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Roundup: CoralHub, India Today’s NewsBuzzer, BSNL, MTNL, India Value Fund, Matrix Partners, DoT

Vishal Info Subsidiary To Launch Book Portal

CoralHub Online Service, a subsidiary of e-publishing company Vishal Information Technologies has published classics since 2006 and has a catalog of 5,600 titles.  It will be launching an online book store with 3 million books, and plans to ramp it up to 60 million by September.  (MyIris)

It will be competing against Infibeam’s recently launched bookstore, Pustak, Flipkart, Rediff Books, In.com Books, eBay’s Books section and FutureBazaar Books.  Pustak claims to have 20 million books, so CoralHub’s ability to scale up and offer a wider variety will be crucial in this market.  eBay also owns Half.ebay.com, a second hand store for books, music, DVDs and CDs. The design looks like it was done sometime early in 2000, and certainly needs to take cues on content discovery from the likes of Amazon.

India Today’s News Buzzer Service

India Today has set up a group Twitter service that is fed by its journalists. News Buzzer sees a constant stream of twitter updates from across the country. Though it says it brings news from the “corridors of glamour,” we find it retains the same theme of the magazine – India related political news. News Buzzer on Twitter has 1,921 updates logged as of the time of writing this article and 401 followers. You can comment either on the website or on Twitter. News Buzzer’s updates are just a flood of formal-sounding, clipped headlines without attributions/references. If Twitter has taught us one thing it is that quality is more important that quantity. What is the ultimate goal for this service – is it just a public wire service?

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BSNL In Talks With Essar’s Kenyan Subsidiary For 15% Stake

BSNL has been hunting for an African telco in which to acquire a minority stake for a while now and is now in talks with Essar Telecom Kenya (branded as Yu), in which Essar group recently bought 80% stake. BSNL is said to be eyeing a 10-15% stake in the telco. In February 2009, Yu has 250,000 customers and is present in Kenya, Nairobi and coastal hub Mombasa. It entered into a network sharing arrangement with Zain and plans to roll out across the nation by end-2009. Other telcos in the market include Safaricom, Orange Kenya and Zain. Essar is currently also in talks with the Dhabi Group to acquire the latter’s African assets – Warid Telecom Uganda and Warid Congo. (ET)

Our Take: Looks like Africa is quickly becoming an arena for nimble telcos to set up shop.

Related: African Adventure: After Kenya, Essar Telecom Goes To Uganda

MTNL Open To Joint Ventures In India & Abroad

It has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the department of telecom (DoT) for the year 2009-10 that it will explore the possibilities for entering into strategic alliances and joint ventures. Its net profit for FY 2008-09 was down 63% at Rs. 214.82 crore. (PTI)

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Our Take: This would help the asphyxiated telco to enter new markets and gain more subscribers. MTNL is currently limited to 2 cities – Mumbai and Delhi; BSNL has licenses for the rest of India.

FIPB rejects proposal of 500 million in IVF

The Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) has rejected Mauritius-based investment fund Indium’s second attempt to park funds in private equity firm India Value Fund. In April, Indium planned to invest $90 million but was rejected as it was not a SEBI-authorised foreign VC fund. This time, the amount is $500 million.

IVF already has over Rs. 40 billion in its kitty and invests in healthcare, retailing, outsourced services and media & entertainment startups. It has invested in IPTV provider Atria Convergence Technologies (ACT TV), V-Link Travel Solutions (Meru Cabs), Music Broadcast (Radio City) and Kerala-based hospital chain DM Healthcare. (ET)

Related: India Value Fund Closes Fund IV At $725M (VCCircle)

Matrix Partners Ready With New Fund

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Matrix Partners has closed its most recent fund Matrix IX, which plans to invest $600 million in consumer internet, software, mobile, communications and system ventures.

DoT May Cap Number of Players

About 24 companies whose applications are pending with the government may never get to roll out. DoT is discussing with the telecom regulator TRAI if it should place  a cut off on the number of telcos in the country considering scarcity of spectrum and to ensure quality of service. (Business Line)

Why BSNL-MTNL Should Not Be Merged

Combining two sick people makes them sicker: BSNL MD Kuldeep Goyal’s plan to merge it with MTNL may not work out as planned. It, besides clubbing marketing flaws and inefficiency, will result in BSNL salary levels going up to MTNL ones –  expenses rising while revenues are stagnating can only be disastrous. (Business Standard)

Our Take: This has been talked about since as far back as we can remember, maybe even during the Ketan Parekh boom in 2001. In a business that operates on scale, a smaller inefficient telco like MTNL will continue to struggle. At the same time, BSNL’s profits have been hit by rising staff costs. Cost rationalisation and axing a few jobs will help the telco become more effective.

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