A week in tech, February 22-28

A roundup of all the latest tech news.

ò Yahoo Japan Corp announced its decision to increase its stake in internet food delivery firm, Yumenomachi Souzou-Iinkai, in a bid to expand its food-related business. The company said it will be buying 3,200 shares at Ñ401,190 each ($3,313), via a tender offer. Yumenomachi Souzou-Iinkai is listed on the Osaka Securities Exchange's Hercules board.

ò Industry sources said that Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), Japan's biggest bank, has plans to increase its stake in online brokerage affiliate kabu.com Securities through a tender offer. Some sources said JapanÆs biggest bank is looking to getting more control of the brokerage firm, with other reports claiming that the bank intends to raise its stake to around 40 percent from the 30 percent it currently holds. According to an MUFG spokesman, the company has not decided on anything. The company said it was targeting a group net profit of Ñ1.1 trillion ($9.1 billion) in the business year to March 2010, up 26 percent from a forecast Ñ870 billion ($7.1 billion) this year.

ò eMobile announced that it will launch fixed-rate broadband wireless services next month and put its keyboard-equipped handset into the bargain. With the move, eMobile, a wholly owned subsidiary of broadband service operator eAccess, will be the first new company to tap into Japan's increasingly competitive wireless market in 13 years. The new Em-One handset was developed with Sharp Corp. and Microsoft Corp. The company said eMobile's services would begin March 31, within Tokyo's 23 wards, central parts of Nagoya, Osaka and Kyoto, with the monthly fixed-rate basic charge placed at Ñ5,980 ($49). Under the offering, a two-year contract that includes the price of the handset is valued at Ñ39,800 ($329).

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

ò According to data from Media Create, the launch of Sega's Virtual Fighter 5 for the PlayStation 3 was the reason for the consoleÆs biggest hit of the year. The title launched on Feb. 8 topped the Japan software charts for that week with sales of almost 50,000 copies, with the company ascribing to the launch the jump in sales of the console during the week of Feb. 5, to 23,431 units from 18,727 units in the previous week. The report said sales of Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s Wii also jumped to 78,550 units for the week, according to the estimates. Nintendo's handheld DS Lite device remained on top of the hardware sales ranking at 201,770 units. Sony Computer EntertainmentÆs PlayStation Portable posted sales of 32,175 units, according to Media Create. Software titles for new-generation consoles occupied the top three positions for the week. Following Virtual Fighter 5 at number one were Wii Sports and Wii Play in second and third place, respectively. Media Create receives actual sales data from around 3,000 stores across Japan and uses that to estimate nationwide sales.

ò TDK Corp, the world's largest maker of magnetic tapes, revealed its decision to go into a capital tie-up with Tabuchi Electric next month in a bid to enhance its electronic component business. Under the agreement, TDK said it will acquire a 14.2 percent stake in Tabuchi, a leading maker of high-voltage transformers and power supplies, through a third-party allocation of new shares, with TDK spending Ñ810 million ($6.6 million) to acquire 5 million new shares in Osaka-based Tabuchi. After the acquisition, TDK is expected to become Tabuchi's biggest shareholder.Korea

ò According to the report made by the Ministry of Information and Communication, the number of broadband internet users in South Korea rose in January. The report, however, noted that even with the figures, the digital gap between urban and rural areas remained wide. The government report said 14.1 million South Koreans had access to the broadband internet as of the end of January, up 600,000 from a month earlier.

ò According to the Bank of Korea, the number of internet banking subscribers as of the end of 2006, registered in 19 financial institutions, went up 34.3 percent to 35.9 million. The report said the number of individual customers went up by 34.9 percent to 34.1 million and corporate subscribers by 24.8 percent to 179. Internet banking usage last year averaged 12.8 million per day, up by 15.1 percent compared with the previous year and its inquiry service, which comprises 82.8 percent of the total, averaged 10.6 million per year, up by 15.2 percent compared with the previous year. The use of wire transfer service averaged 2.2 million per day, which was valued at W15 trillion ($16 billion), up by 14.6 percent in usage and 20.5 percent in value, respectively. The number of mobile banking usage using telecommunications devices such as cellular phones and PDAs last year averaged at 450,000 per day, up by 59.9 percent from the previous year.

