The Age of Uncertainty


We are entering the age of dealing with unknown unknowns – as Brexit and Turkey’s failed coup show

The dark future of Europe

THE Age of Uncertainty is a book and BBC series by the late Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith, produced in 1977, about how we have moved from the age of certainty in 19th century economic thought to a present that is full of unknowns.

I still remember asking my economics professor what he thought of Galbraith, one of the most widely read economists and social commentator of his time. His answer was that Galbraith’s version of economics was too eclectic and wide-ranging. It was not where mainstream economics – pumped up by the promise of quantitative models and mathematics – was going.

Forty years later, it is likely that Galbraith’s vision of the future was more prescient than that of Milton Friedman, the leading light of free market economics – which promised more than it could deliver. The utopia of free markets, where rational man would deliver the most efficient public good from individual greed turned out to be exactly the opposite – the greatest social inequities with grave uncertainties of the future. Galbraith said, “wealth is the relentless enemy of understanding”. Perhaps he meant that poverty and necessity was the driver of change, if not of revolution.

The economics profession was always slightly confused over the difference between risk and uncertainty, as if the former included the latter. The economist Frank Knight (they don’t make economists like that anymore) clarified the difference as follows – risk is measurable and uncertainty is not. Quantitative economists then defined risk as measurable volatility – the amount that a variable like price fluctuated around its historical average.

The bell-shaped statistical curve that forms the conventional risk model used widely in economics assumes that there is 95% probability that fluctuations of price would be two standard deviations from the average or mean.

For non-technically minded, a standard deviation is a measure of the variance or dispersion around the mean, meaning that a “normal” fluctuation would be less than two; so if the standard deviation is say 5%, we would not expect more than 10% price fluctuation 95% of the time.

Events like Brexit shock us because the event gave rise to huge uncertainties over the future. Most experts did not expect Brexit – the variance was more than the normal. It was a reversal of a British decision to join the European Union, a five or more standard deviation event – in which the decision is a 180 degree turn. The conventional risk management models, which are essentially linear models that say that going forward or sequentially, the projected risk is up or down, simply did not factor in a reversal of decision.

In other words, we have moved from an age of risk to an age of uncertainty – where we are dealing with unknown unknowns.

There are of course different categories of unknowns – known unknowns (things that we know that we do not know), calculable unknowns (which we can estimate or know something about through Big Data) and the last, we simply do not know what we may never know.

Big Data is the fashionable phrase for churning lots of data to find out where there are correlations. The cost of big computing power is coming down but you would still have to have big databases to access that information or prediction. Most individuals like you and me would simply have to use our instincts or rely on experts to make that prediction or decision. Brexit told us that many experts are simply wrong. Experts are those who can convincingly explain why they are wrong, but they may not be better in predicting the future than monkeys throwing darts.


Five factors

There are five current factors that add up to considerable uncertainty – geopolitics, climate change, technology, unconventional monetary policy and creative destruction.

First, Brexit and the Turkish coup are geo-political events that change the course of history. In its latest forecasts on the world economy, the IMF has called Brexit “the spanner in the works” that may slow growth further. But Brexit was a decision made because the British are concerned more about immigration than nickels and dimes from Brussels. This is connected to the second factor, climate change.

Global warming is the second major unknown, because we are already feeling the impact of warmer weather, unpredictable storms and droughts. Historically, dynastic collapses have been associated with major climate change, such as the droughts that caused the disappearance of the Angkor Wat and Mayan cultures. Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan and all are failing states because they are water-stressed. If North Africa and the Middle East continue to face major water-stress and social upheaval, expect more than 1 million refugees to flood northwards to Europe where it is cooller and welfare benefits are better.

The third disruptor is technology, which brings wondrous new inventions like bio-technology, Internet and robotics, but also concerns such as loss of jobs and genetic accidents.

Fourthly, unconventional monetary policy has already breached the theoretical boundaries of negative interest rates, where no one, least of all the central bankers that push on this piece of string, fully appreciate how negative interest rates is destroying the business model of finance, from banks to asset managers.

Last but not least, the Austrian economist Schumpeter lauded innovation and entrepreneurship as the engine of capitalism, through what he called creative destruction. We all support innovation, but change always bring about losses to the status quo. Technology disrupts traditional industries, and those disappearing industries will create loss in jobs, large non-performing loans and assets that will have no value.

Change is not always a zero-sum game, where one person’s gain is another’s loss. It is good when it is a win-win game; but with lack of leadership, it can easily deteriorate into a lose-lose game. That is the scary side of unknown unknowns.

I shall elaborate on how ancient Asians coped with change in the next article.

By Tan Sri Andrew Sheng

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

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UN distances itself from Permanent Court of Arbitration, had No role in Philippines case vs China


国际法院(ICJ)在此希望媒体和公众注意,南海仲裁案(菲律宾共和国与中华人民共和国)裁决结果由常设仲裁法院(PCA)提供秘书服务下的一个特别仲裁庭做出。相关信息请访问PCA网站(www.pca-cpa.org)。国际法院作为完全不同的另一机构,至始至终未曾参与该案,因此在国际法院网站上无法查询到相关信息。

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) wishes to draw the attention of the media and the public to the fact that the Award in the South China Sea Arbitration (The Republic of the Philippines v. The People’s Republic of China) was issued by an Arbitral Tribunal acting with the secretarial assistance of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). The relevant information can be found on the PCA’s website (www.pca-cpa.org). The ICJ, which is a totally distinct institution, has had no involvement in the above mentioned case and, for that reason, there is no information about it on the ICJ’s website.

A screenshot of the official Sina Weibo account of the UN which states that the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration independent from the UN. [Photo: Weibo.com]

The United Nations has made it clear that it had nothing to do with the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).

A tribunal, which was established and registered at the PCA, issued an ill-founded award on Tuesday through the abuse of law on the arbitration case unilaterally initiated by the Philippines against China in 2013.

In a post on its official Twitter-like Sina Weibo account on Wednesday, the United Nations pointed out that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the UN’s principal judicial organ, which was set up in June 1945 in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

The post added that the ICJ is a totally distinct institution from the PCA and it had no involvement in the above mentioned case.

In fact, the PCA in The Hague just happens to be neighbors with the ICJ, as both are located in the Peace Palace in The Hague in the Netherlands. Of the six major organs of the United Nations, the ICJ is the only one located outside New York City in the United States, the headquarters of the United Nations.

