a-week-in-tech-january-2329

A week in tech, January 23-29

A roundup of all the latest tech news.
Japan

Internet
ò Yahoo Japan reported a rise of 20 percent in its quarterly profit as it signed up more users to its auction site and attracted more stores on its online mall. The company said its net income rose to Ñ15.2 billion ($125 million) in the three months ended December 31 against Ñ12.7 billion ($104.4 million) a year earlier. Yahoo Japan, which competes with web firms such as Rakuten and Google, said the total value of transactions at its online auction, shopping and other services jumped 14.7 percent in calendar 2006 from a year earlier, in contrast with sluggish wages and spending in the overall economy.

ò Market sources said that Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) is in talks regarding its plan to acquire about a 15 percent stake in major online brokerage Matsui Securities in a bid to strengthen its retail investor services. The sources said MUFG and Matsui are putting the final touches on the possible capital alliance. The financial group, whose holdings include Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ and Mitsubishi UFJ Securities, also has an approximately 30 percent stake in online brokerage Kabu.com Securities. The group is considering raising its stake in Kabu.com as well. Analysts are saying this move to strengthen cooperation with the two online brokerages may trigger further consolidation in the banking and brokerage sectors. As of the end of 2006, SBI E*trade Securities, Japan's largest online brokerage, had about 1.3 million accounts, whereas Matsui had about 640,000 and Kabu.com had about 540,000.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò Nintendo attributed the huge year-end sales of the Wii game console to its massive 43 percent rise in its profit for the nine months to December. Nintendo recorded group net profit of Ñ131.9 billion ($1 billion) in the first nine months of the fiscal year, up from Ñ92.2 billion ($713 million) the same period a year earlier. The company posted a 73 percent growth in sales to Ñ712.6 billion ($5.8 billion) during the April-December period from 412.3 billion yen (US$3.4 billion) the previous year. Nintendo said it has sold 3.1 million Wii machines worldwide, 1.2 million in the Americas, and 1.1 million in Japan. A company spokesperson reported that the company had met its target of 4 million units shipped by the end of last year, with Nintendo well on its way to reaching its target of global shipments for 6 million Wii machines by March 31, 2007. Earlier this month, Sony said it shipped two million PlayStation 3 machines worldwide by the middle of this month, falling about two weeks behind its initial plan in shipments in Japan. The machineÆs launch in Europe has been delayed until later this year. Sony is also targeting shipping six million PS3 machines by March 31.

ò Nintendo Co. announced that it has started offering a new service that feeds national and international news headlines to its recently launched Wii console. The Wii News Channel was launched in Japan ahead of schedule and would be available in the U.S immediately. In Japan the service carries news stories from a variety of sources through a feed from Internet portal Goo. In the US the Associated Press will provide the news. The service is accessible from the Wii's main menu after a software refresh. Nintendo also offers a web browser for download, and an Internet connection is needed to use the service. A button for the news channel sits alongside another for a companion weather service, which provides access to forecasts and other data. The services are part of Nintendo's attempt to make the Wii about more than just gaming.

Hardware
ò Ricoh announced its plan to acquire IBMÆs digital business printer operations for $700 million in April, a move that is seen as transforming it into the worldÆs largest maker in the segment. With the acquisition, Ricoh aimed to tap growing demand for printers that could receive data directly from computers and produce large volumes of documents. Under the plan, Ricoh would take over all global sales and maintenance service divisions of IBMÆs digital business printer business and also obtain IBMÆs employees and engineering staff engaged in developing the software that controls the printing process... Ricoh has entered the digital business printer market following its acquisition in 2004 of HitachiÆs printer subsidiary.

ò According to the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association, shipments of personal computers in Japan fell 3 percent in 2006 from the previous year to 12.3 million units, down for the first time in four years. The industry body indicated that shipments fell as consumers opted to spend more on buying flat-panel television sets and on traveling than on PCs. It also ascribed the decline to the sluggish year-end sales of PCs as people decided to wait for the release of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Vista, the latest version of Windows operating systems to be put on sale on Jan. 30. In the January-March period in 2006, domestic shipments of PCs rose 3 percent from the previous year, but fell 3 percent in the April-June quarter, 4 percent in July-September period, and 10 percent in the October-December period. The association looks to an increase in the demand for PCs after the debut of Windows Vista, predicting a more than 10 percent year-on-year rise in shipments in the January-March period in 2007.
Korea

Internet
ò KT Corp, South Korea's largest fixed-line internet service operator, announced a 20.7 percent rise in its 2006 earnings from a year earlier to W1.2 trillion ($1.3 billion). The company said its sales went down by 0.8 percent to 11.8 trillion won (US$12.5 billion) while operating profit posted a 5.3 percent growth to W1.7 trillion ($1.8 billion). KT did not disclose any reason for the good performance in 2006.