ò Altech and Samsung Electronics announced their agreement to work jointly for trial service of a Mobile WiMAX broadband network in South Africa. Following the successful test license application to ICASA, Altech and Samsung will install the Mobile WiMAX network in Gauteng, South Africa. According to the contract, Samsung will provide Altech with Mobile WiMAX infrastructure equipment along with various types of devices in the second half of this year. After the success of initial trial service, Altech will decide the mass deployment of Mobile WiMAX service in South Africa. Altech is a leading South African multi-billion rand high-technology group involved in the design, development, convergence, manufacture, installation and distribution of telecommunications equipment, multimedia systems, IT solutions, electronic components, cellular telephony and industrial electronic products while Samsung is a leader and innovator of mobile technology.

ò According to the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency, South Korean mobile phone exports to the Middle East are forecasted to continue to decline this year, with the state-run trade promotion agency ascribing this to intense market competition. The country's mobile phone shipments to members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) û Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE û are expected to fall 18.8 percent to $326.81 million this year.

ò Two mobile telecommunication companies û KTF and SK Telecom û announced the launching of 3G High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) network service nationwide. With the launch, music videos, internet broadcast shows, animation and news will become downloadable from mobile phones, and videophone service is possible. With this service, mobile phones can play the roles of both TV and PC. 3G mobile telecommunication service is expected to bring great change to peopleÆs daily lives. Video calls will become common, enabling users to talk on the phone while seeing each otherÆs faces. Ring-back tones, SMS, and other existing services are expected to upgrade to video. Wireless Internet using a mobile phone will become as fast as household ADSL. It is predicted that mobile telecom companies will lower their video call and data communications fees and mobile phone devices as much as possible in order to attract users to the 3G services early. At present, some countries provide HSDPA-enabled video call service, but South Korea is the first country to provide the service nationwide.

ò Dongbu Electronics and Dongbu Hannong Chemicals, both publicly held South Korean companies that operate within the Dongbu Group, announced that their respective boards have agreed to a merger, effective May 2007. The newly merged entity expects looks to the merger union to create a world class ôBio-Semiconductorö enterprise that provides comprehensive foundry services as well as advanced chemicals and materials, including those used in bioengineering, nanotechnology and semiconductor processing. Dongbu Hannong Chemicals has achieved significant growth and strategic diversification over the years. Its recent diversification efforts, especially into electronic materials such as silicon and silicon manganese for semiconductor processing, has set the stage for the merger with Dongbu Electronics, KoreaÆs leading wafer processing foundry. The companies said the top management teams of the two merged companies will continue with their current roles.

ò Industry sources disclosed that South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. was sued by a US tech company, Texas MP3 Technologies, for its alleged infringement on patented technology related to MP3 music player production. The US-based company filed the lawsuit against Samsung, Apple and SanDisk Corp. in a federal court, claiming the companies violated its sound-reproducing technology. This marks the first time for Samsung to be sued in relation to MP3 music player technologies, though it has faced legal action in the semiconductor and flat panel-making industries.

ò China Mobile, the mainland's largest mobile service operator, registered a record 4.8 million new subscribers in January, a performance that the company attributes to its foray into rural areas and its newly introduced free incoming-call packages. The company said it had 306 million users by the end of last month. In a separate report, China Telecom earlier announced weak January subscriptions figures. According to brokerage CLSA, China Mobile ôwill likely gain more dominance with the delay of 3G licensing, as it will face only limited competition in 2007 from fixed-line operators.ö Anticipating the release of 3G licenses, China Telecom and China Netcom stopped their respective investment last year in their limited wireless service Xiaolingtong, which they used to try to counter China Mobile's efforts to lure their subscribers. The 3G licenses were expected to be released as early as the fourth quarter of last year. China Mobile added 4.8 million users in December last year. China Telecom, the mainland's largest fixed-line operator, said it registered only 250,000 new users last month, down from 640,000 in December. Total users of the fixed-line service reached 223 million. The broadband service added 760,000 users last month, bringing the total number of broadband users to 29 million, up from 28.3 million in previous months.