 UN distances itself from Permanent Court of Arbitration

The International Court of Justice has taken the unusual step of distancing itself from the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which ruled on the arbitration case unilaterally initiated by the Philippines against China in 2013, concerning the South China Sea disputes.

In a statement in both English and Chinese on its website the IJC said it wished to draw the attention of the media and the public to the fact that the award was issued by an Arbitral Tribunal acting with the secretarial assistance of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and that no further information would be found on its website.

A former judge of the United Nations’ International Court of Justice, Abdul G. Koroma, says the only link between the two bodies is their base in the Peace Palace in The Hague.

“The Permanent Court of Arbitration, the PCA, and the International Court of Justice share the same building in The Hague which is called the Peace Palace. So it’s not very easy for a non-lawyer to be able to make the distinction between the two bodies.”

The former judge added the purpose of any arbitral settlement is to bring peaceful resolution of a conflict, rather than for any political motives.

The United Nations has also made it clear that the Permanent Court of Arbitration is not one of its organs. – http://english.cri.cn/index.htm

UN International Court had no role in Philippines case

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) rushed to dispel the myth that it was involved in the South China Sea arbitration case filed by the Philippines, just as the United Nations made a similar online clarification.

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/L1codx6AsR4

The ICJ, the UN”s principal organ of justice, issued a notice on its website that it is “a totally distinct institution” from the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), which offered secretarial assistance to the Arbitral Tribunal that ruled on the case. The ICJ said it “has had no involvement in” that case.

It pointed out that it has posted no information about the case on its website and said that anyone seeking such information must refer to the PCA’s website.

On Wednesday, the UN said on its Sina Weibo micro blog that it “has nothing to do with” the PCA, though the ICJ is located in the Peace Palace in The Hague, as is the PCA.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Thursday that these clarifications “show there is no legitimacy or representativeness to how the temporary tribunal was composed and operated, as well as show that its so-called ruling has no authority or credibility at all, and is totally invalid and not binding.

“It seems that this also is the reason why after this illegal ruling came out, only three or four countries wishfully claimed that it was ‘legally binding’,” Lu said.

Zhao Jianwen, a researcher at the Institute of International Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the reason the UN and the ICJ made such statements is that they “want to stay clear” of the ruling in the arbitration case, which, as Zhao said quoting Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, might become “a notorious case”.

Zhao said “All of the tribunal’s expenses were paid by the Philippines, including its arbitrators’ wages, and these experts’ opinions are not neutral”. Also, the tribunal has no substantive relation with the PCA, he added.

The only relation between them is that the PCA offered secretarial service to the tribunal and the tribunal was held in the PCA’s hall, Zhao explained.

Zhao pointed out that the Arbitral Tribunal was a temporary one set up specially for proceeding the South China Sea case, and its work was “virtually done” once the ruling was issued.

By Wang Qingyun | China Daily | Beijinghttp: via The Jakarta Post: //www.thejakartapost.com/news/2016/07/15/un-international-court-had-no-role-in-philippines-case.html

Arbitral court not a UN agency

The United Nations said on Wednesday it has nothing to do with the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), which set up a tribunal that handled the South China Sea arbitration case the Philippines filed unilaterally in 2013.

In a post on its Sina Weibo micro blog, the UN said the PCA is a “tenant” of the Peace Palace in The Hague, “but has nothing to do with the UN”.

The UN said the International Court of Justice, its principal judicial organ set up according to the Charter of the UN, is also located in the Peace Palace.

The construction of the palace was managed by the Carnegie Foundation, which is still the building’s owner and manager, according to the Peace Palace website.

The UN said it makes an annual donation to the foundation for using the Peace Palace.

When asked about the Arbitral Tribunal’s case’s ruling on Tuesday, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “The UN doesn’t have a position on the legal and procedural merits” of the South China Sea arbitration case.

In response, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China will, as always, observe the goals and principles set up by the Charter of the UN, and solve maritime disputes peacefully by having talks with countries directly involved, “on the basis of firmly guarding China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime interests”.

Lu said: “China is a responsible member of the international community. It’s an important advocate and loyal implementer of the UN’s cause to push forward the international rule of law.” Li Jinming, a professor of international maritime law at Xiamen University, pointed out that the use of terms such “UN tribunal” or “UN-backed tribunal” – frequently reported by Western media – is incorrect, as they confuse the PCA with the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Wang Hanling, a maritime law researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said some countries and news media are “deliberately” confusing the tribunal with the ICJ./rga

-Inquirer.net

Related: 

Full text of statement by NPC Foreign Affairs Committee on award of South China Sea arbitration

Stay sober-minded in face of manipulated ruling

The arbitral tribunal’s award on Tuesday, which tries to deny China’s
historic claims in the South China Sea and wipe out its rights to
resources there, marked an end to the farce disguised as law.

China sticks to the path of peaceful development, and the history will finally tell who is the real [Read it]

Arbitration will only entail loss for Tokyo

If Tokyo launches an arbitration case over gas and oil fields in the East China Sea, it faces a high chance of losing.

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Homestays, a booming business: Homes vs hotels, a study of the industry


Homestays, a booming business

HOMESTAYS, once popular in rural areas, have now become big businesses in towns and cities nationwide.

Thousands of homeowners have discovered how to make money with their properties and avoid paying taxes.

They have joined global home-sharing marketplaces, and just like how Uber has made life for government-regulated taxi drivers difficult, the home-sharing phenomenon is shaving off hotel revenues.

By paying a mere 3% service fee per booking, homeowners – also called hosts – can connect with over 60 million travellers worldwide through online giants like American company Airbnb and Singapore-based HomeAway.

Airbnb’s website has a tool to help homeowners gauge their expected weekly income and according to this, the country’s chart-toppers are those in Langkawi who can make RM2,801 a week, followed by those around Malacca’s Jonker Walk (RM2,495 a week).

Close behind are Penang home-shares in Tanjung Tokong (RM2,494) and Pulau Tikus (RM2,449). In Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur, they can expect to earn RM1,676 weekly, while those near Taman Pelangi in Johor Baru can expect RM2,287 a week.

The above estimated earnings are for apartments or houses catering to groups of five travellers.

There are homeshares even in the hinterlands. They can make an average of RM923 a week in Kota Baru, Kelantan. In Kangar, Perlis, homeshares can expect to collect RM1,619 a week.

Unlike hotel occupancies, the government has no knowledge nor way of tracking these check-ins.

