Tech Roundup / Stymieing Smartphone Smugglers

Suny, Israel's official importer of Samsung phones, floats a plan to save the state taxes; startups Wochit and Any.Do raise millions.

Smartphone smuggling, a growth industry: Suny, the official importer of Samsung phones to Israel, estimates that half a million smartphones get smuggled into Israel every year. It therefore concludes that the State of Israel is out half a billion shekels in tax each year. Its math is based on $275 in tax from each phone smuggled in by criminals or folks not thinking about the ramifications of picking up an iPhone or Galaxy 4 abroad. Suny has a remedy in mind: Every phone bears an identification number called the IMEI. The state would maintain a "white list" of legally imported phones on which tax has been paid. Anybody can buy a phone overseas, bring it in, and pay tax on it. The mobile companies wouldn't be allowed to sell service to unlisted phones. C'est tout.

Telcos feel the heat: Two major telcos filed their first-quarter results Thursday, Bezeq and HOT. The one wilted under the fierce fire of competition, while the other found ways to benefit from it, while however watching its margins disappear. To wit:

Competition squeezing Bezeq: The Bezeq group reported a 12% drop in consolidated revenues for the first quarter of 2013, compared with the same quarter of 2012, to NIS 2.4 billion. It is true that its revenues were at the upper end of analyst forecasts. Profits shrank 15% year over year to NIS 761 million. Bezeq's main problem is competition in the mobile industry: Mobile subsidiary Pelephone reported that 59,000 users jumped ship in the quarter and that revenues fell 22% year over year to NIS 964 million, of which a quarter came from equipment sales.

Getting hotter: Meanwhile, the HOT cable TV company reported a 4% year over year increase in revenues to NIS 1.06 billion. Profit, however, decreased 72% (to NIS 17 million) and the company doesn't expect to do better any time soon because competition is hurting. All that said, HOT reported new users in all segments of its activity. HOT Mobile now has 758,000 users (including MIRS), though the company has a churn rate of 52% -- which means 52% of its customers canceled their contracts during the first quarter. HOT's fixed-line segment added 8,000 phone lines (while Bezeq  admitted canceling 26,000 lines). In Internet lines, though, HOT added 3,000 users but Bezeq added 16,000. Nu. In multichannel television, HOT added 2,000 clients and Bezeq (Yes) none.

Ministry claims competition saved you money: After two years of bloody competition in the mobile industry, the Communications Ministry claims Israeli citizens saved NIS 5.7 billion. Thanks to competition introducing cut-rate plans, an Israeli household with three cellphones saved NIS 1,900 a year, the ministry claims. The phones themselves dropped up to 60% in price, and the cost of calls has plunged 75%. Freed from the shackles of binding contracts with expensive penalties, Israelis briskly replaced expensive plans with cheaper ones, the ministry said: Only 200,000 switched provider "before competition," while in 2012 some 1.5 million switched provider.

Wochit raises $4.8 million: Wochit ("Your own newsroom"), an Israel-based startup, raised $4.75 million, to be precise. What the company does is produce video clips for the post-newspaper age, of two types: news briefs based on scanning news sites, and videos based on content provided by the customer. Who does it sell to? News sites and the like: The company explains that fresh, kicky videos are surfer magnets. It also claims to have "masterful production."

Any.DO scores $3.5 million: The Israeli startup Any.DO this week completed a $3.5 million funding round. The company, founded in 2010, developed a productivity app to manage lists of tasks and reminders. The company's lists-management app is a category leader and has 0.98% market share of iOS users in the U.S., according to Onavo Insights.

With writing by Orr Hirschauge, Amitai Ziv and Inbal Orpaz

Reuters