ò According to the countryÆs top telecommunications operator, China Mobile, Chinese people would send more than 14 billion greeting text messages during the weeklong Spring Festival holiday. The figure is excellent income for professional message writers who write for websites that provide downloading services to message seekers. According to a source in China Mobile, in the past week, some productive text message writers earned more than Rmb10,000 ($1,280), estimated to be equivalent to their average monthly income. Industry sources said subscribers want unique and ingenious messages to extend greetings and bring joy and fun to their friends. The market also demands that writers have basic training in art and music in order to come up with multimedia messages.

ò Huawei Technologies of China said sales of its first customised Vodafone-branded 3G handset jointly developed by both companies, the V710, has reached its 500,000th across 14 European countries since its launch in September 2006. The two companies also celebrated the first year anniversary of their strategic 3G handset partnership and plan to enhance their partnership in 2007. In 2007, the two companies said they will deepen their co-operation in design concepts and customisation, rolling-out a series of jointly developed Vodafone-branded 3G devices.

ò U.S.-based Advanced Battery Technologies announced that its wholly owned subsidiary, ZQ Power-Tech, was issued a patent of invention by The Intellectual Property Bureau of China for the invention of the nano material lithium-ion battery and its technology process. The in-house R&D team worked jointly with experts from Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) on this project to make this technology ready for commercialisation. Compared to other lithium-ion battery technologies, the nano material batteries is expected to have a greater power capacity, longer cycle life and shorter recharge time; therefore it enjoys great potential for application in powering electric vehicles. The company believes this patent represents a technology breakthrough in step with the industrial trend.

ò According to the China Equity Exchange Information Center, China Network Communications Group (Netcom), the mainland's second-largest fixed-line operator, is aiming to derive at least Rmb318 million ($41 million) for its 50 percent stake in a broadband service venture with PCCW. A source claimed that PCCW deputy chairman Edward Tian Suning is leading a consortium to join the bidding for the asset. CNC Broadband was set up in 2005 to offer broadband access services in Hangzhou and Ningbo as part of the two companies' joint expansion plans on the mainland. China Netcom Group bought a 20 percent stake in PCCW for $1 billion in early 2005. No confirmation was made from any of the sources in the company.

ò According to an official of the Ministry of Information Industry (MII), the total investment in 3G telecom network construction in China is estimated to reach Rmb114.1 billion ($14.7 billion) in the first year after its commercial launch. The report said the number of users of 3G servicesis forecast to reach 10 million in one year. The official said the 3G commercial launch needs a two-year "warm up" period before 3G services can establish its prevalence in the country. In the meantime, the report indicated that during the two-year period, 2G services still dominate, with its number of users seen as posting a growth at a relatively slow pace. When the 3G-network coverage is completed, the 2G-network will phase out, the report said. With 3G technologies, users are expected to enjoy multimedia services, including instant messaging and mobile TV, even as the average revenue user for 3G would not be much higher than that for other mobile users in the mainland.

ò ZTE Corp of China announced that it has signed an agreement with Samsung of Korea to jointly work on the research and development of WCDMA-based Home NodeB products. The Home NodeB, also referred to as femtocells, will be specifically designed to manage indoor telecommunications and enable new broadband network applications, such as assisting in the convergence of fixed and wireless telecoms in the home. The Home NodeB optimizes the in-building 3G experience for the subscriber within their home or work place. A typical Home NodeB can automatically transfer a call session between the mobile network and the user's home DSL connection, as well as enable wireless computer networking, broadband Internet access and fixed line VoIP services all via the one device.