All the payments are transacted via the home-sharing portals’ overseas payment gateways and the earnings are transferred to homeowners through international money wires, PayPal or direct deposits.

Their guests are also “exempted” from the RM2 per room per night heritage tax fee in Malacca and Penang’s local government fee of RM3 per room per night for four-star and five-star hotels, and RM2 per room per night for three stars and below.

“They don’t have to pay corporate or income taxes. They don’t need to collect GST or report their occupancy rates.

“They don’t need to install fire doors or water sprinkler systems. If this goes on, budget hotels can just take down their signboards and become home-share operators,” said Malaysia Budget Hotels Association president P.K. Leong.

He said his association had raised the issue of home-sharing with the government several times and urged them to regulate this business but no action had been taken.

“We estimate about 15% of our business is being siphoned into the home-sharing market. And it’s not really sharing,” he said.

“People are buying residential properties specifically to start short-term rental businesses. We believe this is growing at an alarming rate but we don’t have any way to track them.”

In 2014, Airbnb was reported to have over 800,000 listings worldwide. Now, the company declares on its website that it has over two million.

Five-star resorts contacted, however, do not feel threatened by the home-sharing operators.

Managers in two five-star hotels, who declined to be named, said these setups target budget travellers who come to Penang on business or already know what to do when they come to Penang.

“Our hotel offers a level of service not found in home-shares. It’s a different market,” said one manager. – By Arnold Loh The Star

Homes versus hotels

 

Home-sharing services like Airbnb are becoming a hit among Malaysians. But hotels are urging the Government to regulate such services, claiming that rental of private apartments and studio units is illegal. Noting such calls, the Government is currently discussing how to address the matter.

LIVING rooms instead of hotel lobbies. Apartment units instead of hotel suites. This is the trend today.

More Malaysian holiday-makers are choosing to rent private properties as accommodation on their trips, instead of booking hotel rooms.

They do this using home-sharing services like Airbnb and Singapore-based HomeAway, which offer travellers the option to stay in a local host’s property.
Ranging from single rooms to entire apartment units, guests can book their accommodation from hosts, who list their property on such websites to be leased out for a fee.

Sometimes, the fees are even lower than the room rates offered by hotels.

This is one of the factors that drive the popularity of such services, with the San Francisco-based Airbnb having over two million property listings for rent from local hosts in about 191 countries around the world.

In Malaysia, home-sharing services are also gaining traction among travellers and homeowners, who want to earn some income from offering short-term rentals.

However, the hotel industry in the country is claiming that such services are eating into their business, with some estimating about 5% to 15% of their business being diverted.

Hoteliers are also saying that consumers are not fully protected under such arrangements.

Likening home-sharing services like Airbnb to Uber in the taxi business, hoteliers claim that the hosts are not subjected to the same regulations imposed on hotels and do not need to pay taxes or collect the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

As the industry calls on the Government to regulate such services, the Tourism and Culture Ministry says discussions are ongoing to address the matter while the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry is open to feedback on the issue.

Malaysian Association of Hotels president Sam Cheah sees the growing popularity of such home-sharing platforms like Airbnb as a threat to the hotel industry.

“It isn’t a level playing ground because the hosts who are offering their properties for rent are not subjected to the same requirements, including safety standards,” he says.

Cheah points out that the hosts can afford to offer lower rates because their operating costs to run their businesses are smaller.

“They pay domestic usage for quit rent and utility bills. They are not required to adhere to safety requirements such as installing proper fire protection,” he adds.

Cheah explains that hotels also have public liability insurance and protect consumers in the event of negligence or fire.

“We are obligated to protect our customers. But there is no such policy for home-sharing hosts,” he says, urging consumers to be aware of such risks.

Cheah also points out that it is illegal for homeowners to operate a business for tourists and travellers when the property is meant for domestic dwelling.

“It is unfair for residents who are neighbours of such hosts as they will have strangers walking in and out of the premises,” he says.

These tourists will also be using the swimming pool, gym and other facilities meant for residents.

However, Cheah says the association, which consists of 881 member hotels, cannot discount or prevent such a business model from being practised.

“But the Government should regulate such businesses to protect tourists and make it an even playing field for hotel operators,” he says.

If left unchecked and unregulated, Cheah foresees the Government will have a problem dealing with the projected 36 million tourist arrivals by 2020.

“If we do not regulate Airbnb and other home-sharing services, we wouldn’t be able to monitor the industry. We wouldn’t know if we have an oversupply or over-development and businesses may lose out.

“It is just like Uber and GrabCar in the taxi industry. You cannot stop them but you have to regulate them. Then it makes sense,” he says.

Echoing Cheah’s call to the Government to impose regulations, Malaysian Association of Hotel Owners secretary Anthony Wong calls such home-sharing services illegal as hosts are not licensed to provide lodging and insurance for guests.

“It is amounting to making private arrangements and guests who are hurt during their stay are unable to claim insurance for any mishaps.

“As legal entities, hotels have permits to comply with. Our operating costs are expensive and we pay taxes,” says Wong, adding that hotel rates are also competitively priced.

He claims that the emergence of such services and illegal homestays have caused hoteliers to lose about 5% in revenue.

Acknowledging the concerns by hotels, Tourism and Culture Ministry secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Ong Hong Peng says the ministry has received complaints from the industry on the emergence of home-sharing platforms.

“This issue has been acknowledged and discussed extensively by the Special Task Force on Service Delivery and its working group.

“This working group is represented by government agencies such as the ministry, Malaysia Productivity Corporation, the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry and the police,” he tells Sunday Star.

Dr Ong adds that the question of regulating home-sharing platforms and conducting enforcement on homeowners under such services comes under the purview of local councils.

In the meantime, the ministry has its Malaysian Homestay Programme, which offers a unique experience to tourists.

“The programme enables tourists to stay and interact with local families who act as hosts.

“Under this programme, families and their houses register with the ministry after completing the homestay training module and following the guidelines,” he explains.

But Dr Ong points out that this is different from merely offering accommodation as it is a community-based tourism programme which offers tourists a lifestyle experience of rural villages.

In 2015, Malaysia attracted 25.7 million tourist arrivals, a decline of 6.3% compared to 27.4 million tourist arrivals in 2014.

For the first quarter of 2016, Malaysia registered an increase of 2.8% in tourist arrivals, which Dr Ong perceives as a positive outlook.

“A strong growth in arrivals is expected for the remainder of this year,” he says.

