a-week-in-tech-april-410

A week in tech, April 4-10

A roundup of all the latest tech news.
Japan

Internet
ò Yahoo Japan said it will increase its stake in Yume No Machi Souzou Iinkai, an operator of internet sites for door-to-door food delivery and other services, to 41.8 percent as a result of a successful tender offer. The company said it will spend 1.2 million yen ($10,000) to acquire 3,200 shares out of 4,487 shares tendered. The two companies plan to jointly develop Internet sites. Yahoo said it has no plans to increase its stake in Yume. Yume is listed on the Osaka Securities Exchange's Hercules market for startup firms.

ò Cyber University, JapanÆs first university that provides courses via the Internet, opened with an entrance ceremony in Fukuoka - transmitted in real time to students' computers. Japan Cyber Educational Institute is a nonlisted stock company with capital of 500 million yen ($4.1 million)., with Softbank Corp. holding 71 percent of the institute while the remainder is held by Kyushu Electric Power Co., RKB Mainichi Broadcasting Corp. and other businesses. The school was approved last November as part of deregulation in designated areas aimed at revitalizing economic and business activities.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò Nintendo Co. announced that it is looking to posting a record group recurring profit of 260 billion yen ($2.2 billion) for the year ended March 31, with the company attributing the rise to strong sales of its handheld DS consoles and a weaker yen. Industry analysts note that the figure is above market estimates of 242.4 billion yen ($2 billion) in profit, by 17 analysts polled by Reuters, and would represent a 62 percent rise year-on-year. The figure is said to exceed Nintendo's previous forecast by 24 percent. The Kyoto-based company called its fourth outlook hike this year, with earnings exceeding its January forecast on stronger-than-expected revenue of about 966 billion yen ($8.1 billion). Nintendo, known for game characters like Mario and Pokemon, had forecast DS sales to reach 23 million units in the 2006-07 business years, more than double the expected shipments of Sony Corp.'s rival handheld PlayStation Portable for the same period.

Ventures/Investments
ò Matsushita announced its decision to set up a research centre in Vietnam to develop key software installed in cellular phones and flat-panel televisions. The company said it aims to begin the setting up of the Panasonic R&D Center Vietnam Co., by the end of April in Hanoi. Matsushita said it will invest some $500,000 dollars to create the facility, which will develop and design system chips and control software for Matsushita plants around the world. The R&D center will be Matsushita's third in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region following similar facilities in Singapore and Malaysia. As part of the project, Matsushita said it will deploy Japanese technicians to train workers and start a software development course at the Hanoi University of Technology.

ò According to its top official, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. announced its plan to boost the manufacture of plasma TVs in the so-called BRIC countries--Brazil, Russia, India and China. The company said it will begin discussing the scale of the investment by fiscal 2009 as it considers building one or several new plants in BRIC countries. Matsushita does not have a production base in the said countries. Most of Matsushita's plasma TV production plants are in Japan, while its overseas plants and include those in Brazil and the Czech Republic, which are small except for one in China. Flat-screen TVs are expected to become a mainstream item in BRIC countries, which are undergoing rapid economic growth. Earlier, Matsushita stated in its management plan that from fiscal 2007 to 2009 it will invest some 1.5 trillion yen ($12.5 billion) in developing businesses and increase global sales of its plasma TVs to 12.5 million units in fiscal 2009, three times higher than in fiscal 2006. The company said it also aims to increase its sales in emerging countries by 200 billion yen ($1.6 billion) from fiscal 2006, mainly with plasma TVs.


Korea

Internet
ò KT announced that it has initiated the set up of a system related to the launching of a fiber to the home (FTTH) service. FTTH is a form of fiber-optic communications in which the optical cables are connected all the way to the userÆs home, thus greatly increasing the internet speed. The company said it will spend some 1.2 trillion won ($1.2 billion) by 2010 to install FTTH to all subscriber homes. The network is expected to transmit data at "unlimited" speeds, with the FTTH network deliver data 10-50 times faster than asymmetric digital subscriber lines (ADSL) which use copper wires. As of the end of February, KT had the highest number of optic LAN subscribers with 1.6 million, followed by Hanaro with 930,000 and LG Powercomm with 590,000. Optic LAN uses fiber-optic cables in only part of the system. In a separate development, Hanaro Telecom disclosed plans to spend 110 billion won ($117.4 million) this year to increase its optic LAN subscribers to 1.5 million. To provide the 100Mbps service at reasonable prices, it adopted the Ethernet to the home (ETTH) technology, which delivers data from an internet company to the user's area through optical cables and from there to the user's home through copper wires. An official of Hanaro Telecom said that his company plans to upgrade the network for household subscribers so that it can transmit data at 100Mbps. LG Powercomm also revealed its plans to spend 360 billion won ($384.5 million) to upgrade its network and increase its subscribers to 2 million.