ò HannStar Display, one of the nation's leading flat-panel makers, posted its first positive quarterly earnings in 10 quarters, with the company ascribing the results mainly on asset gains and improving screen prices. During the quarter ended on Dec. 31, HannStar posted earnings of NT$998 million ($30.1 million), compared to losses of NT$1.2 billion ($36.2 million) a year ago and NT$3 billion ($90.6 million) in the third quarter. The panel maker disclosed its plans to reduce capital from NT$60.5 billion ($1.8 billion) to NT$50.1 billion ($1.5 billion) by cutting the number of outstanding shares to 5 billion. For 2007, HannStar said it plans to spend NT$900 million ($27.1 million) in new facilities and equipment, compared to the NT$7.7 billion ($232.6 million) in capital spending last year.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò Next Media announced that it is looking to spin off the Taiwan editions of Apple Daily and Next Magazine by way of a backdoor listing on the Taiwan stock exchange. Industry sources said that the owner of the two publications plan to acquire a listed company and inject it with the Taiwan editions of Next and Apple. Next Media officials could not be reached for comment. Analysts believe that the new listing would not only unlock the value of the Taiwan business but have a positive impact on the company's Hong Kong-traded shares as well. The Taiwan business reported an operating profit of HK$33 million ($4.2 million), which represents about 16 percent of group operating profit, and revenues of HK$683 million ($81 million), which stands for 42 percent of group revenues in the first half. A source at Next acknowledged that the company was preparing to launch Sudden Weekly in Taiwan.

Hong Kong

ò Shares in Hutchison Telecommunications International Ltd (HTIL) went on a decline following the sale of its stake in its Indian assets. Analysts stated that the market was responding to the news that the firm would be paying a special dividend to shareholders that had previously been factored into the share price. Analysts said the group's lack of clarity on plans also contributed to the decline in the shares. HTIL announced recently that it would sell its 67 percent stake in India's Hutchison Essar to British mobile giant Vodafone Group for $11.1 billion. HTIL said the proposed disposal unlocked substantial value for its shareholders, enabling it to generate an expected gain before tax of $9.6 billion. HTIL said it would pay a special dividend of HK$6.7 ($0.8) per share to shareholders and will use as much as $1.8 billion to reduce debt. Goldman Sachs said the special dividend was at the mid to low end of the market's average expected range and added that investors were also generally disappointed that HTIL was not clear about its potential new markets. HTIL said it would retain about $640.2 million to reinvest in both its existing and new markets, with $1.1 billion to be spent on operations in Indonesia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka over the next two years.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò i-Cable Communications announced that it is trying to build a new free TV model by tapping advertising revenue in a bid to cushion the impact of losing its exclusive rights to air English Premier League football matches later this year. Earlier, PCCWÆs Now TV won the exclusive rights to broadcast EPL matches from August. Analysts see this development as indicating that i-Cable CommunicationsÆ Cable TV is losing its dominance as a broadcaster of foreign sport programmes. To make matters worse, PCCW broke Cable TV's monopoly on Italian football Series A matches by securing about 130 matches each season for three years, also from August.

ò Samooha (S) Pte Ltd, a Singapore based software company committed to promoting Open Innovation in Enterprise Software, announced the availability of its Samooha-S business software platform as a starting point for innovators and independent thinkers for technology in Asia and around the world to explore new possibilities of inter-enterprise connectivity. The company said the main objective of the project is to bring immense cost benefits for emerging entrepreneurs. The project will focus on regions where Enterprise Software such as Accounting & Financial, Inventory and Warehouse, ERP, CRM, Supply Chain Management (SCM) are yet to be adopted widely and thus target Asia, Africa, South America and any region from where it receives support.

ò Software firm Teledata Informatics announced its investment of some $105 million to acquire a majority stake in Singapore-based eSys Technologies. Teledata Informatics said it would benefit hugely from the strategic investment in the Singapore-based IT distribution major and PC maker, as there is a lot of synergy between the company and eSys, helping to accelerate the business levels. Teledata Informatics is a $234 million software solutions and services company with global operations across 15 countries. The company is one of the fastest growing in India and is among the top 50 software services providers globally.
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