Former Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan, who was just replaced in a Cabinet reshuffle on Monday, says it is still too early to decide whether to regulate homeowners involved in home-sharing services.

“This will require extensive discussion. The ministry welcomes feedback from stakeholders on this matter, including hoteliers, and will be more than happy to listen to their concerns,” he says.

The issue of regulating or even banning Airbnb and other home-sharing marketplaces is of growing concern.

Recently, it was reported that New York State in the United States may make it illegal to advertise apartments on Airbnb if a Bill is made into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Meanwhile, the German capital of Berlin has stopped tourists from renting entire apartment units using Airbnb and other similar websites. The move bans homeowners from leasing their property to tourists without a city permit.

Japan released national guidelines for home-sharing services, making properties only available for rent if guests stay for a week or longer.

Other places are more receptive towards home-sharing platforms, including London, which amended housing legislation that makes it legal for locals to rent out their homes through websites like Airbnb. –  By Yuen Meikeng The Star

Airbnb: Malaysia is a really ‘exciting growth market’ 

AS more Malaysians open their homes to tourists, Airbnb describes Malaysia as an “exciting growth market”.

Nevertheless, the world’s leading community-driven hospitality company also encourages hosts to familiarise themselves with regulations in their area.

“These can differ from council to council and even street to street, all over the world,” Airbnb tells Sunday Star in an email.

Despite the growth of Airbnb across Malaysia, the company says the traditional hotel sector continues to do well too, with growth in occupancy and room rates.

“We’re proud of the economic benefits Airbnb provides to families, communities and local businesses that otherwise wouldn’t benefit from the tourist dollar,” it says.

Overwhelmingly, Airbnb says its hosts are renting out their homes occasionally, earning a little extra to help supplement their income.

“The vast majority of our hosts across Malaysia are everyday people renting their spare room or home occasionally, not commercial operators,” it adds.

Airbnb also says it has a good working relationship with the Malaysian Government and have partnered with it in the past.

In December last year, it was reported that a pilot project was being conducted in Malacca involving 130 homestays in 11 villages to help them market their business using online listings.

The programme was a collaboration between the Multimedia Development Corporation, the International Trade and Industry Ministry, the Tourism and Culture Ministry and Airbnb.

Airbnb says over 80 million guests have had a safe, positive experience using the platform.

“We help promote positive experiences through a global trust and safety team available 24/7, authentic reviews, verified profile information, and the $1 Million Host Guarantee,” it says.

A check on its website showed that the Host Guarantee will reimburse eligible hosts for damages up to A$1mil (RM3.06mil).

“The Host Guarantee should not be considered a replacement or stand-in for homeowners or renters insurance,” read the website.

Airbnb also has a refund policy for guests if the host fails to provide reasonable access to the booked listing, the listing booked is misrepresented or isn’t generally clean or unsafe, among others.

“Airbnb’s community operates on the principles of trust and respect. Our host and guest review systems demonstrate our commitment to responsible behaviour,” it says.

Meanwhile, some local Airbnb hosts in Malaysia have mixed views about the idea of having the Government regulate their business.

A full-time Airbnb host in Malacca, known only as Chen, says she welcomes such a move as long as it is done fairly and does not overly restrict the business.

“It can be beneficial for both the hosts and guests.

“If we are given licences by the Government, we can even put up signages to advertise our business. And for guests, they would have more protection,” says the 30-year-old lass who rents out one apartment and two townhouses.

Chen, a former marketing manager, quit her job two years ago to become a full-time Airbnb host, calling it her “interest and passion”.

She denies having any opposition from her neighbours in renting out her properties to tourists.

“I informed my neighbours before doing this. While they were initially doubtful, they are now happy I have guests,” Chen adds.

And in the event the Government decides to ban such services, Chen says hosts like herself will transform and adapt to the situation.

“This is the global trend and many are using this business model now. It is important to stay competitive and adapt to the times,” she says.

Another full-time host, Ridzuan Effendy, 29, hopes the Government does not impose regulations on Airbnb.

“Home-sharing services aren’t the same as hotels. Many tourists use Airbnb because the prices are cheaper compared to hotels.

“It is a case of having a willing buyer and seller. It shouldn’t be illegal,” says the former engineer, who lists his properties in Kuala Lumpur.

Related: Travellers drawn to cheap prices

Home-shares annoy neighbours 

BE nice. Buy fruits for your guests or colouring books for their kids and potentially make RM8,000 or more each month renting your apartment or house to short-stay tourists.

Unofficial hotel: At one time, nine of the 28 units of one of the blocks in Halaman Pulau Tikus were available for short-term rentals by medical tourists.>>>

The key performance indicators for home-share operators are the guest reviews on their listings in global marketplaces like Airbnb and HomeAway.

“My guests and I review each other. It’s like Uber (global ride hailing app). You will know your guests’ reputation and your guests will also know yours.

“If anything bad happens, the guests or I can report it to Airbnb and we can be banned,” said an operator in Penang who only wants to be known as Sue, a housewife.

She rents out a house in Batu Ferringhi (RM320 a night) and a condominium unit in Pulau Tikus (RM400 a night) as a host on Airbnb and said her properties were now rated four-and-a-half stars.

The location may seem to be a secondary consideration, with one three-bedroom low-medium cost apartment in Air Itam having a five-star rating on Airbnb.

“It may look like a low-cost apartment from the outside and parking is limited. But it is lovely inside. Love the design and everything,” wrote a reviewer.

From the photos on this listing, the owner had decorated the place with a profusion of wallpaper and the furnishings and paintings within can rival a plush hotel room. There is bed space for up to eight guests and it is only RM150 a night.

But the surge of home-share operators may have inconvenienced neighbours.

Halaman Pulau Tikus management corporation chairman Khoo Boo Eng said his block in Lengkok Berjaya had become the haunt of medical tourists looking for a place to stay while seeking treatment here since several years ago.

He said he had seen medical tourists arrive who were truly sick.

“They shouldn’t be allowed to stay in our residential area. Some of my neighbours are worried that if they had contagious diseases, we would all be at risk,” he said.

He said at one time, nine out of 28 apartments in his block were rented out this way and many unit owners complained about the constant flow of strangers.

“Ours is a small, exclusive residence. We had to install extra security cameras and have a security guard 24 hours a day for our residents’ safety.

“They are making commercial use of their residential properties. We are planning to take them to court and seek injunctions to stop them from renting to short-stay guests,” he said.

