khosla, Temasek, Horizons Ventures, GV, and a host of celebrities — and Impossible is now estimated to be valued at around $4 billion. Brown told me it is currently more than doubling revenues annually.  

With his roots in academia, the idea of Brown (who has also done groundbreaking work in HIV research) founding and running a business is perhaps as left-field a development as a food company making the leap from commodity or packaged good business to tech. Before Impossible, Brown said that he had “zero interest” in becoming an entrepreneur: the bug that has bitten so many others at Stanford (where he was working prior to founding Impossible) had not bitten him.

“I had an awesome job where I followed my curiosity, working on problems that I found interesting and important with great colleagues,” he said.

That changed when he began to realise the scale of the problem resulting from the meat industry, which has led to a well-catalogued list of health, economic and environmental impacts (including increased greenhouse gas emissions and the removal of natural ecosystems to make way for farming land. “It is the most important and consequential issue for the future of the world, and so the solution has to be market-based,” he said. “The only way we can replace themes that are this destructive is by coming up with a better technology and competing.”

Pork is a necessary step in that strategy to compete. America, it seems, is all about beef and chicken when it comes to eating animals. But pigs and pork take the cake when you consider meat consumption globally, accounting for 38% of all meat production, with 47 pigs killed on average every second of every day. Asia, and specifically China, figure strongly in that demand. Consumption of pork in China has increased 140% since 1990, Impossible notes.

Pigs’ collective footprint in the world is also huge: there are 1.44 billion of them, and their collective biomass totals 175 kg, twice as much as the biomass of all wild terrestrial vertebrates, Impossible says.

Whether Impossible’s version of pork will be enough or just an incremental step is another question. Ground meat is not the same as creating structured proteins that mimic the whole-cuts that are common (probably more common) when it comes to how pork is typically cooked (ditto for chicken and beef and other meats).

That might likely require more capital and time to develop.

For now, Impossible is focused on building out its business on its own steam: it’s not entertaining any thoughts of selling up, or even of licensing out its IP for isolating and using soy leghemoglobin — the essential “blood” that sets its veggie proteins apart from other things on the market. (I think of licensing out that IP, as the equivalent of how a tech company might white label or create APIs for third parties to integrate its cool stuff into their services.)

That means there will be inevitable questions down the line about how Impossible will capitalise to meet demand for its products. Brown said that for now there are no plans for IPOs or to raise more externally, but pointed out that it would have no problem doing either.

Indeed, the company has built up an impressive bench of executives and other talent to meet those future scenarios. Earlier this year, Impossible hired Dennis Woodside — the former Dropbox, Google and Motorola star– as its first president. And its CFO, David Lee, joined from Zynga back in 2015, with a stint also in the mass-market food industry, having been at Del Monte prior to that.

Lee told me that the company has essentially been running itself as a public company internally in preparation for a time when it might follow in the footsteps of its biggest competitor, Beyond Meat, and go public.

“From a tech standpoint I’m absolutely confident that we can outperform what we get from animals in affordability, nutrition and deliciousness,” said Brown. “This entire industry is most destructive by far and has major responsibility in terms of climate and biodiversity, but it going to be history and we are going to replace it.”

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

An unsecured database exposed the personal details of 202M job seekers in China

The personal details belonging to more than 202 million job seekers in China, including information like phone numbers, email addresses, driver licenses and salary expectations, were freely available to anyone who knew where to look for as long as three years due to an insecure database.

That’s according to findings published by security researcher Bob Diachenko who located an open and unprotected MongoDB instance in late December which contained 202,730,434 “very detailed” records. The database was indexed in data search engines Binary Edge and Shodan, and was freely visible without a password or login. It was only made private after Diachenko released information about its existence on Twitter.

Diachenko, who is director of cyber risk research at Hacken, wasn’t able to match the database with a specific service, but he did locate a three-year-old GitHub repository for an app that included “identical structural patterns as those used in the exposed resumes.” Again, ownership is not clear at this point although the records do seem to contain data that was scraped from Chinese classifieds, including the Craigslist-like 58.com.

A 58.com spokesperson denied that the records were its creation. They instead claimed that their service had been the victim of scraping from a third-party.

“We have searched all over the database of us and investigated all the other storage, turned out that the sample data is not leaked from us. It seems that the data is leaked from a third party who scrape[d] data from many CV websites,” a spokesperson told Diachenko.

TechCrunch contacted 58.com but we have not yet received a response.

While the database has now been secured, it was potentially vulnerable for up to three years and there’s already evidence that it had been regularly accessed. Although, again, it isn’t clear who by.

“It’s worth noting that MongoDB log showed at least a dozen IPs who might have accessed the data before it was taken offline,” Diachenko wrote.

There’s plenty of mystery here — it isn’t clear whether 58.com was behind the hole, or if it is a rival service or a scraper — but what is more certain is that the vulnerability is one of the largest of its kind to be found in China.

Google makes $550M strategic investment in Chinese e-commerce firm JD.com

Google has been increasing its presence in China in recent times, and today it has continued that push by agreeing to a strategic partnership with e-commerce firm JD.com which will see Google purchase $550 million of shares in the Chinese firm.

