Internet of Things set to multiply as Apple joins Saudi-backed tech fund

PIF, Saudi Arabia’s top sovereign wealth fund, last year invested $3.5 billion in the US ride-hailing firm Uber, which is developing self-driving cars. (AP)
Updated 06 January 2017
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Internet of Things set to multiply as Apple joins Saudi-backed tech fund

JEDDAH: A $100 billion fund devoted to technology sounds large — but it is aimed squarely at a new Internet revolution set to be even bigger.
Apple this week confirmed plans to invest in SoftBank’s massive $100 billion “Vision Fund,” a joint effort with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which is reportedly pumping in as much as $45 billion.
SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son has positioned the fund as being at the forefront of new technologies like artificial intelligence and the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), which refers to web-connected devices ranging from light bulbs to fridges and cars.
And while the size of the fund is vast, so are the opportunities in IoT, technology experts say.
According to analysts Gartner, there will be some 21 billion Internet-connected objects by 2020, up from fewer than 6.5 billion today.
Dany Farha, chief executive and managing partner of the Dubai-based Beco Capital, and one of the biggest players in the region’s venture capital space, said that the technology marked a huge opportunity.
“It will make the iPhone, which already was a massive phenomenon… look small,” he told Arab News.
“This is (billions) of devices connected, speaking to each other, from home to consumer, to business, to security… And you can imagine how much of an ecosystem that will enable.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that Apple would invest in an IoT fund. Because… they are trying to own the consumer experience, particularly at home. And imagine how many items at home can and will be connected, and therefore are IoT devices: Your fridge, your TV, your entertainment, your toilet, your security — the locks — everything is going to be connected to the Internet.”
SoftBank has said it is investing at least $25 billion in the fund and has been in talks with PIF for an investment that could be as much as $45 billion, Reuters reported.
The Saudi move is seen as part of Riyadh’s bold economic plan to wean itself off its dependence to oil, in the wake of the crash in oil prices. PIF, the country’s top sovereign wealth fund, last year invested $3.5 billion in the US ride-hailing firm Uber.
Apple’s participation in the fund may only account for a tiny fraction of its overall value, but is seen as adding a symbolic stamp to the venture, as well as giving a signal that the California-based firm is itself pursuing some bold new technologies.
“We believe their new fund will speed the development of technologies which may be strategically important to Apple,” company spokesman Josh Rosenstock told Reuters.
Oracle founder Larry Ellison will join Apple, Qualcomm and Foxconn in backing SoftBank’s record-setting technology fund, helping it hit its $100 billion goal weeks ahead of schedule, the Financial Times reported.
Fadi Ghandour, one of the Arab world’s most storied entrepreneurs and technology investors, underlined the potential of Internet-connected devices in the Middle East region.
“In a couple of years you’ll have every single person connected to a smartphone,” he said.
Ghandour is the founder of the logistics firm Aramex, and now heads up Wamda Capital, a prominent regional venture capital firm, with investments in some of the region’s biggest tech businesses such as Careem, the car-sharing service.
He said Saudi Arabia is, within the region, “the most prominent market in the digital space going forward.”
And given the country’s participation in the SoftBank-led fund, Ghandour said he hoped that the fund would pursue opportunities in the Middle East’s Internet space.
This could be through either attracting tech talent into the region, or investing in the talent already here, he added.
“I hope that there is a serious part of that fund and a serious strategy to look at the region and not only invest outside of the region,” he said.
Ghandour lamented the relative lack of venture capital (VC) investment in the Middle Eastern technology and Internet space — but said this marked an opportunity for funds like the one led by SoftBank.
“I see that as an opportunity, regardless of whether Apple is in it or not. Apple makes it more interesting. But the reality is there is very little money that has gone into the VC, early stage and growth stage industry in the region,” said Ghandour.
“To make it happen, it needs somebody with a deep knowledge of the digital space, and capital. And with that fund, you have both.”
Farha said that Saudi Arabia’s investment in the fund “is a fantastic signal to the world, but more importantly to our region, that we need to all be investing in the technology.”
He added: “IoT is I think the future of technology, something that is going to transform our lives over the next 25 years. So the fact that the Saudi government staked such a significant investment in the future, and our future as human beings over the next 25 years of humanity, I think is a fantastic sign for everyone to follow suit — not only government, all investors.”


Tunisia to almost double gas production this year

Updated 18 January 2019
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Tunisia to almost double gas production this year

  • The project will be jointly owned by Austria’s OMV and Tunisian National Oil Company ETAP
  • It will include investments of about $700 million

TUNIS: Tunisia will almost double production of natural gas to about 65,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day this year, the industry and energy minister, Slim Feriani, told Reuters on Friday.
The country’s gas output will jump from 35,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boed) when the southern Nawara gas field comes onstream in June, Feriani said.
“We will raise our production by about 30,000 barrels of oil equivalent when the Nawara project in the south will start,” Feriani told Reuters in interview.
This project will be jointly owned by Austria’s OMV and Tunisian National Oil Company ETAP with investments of about $700 million.
Feriani also said Tunisia was seeking to attract about $2 billion in foreign investment to produce 1,900 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy in three years. “We will start launching international bids for the production of renewable wind and sun energy. We aim to produce 1,900 MW by investment of up to $2 billion until 2022,” he said.
This would represent about 22 percent of the country’s electricity production.
PHOSPHATE
Tunisia also plans to raise production of phosphate from 3 million tons to 5 million in 2019, he said.
Raising the output will boost economic growth and provide revenue to revive its faltering economy, the minister said.
Phosphate exports are a key source of foreign currency reserves, which have dropped to levels worth just 82 days of imports, according to Tunisia’s central bank.
Tunisia produced about 8.2 million tons of phosphate in 2010 but output dropped after its 2011 revolution. Annual output has not exceeded 4.5 million tons since 2011.
Feriani said lower production has caused Tunisia to lose markets and about $1 billion each year.
Phosphate exports were hit by repeated protests in the main producing region of Gafsa, where unemployed youth demanding jobs blockaded rail transport.