Earlier in the week, officials from four departments of the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) carried out a spot check and four unit owners in Birch Regency Condominium in Datuk Keramat were fined RM250 each for operating a business without licence.

They knocked on the doors of 15 units believed to be available for rent on a short-term basis and found four being occupied – two units by Singaporeans, one by Australians and another by Canadians.

Tanjung MP Ng Wei Aik, who was present, said the officers spoke to the foreigners who confirmed they were here on holiday.

However, owners argued that there were no laws prohibiting them from renting out their units for any length of time.

One hurdle they had to go through is the complaints from other condo owners.

“We get many complaints from our fellow residents about these short-stay guests. We’re just doing our duty to maintain the peace in our condominium,” said a condominium committee member.

When contacted, Penang Island City Council Building Department director Yew Tung Seang said there could be a legal loophole that would make it hard for authorities to stop residential property owners from offering short-term rentals.

“Property owners have the right to earn rent and there is a grey area over short-term and long-term rentals.

“But when apartments or houses become like hotels, their operations can become a nuisance for neighbours.

“The council is planning a machinery to control this sort of activity,” he added.

In January, Johor Tourism, Trade and Consumerism committee chairman Datuk Tee Siew Kiong was reported as saying that homestay operators at housing estates in the urban areas in the state would no longer be allowed to use the word “homestay” to promote their accommodation.

He said there were plans to regulate and standardise the homestay segment in Johor.

He said many home owners in the urban areas had converted their properties into homestay facilities to cater to customers looking for a short stay.

In the United States’ New York State, legislators tabled a bill last month to ban the advertising of short-term home rentals of less than 30 days, with fines of up to US$7,500 (RM30,000).

“Every day I hear from New Yorkers who are sick and tired of living in buildings that have been turned into illegal hotels through Airbnb because so many units are rented out to tourists, not permanent residents,” Manhattan assembly-woman Linda Rosenthal was reported as saying last month.

It was reported that New York City has over 40,000 home-share listings and each earns an average of US$5,700 (RM23,300) a month.

Study the homestay industry

 

I REFER to the reports “Home versus hotels” and “Travellers drawn to cheap prices” ( Sunday Star, July 3) and “Govern home-share under new laws” (see above).

It is well known that homestay is popular not only in Malaysia but also all over the world now. I have used both types of lodgings and find pros and cons in both.

Homestays are likened to the Airbnb concept which was launched in 2008 and has experienced rapid growth since then. Statistics show that at the end of 2015, Airbnb hosted eight million guests, chalked up three million nights of cumulative booking, were used by 50,000 renters per night and has a market capitalisation of US$2.5bil. This demonstrates the effectiveness and popularity of the concept used by Airbnb.

However, in the US where this concept began, there is concern among the traditional hospitality industry that it is a threat to their business. There is pressure on the government to either put a stop to Airbnb activities or regulate them. According to a report commissioned by hotel associations in the US, some of the financial effects of Airbnb (focused in New York city but gives a strong indication of what may be happening in other parts of the world too) are:

i) Airbnb is growing because it is less labour intensive and requires lower level of service;

ii) There is no marginal cost for such services as new rooms can be added incrementally (or removed) and overheads are negligible compared to hotels;

iii) Hotels were losing revenue due to loss of room nights. This also had an ancillary effect on other services offered by the hotels such as F&B outlets and business centres; and

iv) Hotels in areas where Airbnb is established have responded to increased competition by reducing their prices.

I also looked up issues of competition in this market which may be a cause for concern. If we look at the homestay concept, what it offers is the opportunity for consumers on the supply side to supplement their income by providing a service via a peer-to-peer platform. It also offers travellers a chance to live like the locals and take part in cultural exchanges.

It is also basically a connection where supply meets demand and other needs such as budget constraints, personalised service, easy accessibility and homely atmosphere and all are rolled into one. Airbnb portrays itself as “a platform that allows the little guy to build up a complimentary industry, one that increases the size of the hospitality pie rather than take a slice from existing business.”

Applying this concept in Malaysia, it is a wonderful way to not only expand our hospitality industry especially in areas where hotel rooms are limited or extremely expensive but also allow locals to interact (people from the peninsula going to Sabah and Sarawak and vice versa, for example) or foreigners a chance to live like the locals.

This would in turn generate a multiplier effect on the local economy as other services such as restaurants, laundry, cleaning or transport would be required to support the homestay service. Besides all these, it would put money in the pockets of local residents and also support small businesses outside the hotel districts.

Will the homestay industry be a threat to the hotels? From a competition point of view, there may be some concerns (especially to budget hotels) but these could easily be overcome with careful formulation of policies and guidelines.

As consumer demand has shifted, the markets are or may be different, and it is ultimately up to the consumer to choose where he wants to stay.

Hotels are mainly located in the city or town centres and offer better services, amenities and standards. On the other hand, homestays and Airbnb serve up lodging options that cater to a more local and less touristy experience. Hotels and Airbnb/ homestays operate differently so there is room for both to coexist as long as they are after different customers.

Having said that, regulators and policy makers in Malaysia need to carefully study the implications of introducing regulations to homestay or Airbnb users from the supply side. Many countries have taken steps to address the issues emerging from the rapid rise of Airbnb and homestays. It would be useful for the Malaysia Competition Commission (MyCC) to commission a study on the effects of such concepts on the hospitality industry in Malaysia. This will then give the policy makers some empirical studies to formulate the required guidelines or regulations.

Competition is always threatened when there is a threat to the sharing economy (as in Uber versus the traditional taxi service). The sharing economy is where industry can collaboratively make use of under-utilised inventory via fee-based sharing. The market is always uncertain and nervous when a new marketplace is created, which in turn increases the difficulty of defining the market in competition law. The way businesses are being done and change in consumers’ tastes all merit a thorough study before any action is taken to manage a growing industry.

Two factors have arguable given rise to the rapid growth of peer-to-peer platforms – technology innovations and supply side flexibility. A win-win situation is always possible. If competition is distorted, as in when people buy into residential property to turn it into a business venture, that is when the authorities could step in.

By SHILA DORAI RAJ Founding and former CEO Malaysia Competition Commission

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Brexit boosts bitcoin price, Is bitcoin a safe haven?


‘Brexit’ Boosts Bitcoin Price, But Too Early to Call it a Safe Haven

Despite the increase in the price of bitcoin amid the UK’s recent EU referendum, a new research note from Needham & Company asserts it might be too early to call the digital currency a “safe haven” asset.