Google has made investments in China, released products there and opened up offices that include an AI hub, but now it is working with JD.com largely outside of China. In a joint release, the companies said they would “collaborate on a range of strategic initiatives, including joint development of retail solutions” in Europe, the U.S. and Southeast Asia.

The goal here is to merge JD.com’s experience and technology in supply chain and logistics — in China, it has opened warehouses that use robots rather than workers — with Google’s customer reach, data and marketing to produce new kinds of online retail.

Initially, that will see the duo team up to offer JD.com products for sale on the Google Shopping platform across the word, but it seems clear that the companies have other collaborations in mind for the future.

JD.com is valued at around $60 billion, based on its NASDAQ share price, and the company has partnerships with the likes of Walmart and it has invested heavily in automated warehouse technology, drones and other ‘next-generation’ retail and logisitics.

The move for a distribution platform like Google to back a service provider like JD.com is interesting since the company, through search and advertising, has relationships with a range of e-commerce firms including JD.com’s arch rival Alibaba.

But it is a sign of the times for Google, which has already developed relationships with JD.com and its biggest backer Tencent, the $500 billion Chinese internet giant. All three companies have backed Go-Jek, the ride-hailing challenger in Southeast Asia, while Tencent and Google previously inked a patent sharing partnership and have co-invested in startups such as Chinese AI startup XtalPi.

Catch Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao at TechCrunch’s blockchain event on July 6

Changpeng Zhao, CEO of Binance — the world’s largest crypto exchange — is the newest addition who will join us for TC Sessions: Blockchain, TechCrunch’s first event dedicated to blockchain technology, which takes place July 6 in Zug, Switzerland.

The event will bring together the startup/business world and blockchain community to explore the potential of the blockchain, where it is now, and much more. The location is Zug — the Swiss city know as “Crypto Valley” for its plethora of startups and forward-thinking governance — and our speaker list already includes standout names such as Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin, Coinbase CTO Balaji Srinivasan, and Hyperledger’s Brian Behlendorf.

Tickets are available now priced at 495 Swiss Francs, or around $500 — just head here. Don’t miss it!

Zhao, known as CZ, started Binance in July 2017 and it has enjoyed a meteoric rise. The exchange processes over $3 billion in crypto trades per day, which makes it the world’s largest by some margin, according to CoinMarketCap.com. Binance’s own token (BNB) is currently trading at over $14 — that’s up from an initial ICO price of around $0.10 and it gives it a total market cap of $1.6 billion.

Even in real-world financial times, Binance is huge. The company recorded a profit of around $150 million during its most recent quarter of business despite being less than a year ago.

Zhao himself started out in the world of financial trading, creating a company called Fusion Systems which enabled high-frequency trades for brokers. He got into crypto when he joined wallet app Blockchain.info, before moving on to Chinese exchange OkCoin for a stint as CTO. Spotting an opportunity for a new exchange, he exited to start Binance last year, raising $15 million in July to kick the project off.

There’s been controversy — including rumors of high listing fees and a legal spat with VC firm Sequoia — but Binance is the top dog and it remains the exchange that every crypto firm aspires to list on.

It is also pushing out overseas beyond Hong Kong. Binance has explored the global potential of crypto by moving its exchange to Malta, a country keen to woo blockchain giants, and inking deals to hire large numbers of staff in Uganda, Togo and Bermuda. It looks like that is just scratching the service for what Binance has planned.

“I could retire now and I’d be ok for a few lifetimes, but we are doing something I think is very meaningful,” Zhao, who ranks third on Forbes’ crypto rich list with an estimated worth of $1.1-$2 billion, told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year.

Blockchain is the most disruptive new development in the technology space today, and we’re excited to host our first show that is solely dedicated to the blockchain. The event takes place in the Swiss city of Zug — widely known as “Crypto Valley” due to its sizable number of crypto companies and a progressive approach to regulation — and it will bring together top figures from the blockchain space, developer community and business and startup worlds.

Prominent speakers confirmed for the July 6 event include:

  • Vitalik Buterin, creator of Ethereum
  • Balaji Srinivasan, Coinbase CTO
  • Roham Gharegozlou, the founder of smash-hit blockchain game CryptoKitties
  • Brian Behlendorf, executive director of the Hyperledger Project
  • Leanne Kemp, founder and CEO of Everledger
  • Jun Hasegawa, CEO and founder of Omise and OmiseGo
  • Mona El Isa, CEO and co-founder of Melonport
  • Colin Hanna, associate at Balderton Capital
  • Galia Benartzi, co-founder and head of Business Development at Bancor
  • Gert Sylvest, co-founder of Tradeshift and GM of Tradeshift Frontiers

You can get your hands on tickets now — they’re priced at 495 Swiss Francs, or around $500 — from the event website here.


If you’re interested in sponsoring the event, please contact us via this link.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Alibaba Confirms It Is Buying The South China Morning Post For $262M

scmp Alibaba has jumped into the news business after the Chinese company confirmed on Friday that it has agreed to acquire the South China Morning Post (SCMP). The Hong Kong-based newspaper and SCMP Group’s other assets, which includes local editions of Esquire and Elle, will cost Alibaba a little over HK$2 billion — around US$262 million — according to a regulatory filing. Read More