ò AFP BB News, the interactive web site in Japan developed with Agence France-Presse and internet giant Softbank, announced an expanded alliance to reach an estimated 10 million bloggers. The report said AFP BB said it will link to 11 other Japanese blogging services to provide free access to its photos and stories, which are drawn from the global network of Agence France-Presse (AFP). AFP BB uses a "one-click" technology that allows bloggers to integrate AFP photographs into their postings. AFP BB is a venture between AFP and Movida Entertainment, a unit of Softbank whose Yahoo broadband service covers five million households in Japan. A third partner is Creative Link, a technology firm whose shareholders include trading house Itochu and Japan's top toymaker Bandai.

Mobile/Wireless
ò The Ministry of Information and Communication announced that it has issued licenses to KBS and MBC, the countryÆs top two TV outlets, allowing the two networks to start nationwide mobile broadcasting called terrestrial DMB. The move is seen as enabling South Koreans to watch free TV programs on their mobile handsets, with the area not limited just to Seoul and its vicinity but also across the country. The DMB system allows people on the road enjoy seamless video, theater-like audio and data via in-automobile terminals or cell phones.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò Industry sources said the sequel to God of War, the Japanese hit game, is soon to be released, with the new Japanese game featuring characters dubbed with Korean voice actors. The original game won many awards, including Game of the Year honors in 2005 from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, given for games that exhibit excellent gameplay, advanced graphics and well composed musical score. Its highly anticipated sequel was released in early March in many countries, but it has been delayed from reaching Korean fans until now. Although some games are often delayed, the demand for games dubbed in the Korean language is on the rise as it allows players to fully enjoy their favorite games without being disturbed by reading scripts or instructions.

Hardware
ò According to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA), Import of Chinese components is rapidly growing, a trend which is affecting the trade balance with China. The report indicated that South Korea's trade balance with China and Japan showed imports of Chinese electronics and car components growing from 7.7 percent in 2000 to 20.3 percent in 2006 while imports of Japanese parts dropped from 28.4 percent in 2003 to 25.6 percent in 2006. KTA said components imports from China in 2006 were placed at $23.1 billion in total, a 31.7 percent increase from the previous year. The total trade surplus with China of $20.9 billion posted a decline of 10.2 percent last year, mainly because South Korean manufacturers used cheaper Chinese components due to the strong won.

ò The countryÆs Ministry of Commerce, industry and Energy reported a sharp increase in South KoreaÆs exports of memory chips and flat screen displays. The ministry said memory chip exports registered a 66 percent rise to $6 billion from 2006. The report said exports of flat screen displays went up 56 percent to $3.5 billion. The ministry ascribed the growth of 25 percent to $29 billion in the export of electronic parts to the performance of the two products, memory chips and flat screen displays. The ministry said exports to China, which remains as South Korea's number one market, saw the biggest growth with 24 percent and those to the US were second with 23 percent. Combined electronics exports in the first quarter reached $29 billion and imports $16 billion.

Ventures/Investments
ò Industry sources indicate that Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics are building new assembly lines and expanding existing plants for TVs and LCDs in Eastern Europe, a move that analysts said are manifestations that these companies are taking advantage of cheaper labour and tax benefits in Eastern European locations. LG.Philips LCD announced that it has begun construction on a LCD plant in Wroclaw in southwestern Poland, making it the company's second overseas factory, following one built in Nanjing, China, in 2003. An official at LG.Philips said the LCDs will be sent to local LCD TV makers that target Europe. Initial annual production will be three million screens larger than 32-inches, eventually increasing to 11 million. In a separate development, Samsung's LCD department announced that it is spending US$420 million to build an LCD assembly plant in Slovakia. It is Samsung's second overseas LCD plant, following one in Suzhou, China. Currently, Samsung operates TV assembly plants for European customers in Hungary and Slovakia. LG Electronics is now operating an LCD TV assembly plant in Poland.
China

Internet
ò ò Net.cn, a Chinese domain name registration and virtual hosting service provider, announced the formal launching of its domain name sales transaction centre. The transaction centre, which includes a domain name buying section, domain name selling section, domain name maintenance section, and domain name assessment section, has received more than 10,000 domain names for sale. A top official of the company explained that, together with receiving the domain names sent in by the sellers, the centre will also work with international buyers.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò Industry sources said Electronic Arts has agreed with The9 to acquire a 19 percent stake in the Chinese online game operator in a deal estimated at about $200 million. Under the deal, analysts see The9 as getting rights to run more casual games with sports themes from EA, the worldÆs top video game publisher, as the alliance would enable EA to gain access indirectly to ChinaÆs online game market.