Global bitcoin prices have risen nearly 6% over the day’s trading to reach a high of $680, a figure up more than $100 from a low of $561.46 on 23rd June. Market observers were quick to assert the increase, which occurred as sentiment in the ‘Brexit’ vote shifted, was a sign this uncertainty had encouraged new investment in the digital currency markets.

However, Needham said its researchers are “hesitant” to call bitcoin a safe haven alongside gold, US Treasurys, yen and USD.

The note reads:

“For one, calling it such obfuscates the fact that bitcoin is a high-risk and volatile investment and, second, bitcoin’s correlation to other traditional safe-haven assets has fluctuated significantly.”

Still, Needham called the ‘Brexit’ a positive for the digital currency market, as it shows that bitcoin has the potential to rally around marcoeconomic uncertainty and on developments within its own technical ecosystem.

“On the one hand, bitcoin is performing like a safe-haven asset but, on the other hand, its newness and dynamism do not resemble US Treasurys or gold,” the note reads.

Ultimately, the note concludes bitcoin might not fit into any existing asset definitions, concluding:

“We believe that bitcoin is something entirely different that does not fit into the normal buckets that investments are typically bracketed into.” – http://www.coindesk.com

Is bitcoin a safe haven against mainstream money mayhem?

We unlock the mystery of the digital currency with a cult following

bitcoin/ n. A type of digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank.

Eh? No wonder so many people are confused about bitcoin. What you see above is the Oxford Online Dictionary definition of what is probably the most fashionable currency in the world. I realise that’s not saying much: currencies don’t usually have cult followings. But if the euro is the nerd no one wants to be seen with, bitcoin is the coolest kid in the class.

Perhaps part of the attraction of bitcoin for techie types is the very fact that it’s such a mystery to everyone else, accustomed as we are to traditional currencies. That makes the bitcoin club very exclusive.

So what is a ‘digital currency’ anyway? How can any kind of real money exist only in a digital form? Well, the two things that enable it to work are a) the fact that there are a finite number of bitcoins in existence, and b) the clever bit of technology that underpins it: the blockchain.

The blockchain is, in a way, the best thing about bitcoin. Safe to say that whatever may happen to bitcoin in the ephemeral world of digital fads, blockchains have a serious future in the technology of payments and money transmission: central banks are already working on what that future might be. Essentially, a blockchain is a record of digital events: in the case of bitcoin, any change in ownership of any one ‘coin’. This record is impossible to change, so it can’t be edited after it has been confirmed. The only way of altering the blockchain is by adding to it, rather than erasing previous entries. And the record is not stored in just one place, but shared across hundreds or thousands of networked computers, making it harder to hack.

The other interesting thing is that the system is anonymous. Unlike a bank or Paypal, which request all sorts of personal details from you, bitcoin doesn’t care who you are. That makes it popular with people who don’t want their financial activities traced, whether because they are extreme libertarians or because they have something to hide. Many users feel a political affinity with the bitcoin concept of a currency that functions independently of any bank, government or institution full of men in suits. As one user told me: ‘Bitcoin doesn’t have a CEO; it has no ability to care either way about who uses it or why.’

But beyond those who want to hide, is bitcoin flourishing among everyday consumers? Well, it’s certainly a growth market. Plenty of people have given it a shot to see what the fuss is about, but it’s the drug-dealing and cybercrime fraternities that allegedly make up a large proportion of bitcoin turnover.

When, for example, the first Silk Road online market-place (a site which mostly sold drugs on the ‘dark web’, the part of the internet inaccessible through normal search engines) was shut down in 2013 by the FBI, the price of bitcoin saw a short-term crash because so many coins had been seized by the US authorities.

But one aficionado who has lived off bitcoin trading for the last two years told me: ‘It’s very convenient to paint the whole [bitcoin user] group as one homogenous entity. But I’ve met people from all sides of the political spectrum in bitcoin forums on the internet.’

What else is bitcoin good for? Charities are keen to use it, especially when transferring money to, say, Africa, because the transaction costs are much smaller than with services such as Western Union. A number of places and websites also accept bitcoin payment (full list at http://www.wheretospendbitcoins.co.uk), including the Pembury Tavern in Hackney, which was the first British pub to join this new marketplace.

But bitcoin, as with any other currency, is still at the mercy of exchange-rate fluctuations. Even the most dedicated bitcoin users agree on this point: it’s no more reliable than any other currency, and possibly less so. In the past, bitcoin prices against US dollars have fluctuated massively in short spaces of time — and with no central authority in control, its market is vulnerable to manipulation.

The same applies to bitcoin as an investment: will it stand the test of time? One benefit — so it is said — is that once 21 million bitcoins have been released, production will stop, meaning that your virtual cash could hold its value, on grounds of scarcity, more than a traditional currency. But some devotees have already raised the question of removing or raising that cap.

Meanwhile, Wall Street has also been showing more interest in the currency, with a bitcoin index introduced on the New York Stock Exchange last year. It also has been gaining traction in countries with unstable currencies or weak banking systems. If the mainstream financiers who brought the world to its knees in 2008 decide to embrace bitcoin, who knows what will happen to it.

So how about bitcoin as a hedge against the Brexit result, or a safe haven in the current round of financial turmoil? Whichever way the EU vote goes, it looks like sterling is in for a torrid time in the short to medium term, and shares have already gone into a bear market. So if you’re looking for somewhere safer to keep your cash, is bitcoin an option?

It’s certainly a volatile proposition: you might make money if your timing is exactly right but if there’s a sudden panic over bitcoin’s future, the bottom could fall out of this market very quickly indeed. There’s always a risk of cyberattack too, especially given that so many bitcoin users tend to be high-level techies.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that this is the first digital currency to go large — and just look at the fate of other web firsts. Few of the earliest social media networks are still going today; everyone in the digital arena is always looking for the new, new thing.

Bitcoin is an intriguing phenomenon, for sure, but its fate hangs in the balance. Would I risk putting my savings into such a mysterious thing? No, probably not. But a small punt? Well, in an uncertain world, it’s got to be worth a try.

Source: By Camilla Swift The Spectator

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China’s new generation carrier rocket blasts off in Wenchang, Hainan province


Video:  https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/5594IBy2qQA

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/iu0aAH-C2p0

https://youtu.be/JQPk0RnSHoE

A Long March-7 carrier rocket lifts off from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, south China’s Hainan Province, June 25, 2016. [Photo: Xinhua/Li Gang]

Insight: Successful rocket launch gets China one step closer to own space station

WENCHANG, Hainan, June 25 (Xinhua) — China on Saturday successfully blasted off its new generation carrier rocket Long March-7 from Wenchang space launch center in south China’s Hainan province.

In a cloud of white smoke, the rocket ascended against the dark sky, trailing a vast column of flame. Space fans in specially set up viewing areas erupted with applause.

Minutes later, Zhang Youxia, commander-in-chief of China’s manned space program, declared the launch a success.

The rocket’s payload separated from the rocket 603 seconds after blast-off, and entered an oval orbit with a low point, or perigee, of 200 kilometers, and a high point, or apogee, of 394 kilometers.

The launch is the first by the Wenchang site, and the 230th of China’s Long March carrier rocket family.

Its mission is to verify the design and performance of the new carrier rocket, to evaluate mission execution capacity of the Wenchang launch site, and to check coordination and compatibility of project-related systems.


NEW CARRIER

The Long March-7 is a medium-sized, two-stage rocket that can carry up to 13.5 tonnes to low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Earlier reports said the rocket now uses kerosene and liquid oxygen as fuel, rather than the highly toxic propellant, making it more environmental friendly and less expensive.

Experts forecast that the 53.1-meter-long, 597-tonne rocket will become the main carrier for China’s future space missions.

Its 13.5-tonne LEO payload capacity means it can carry 1.5 times as much as the country’s current launch vehicles.

“The more our rockets can lift, the farther we can venture into space,” said Ma Zhonghui, chief designer for the rocket.

“Long March-7’s successful maiden flight will greatly lift up China’s comprehensive space capacity, and give the country a hefty boost in building itself into a space power,” he said.

In many senses, the blast-off of the Long March-7 is of key importance to China’s space programs, deemed by many a source of surging national pride and a marker of its global stature and technical expertise.

The rocket’s payload includes a scaled-down version of “a reentry module of a multi-function spacecraft,” said Wu Ping, a deputy director with China’s manned space program.

Wu said the 2,600-kg re-entry module is expected to return to Earth on Sunday afternoon, some 20 hours after the Long March-7 launch.

It is expected to land in a desert in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, close to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Data collected from the re-entry experiment will help with future research on a new generation manned spacecraft, Wu said.

WHAT’S ABOARD

Also onboard the Long March-7 rocket are an “Aolong-1” space debris clearer, two “Tiange” data relay spacecraft, a CubeSat designed to study Earth’s gravitational field and space radiation, and a space refueling device that could be used to resupply satellites and space stations to extend their operating life spans.

After being separated from the Long March-7, they will be carried into different orbits onboard an upgraded “space shuttle bus” Yuanzheng-1A, tasked to send these spacecraft in the next 48 hours using its own power system.

Saturday’s launch also marks a key step towards China’s plan to eventually operate a permanent space station in the final step of the country’s three-phase manned space program.

The country launched its first manned spaceflight in 2003, and blasted off its first space lab Tiangong-1 in 2011.

The next and final step will be to assemble and operate a 60-tonne space station around 2022.

To do that, Chinese engineers have planned four space launches within ten months till April next year, of which the Long March-7 mission is the first.

A second mission in late September will put the Tiangong-2 space lab into orbit, and the third one will see the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft, which will carry two Taikonauts, dock with Tiangong-2 in October.

In April 2017, the country’s first cargo ship Tianzhou-1, which literally means “heavenly vessel,” will be sent to dock with Tiangong-2 in the final mission.

NEW LAUNCH SITE

Wenchang will be the main launch site for future space station missions, including the launch of Tianzhou-1.

Completed in 2014, the Wenchang launch site is the the fourth of its kind in China.

Among the other three, Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Dessert is currently the nation’s only manned spacecraft launch center, while Xichang in southwest China’s Sichuan Province is mainly used to launch powerful-thrust rockets and geostationary satellites.

The third, Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in north China’s Shanxi Province, is capable of launching satellites into both medium and low orbits.

Being the closest site to the equator, Wenchang boasts considerable latitudinal advantages – Satellites launched from low latitudes are expected to have a longer service life as a result of the fuel saved by a shorter maneuver from transit to geosynchronous orbit. That extra fuel can later be used to regulate and sustain orbit.

This means rockets launched in Wenchang could will allow their payload to be increased by more than 300 kg, 7.4 percent more than from any of the other three centers.

By Wang Cong, Fu Shuangqi Xinhua

China’s New Carrier Rocket to Launch 1st Cargo Spacecraft in 2017

The latest version of China’s carrier rocket, the Long March-7, has been successfully launched from the Wenchang launch center in Hainan.

Long March-7 is going to be used mostly to transport cargo to China’s future space stations, as well as satellites and other spacecraft.

Saturday’s launch marks a key step towards China’s plan to eventually operate a permanent space station, which is the final step of China’s three-phased manned space program.

The Long March-7 rocket has been designed as a cargo spacecraft, and is set to haul most of the components for China’s planned space station.

Wu Ping is deputy director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office.

“The Long March-7 project began in January 2011 as a baseline model for China’s latest generation of medium-sized carrier rockets. According to the plan, the Long March-7 is expected to launch China’s first cargo spacecraft in April 2017. During the construction and operation of the space station, the rocket and the cargo spacecraft will serve as a transport system to replenish supplies and propellant for the station.”

The 53-meter, 597-ton, liquid-fueled rocket can carry up to 13.5 tons into low-Earth orbit.

Wang Xiaojun, General Director of the Long March-7 Project, says getting the Long March-7 active is critical in meeting the goal of getting a space station running by 2022.

“The Long March-7 carrier rocket uses kerosene and liquid oxygen as fuel and a low-temperature pressurization system. Powered by six engines, it has a takeoff thrust of 730 tons and can carry 1.5 times as much as the current launch vehicles, which means a significant step forward in our country’s rocket development project.”

The Wenchang Satellite Launch Center is the fourth of its kind in China, after the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu, the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan and the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi.

Located on China’s southernmost point, the Wenchang center allows better access to geostationary orbit for Chinese satellites.

It will be the main launch site for most future space station missions.

Wang Jingzhong, CPC chief of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan, says the Wenchang launch site in Hainan will help relieve a lot of pressure off their facility.