ò Industry sources said Focus Media has entered into an agreement with Goufang.com, a local real estate web site. The deal follows Focus MediaÆs acquisition of Allyes, a Chinese online ad firm. The reports said Focus Media is forming a strategic partnership with Goufang.com, with the two parties carrying in-depth cooperation for their respective information platforms and resources. Earlier, Focus Media said it has already completed the acquisition of Allyes. The company also looking to a rise in its income in 2007 to $390 million-400 million from the previous $350 million-360 million. The value of the deal was not disclosed.

Mobile/Wireless
ò Hurray!, a mobile value-added services company, announced the signing of an agreement with Beijing TV (BTV) to establish an exclusive partnership for delivering wireless services. BTV is one of the major TV networks in China, with a wide audience of more 250 million viewers and a partnership with BTV is seen by Hurray as an opportunity for creating new distribution channels and gaining access to TV and video content. Hurray said the contract is bringing it nearer to its aim of becoming a leading digital entertainment content production and distribution house in China. With the agreement, BTVÆs channels will gain access to services that will enable its channels and programs to reach their respective audiences. The two companies said the terms and conditions of the partnership will be put in details in the definitive agreements to be entered into by both parties.

ò With a service called Express News, Motorola announced that it has become the first handset manufacturer in China to support China Mobile's news content service. The service is a feature that lets consumers get the news, sports, entertainment, and other information they want directly from their mobile device screen.

Telecommunications
ò China Netcom, China's second-biggest phone company, reported a 6.7 percent decline in its 2006 profits to 12.9 billion yuan ($1.6 billion), down from 13.8 billion yuan ($1.7 billion). The company posted a 1 percent rise in its revenues to 86.9 billion yuan ($11.2 billion). China Netcom said its number of subscribers registered 114.9 million, representing the first decline in Netcom's history. China has the world's biggest telephone market, but traditional fixed-line carriers have seen growth slow sharply as potential customers increasingly opt for mobile service. Netcom and its bigger rival, China Telecom Corp., are promoting Internet, web-based television and other new services in hopes of reviving revenue growth. The company said it is attempting to become a broadband communications and multimedia-services provider as it posted a 31.6 percent growth in its sales of broadband, business and other services last year, increasing their share of Netcom's total revenues to 26 percent, up 5.8 percent from 2005.

Taiwan

Hardware
ò Market sources cited reports stating that Foxconn Electronics is scouting for a site to build its second LCD display factory in the Czech Republic. The report quoted an official of Foxconn Czech Republic, saying the company may invest less than $70 million, or more than $100 million, in the factory, which would employ 5,000 people. Specified as the firm behind the project is Innolux Display, a subsidiary of Foxconn, which released earlier reports that it is also considering building plants in Russia, India and Vietnam in 2008. Czech Republic recently became a popular site for LCD display makers, as the Czech government offers a ten-year tax-free policy for the foreign companies that invest over US$100 million in the country.

Semiconductors
ò Wafer Works announced its move to acquire almost a one-third of stake in China-based Solargiga Energy Holdings Limited, a move that led industry players to think that the company is on its way to listing its subsidiary Jinzhou Youhua on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange later in 2007. Earlier it announced that it will trade a 57.7 percent stake in its subsidiary Solar Technology Investment (Cayman) worth 89.7 million yuan ($11.2 million), in exchange for a 29.6 percent stake in Solargiga. After the stock swap, Wafer Works will assign an executive to be chairman at Solargiga. The company said it plans to list its invested company in overseas stock markets even as no company or stock market was ever identified. Wafer Works also announced it will issue 7.1 million new shares to fund equipment procurement and expansion.


Singapore/Malaysia/Philippines/Indonesia

Telecommunications
ò Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM) announced that it has sold its entire 60 percent stake in Telekom Networks Malawi Ltd (TNM) to MTL Mobile Ltd for $16 million. TM explained that the sale is part of a broader re-orientation of TM's international investment strategy to focus on geographic regions closer to home. Under the agreement, TNM, which has 300,000 subscribers, will pay all outstanding shareholder loans to TM and management fees to TM International Sdn Bhd amounting to $4.9 million.
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