“The center will be used for the launch of geosynchronous satellites, large polar orbiting satellites, low and medium Earth orbit spacecraft, cargo spacecraft, space stations, as well as deep space exploration and other missions. It will also be used during the third phase of China’s lunar exploration program and the launch of the Chang’e-5 probe.”

Meanwhile, Chinese space officials are suggesting the Long March-5 rocket series is also going to make its debut later this year from the Wenchang facility.

Those rockets are designed for long-range space missions.

It’s expected to carry the Chang’e-5 lunar probe into space sometime next year, which will finish China’s three-step — orbiting, landing and return — moon exploration program.

China will also send its second orbiting space lab Tiangong-2 into space this year, as well as launch the Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft.

As part of China’s space lab program, the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft will carry two astronauts on board to dock with Tiangong-2.

The two astronauts have already been chosen and are currently under intense training. – (CRI Online)

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China to launch second space lab Tiangong-2 in SeptemberChina to launch second space lab Tiangong-2 in September  2016

China will send its second orbiting space lab Tiangong-2 into space in mid September, said a senior official with manned space program.

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BDS, the Beidou Navigation Satellite System from China


https://www.youtube.com/embed/4cjicmbU138

https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ra3X5ukQmNw

China launches 23rd BeiDou satellite into space – CCTV News – CCTV.com English

http://t.cn/R5SsGFc


China eyes Silk Road countries for its Beidou satellite system

18 satellites to launch for BDS by 2018

China on Thursday vowed national efforts to complete its Beidou satellite navigation system to serve global users by 2020, with priority going to countries involved in the new Silk Road initiative.

The current goal of developing China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) is to “provide basic services to countries along the land and maritime Silk Roads and in neighboring regions by 2018, and to complete the constellation deployment of 35 satellites by 2020 to provide services to global users,” said a white paper released Thursday by the State Council Information Office.

A “globalized” BDS would have “positive and practical significance” in terms of connectivity around the globe, especially the interconnection between China and Southeast Asian countries under the Silk Road plan, known as the Belt and Road initiative, Huang Jun, a professor at the School of Aeronautic Science and Engineering at Beihang University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

In line with the Belt and Road initiative, China will jointly build satellite navigation augmentation systems with relevant nations and promote international applications of navigation technologies, the white paper states.

To fulfill the 2018 goal, the country plans to launch some 18 satellites for the BDS by 2018, Ran Chengqi, BDS spokesperson, told a press conference on Thursday.

“In priority Chinese cities such as Beijing and Urumqi in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, as well as low latitude countries like Thailand, the BDS is capable of offering a positioning accuracy of better than five meters,” said Ran, who is also director of China’s Satellite Navigation System Management Office.

Since 2015, the country has sent up seven more satellites into space in support of the BDS, including five navigation satellites and two backup satellites, Ran added, citing Sunday’s launch of the BDS’ 23rd satellite – a backup satellite – as an example.

In 2020, the BDS might offer different positioning accuracy choices and could provide centimeter-level accuracy under certain requirements, said Lu Weijun, a BDS expert at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications.

Unique features

Despite being a late starter compared with the US-developed GPS, China’s BDS has unique features, Huang said, citing the BDS short-message communication service as an example.

“The short-message communication service is mainly useful in places with insufficient ground and mobile communication capabilities, such as deserts, seas and disaster areas where communication facilities have been destroyed,” Lu told the Global Times.

More than 40,000 fishing vessels along China’s coastline have been equipped with the BDS application terminals, Ran said, adding that they also provided better communication for islands near the coastline.

The BDS short-message communication service is mainly handled by five Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellites, Lu said. Located above China, the five GEO satellites mainly serve a coverage area of Chinese territories and the Asia-Pacific region” and “could be used to locally enhance the signal in wartime, when other satellites might have been closed.”

An independently designed global navigation and positioning network would also contribute to national security, Huang said.

Industrial chain

China is developing chips, modules and other basic products based on the BDS and other compatible systems, and fostering an independent BDS industrial chain, the white paper noted.

“By the end of April, the BDS technology has been applied to more than 24 million terminals and over 18 million mobile phones,” Ran said.

It is expected that by the end of this year, up to 50 million mobile phones will have been installed with domestic chips that will be compatible with three satellite navigation systems, namely the BDS, GPS and Russia’s GLONASS, Wang Hansheng, vice president of Olink Star, a Beijing-based company that makes navigation satellite system products, told the Global Times.

By Ding Xuezhen Source:Global Times

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Smartphones going modular


A near-final prototype of Google’s Project Ara. – Photo : ©Google ATAP

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/Mo4GeSil9fU

There has been much talk of modular smartphones this spring, after LG released its G5 handset and Google presented a near-final version of its Project Ara.

Modular smartphones differ from regular mobiles thanks to their “building block” design, made up of various interchangeable modules containing different hardware components. These can be switched quickly and easily to boost performance or replace faulty parts.

The current wave of modular smartphones draws on a concept created by a Dutch designer, Dave Hakkens, whose Phonebloks mobile is based on a set of small modules (processor, hard disk, camera, etc.) that can be easily changed and updated.

Once assembled, they form a smartphone with varying levels of performance and functionality, a bit like a desktop PC. As well as making savings for users, a modular design can also help counter planned obsolescence in smartphones.

This idea inspired Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP), who went on to develop Project Ara. Initially presented as a similar project to Phonebloks, comprising almost as many modules as a smartphone has components, the handset evolved, little by little, into a slightly less ambitious prototype presented at the last Google I/O conference in Mountain View, California.

It now takes the form of a smartphone with just six interchangeable modules, including a second display, a camera, memory, a speaker, etc. The screen, processor and RAM are all grouped together in one core block that cannot be modified. A developers’ kit is due to be released in the fall ahead of a planned consumer launch in 2017.

Another smartphone based on the same idea hails from Finland. However, the PuzzlePhone hasn’t been the focus of anywhere near as much media attention as Google’s concept.

This modular mobile only has three interchangeable blocks: one for the display, another for the battery and one main system block housing the processor, memory and camera. It should go on sale before the end of 2016.

The only modular smartphone currently available to buy is the LG G5, unveiled at the 2016 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, back in February.

This handset has a slide-out bottom for changing the battery in just a few seconds. As well as its removable battery, additional interchangeable elements can be added to the phone, such as camera and audio modules. The LG G5 is out now priced at around $650.

Check out Project Ara in this video below:

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/aWW5mQadZAY
Sources: AFP – RelaxNews

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