ò LG Dacom posted for the fourth quarter last year an 8 percent growth to W330.1 billion ($350.5 billion) in sales, a 42 percent rise in operating profit to W54.4 billion ($57.7 million) and 53 percent rise to W21.1 billion ($22.4 million) in net profit, compared to the previous year. With these figures, LG Dacom was able to accumulate a total of W1.2 trillion ($1.2 billion) in sales, W229.8 billion ($244 million) in operating profit and W161.8 billion ($171.8 million) in net profit for 2006, attaining the largest business achievement since its foundation. The company ascribed the results to the bullish trends in its major business categories, such as the Internet, e-business and its server hotel. LG Dacom said net profit rose 150 percent year-on-year due to an improved financial structure, which lowered interest expenses.

Mobile/Wireless
ò Together with the start of commercial 3G mobile services in the country, South KoreaÆs three mobile carriers are providing their own technologies, with SK Telecom and KTF offering HSDPA and LG Telecom providing EVDO rA. HSDPA, or high-speed downlink packet access, is an upgraded service of 3G WCDMA, enabling mobile phones to soak up high-speed, high-capacity data without breaks even in calling status. LG Telecom's EVDO rA service is expected to offer similar 3G functions even though it has yet to be commercialised in the domestic market. LG Telecom said it will start the service once related handsets are introduced in the second quarter this year. The three companies are seen as competing for customers on the basis of their different communications network-building costs and service qualities. The high price of handsets, which are capable of receiving 3G services, is expected to play a key role for consumers when choosing between HSDPA and EVDO rA.

ò According to reports, the countryÆs two wireless operators, SK Telecom and KTF, plan to spend more than W1 trillion ($1 billion) on HSDPA, and roll out dozens of handsets this year, adding momentum for next-generation wireless services. SK Telecom and KTF have decided to inject W610 billion ($648.1 million) and W400 billion ($425 million) into HSDPA this year. KTF plans to introduce some 25 models of HSDPA handsets this year, and SK Telecom is poised to launch 2 models of DBDM handsets in the first half of this year. SK Telecom plans to invest a total of W1.5 trillion ($1.5 billion) in business this year. The country's three largest telecoms carriers plan to spend W5.5 trillion ($5.8 billion) in total, including KT with W2.8 trillion ($3 billion) and KTF with W1.2 trillion ($1.2 billion).

Hardware
ò Fourth-quarter profit at LG Electronics reported an 85 percent decline in its fourth-quarter profit to W48 billion ($51 million) in the three months to December 31, down sharply from the same quarter a year ago. Earlier, analysts had predicted the company would post a net loss of W7.6 billion ($8 million) in the quarter. LG Electronics said that demand for televisions was strong, with the company reporting shipments of plasma and LCD televisions going up by 55 percent and 72 percent respectively from the previous quarter. LG Electronics, the world's fifth-largest mobile phone manufacturer, said operating profits disclosed that its handset business registered a 70 percent drop from the same period in 2005, hit by price cuts, with the company not giving a net profit figure.

Telecommunications
ò SK Telecom announced a rise of 4.8 percent to W10.6 trillion ($11.3 million) in sales, a decline of 2.6 percent to 2.5 trillion ($2.6 million) in operating income and W1.4 trillion ($1.5 million) in net profit last year. The company attributed the decline to its payment of W500 billion ($531 million) in subsidies for cell phones subscribers. The government last year allowed telecom providers to pay a certain amount of money in subsidies when subscribers buy a new cell phone.

ò Comtec System Co., Ltd. announced that it would provide fiber-to-the-home equipment for Hanaro TelecomÆs active optical networks (AONs). The equipment comes with remote control and enhanced quality of service features. The company said it has shipped AON gear to Japanese telecoms carriers like NTT since 2005 and it looks to seeing more deals to come after this contract with Hanaro.

Ventures/Investments
ò User-created content provider PANDORATV Inc. announced that it is talking with a Silicon Valley, US-based venture capital firm to attract $10 million. The company already won an investment deal worth some W6 billion ($6.4 million) with U.S.-based Altos Ventures last year, and has invested in systems and marketing. It is now seeking to develop global service and moneymaking business models, as well as reinforce marketing and systems this year.
China

Internet
ò Intel China announced entering into an agreement with TCL Computer and Langtaosha Chain Netcafe in Nanjing by way of a memorandum of understanding to set up a chain of Internet cafes. According to the MOU, Langtaosha will use over 100,000 TCL branded computers with Intel processors in its franchised Internet cafes, with Intel and TCL providing customized solutions to Langtaosha according to the features of the latter's net cafes. As part of the agreement, the companies will work jointly on technology, sales channels, service and resources.

ò China Southern Airlines registered a record sale of Rmb5.4 billion ($694.3 million) in e-tickets. The airlines said that it was the first airline in the country to sell an internet e-ticket in 2000, a move that is paying major dividends for ChinaÆs largest carrier. China Southern Airlines said that it is moving toward a 100 percent ticket-less travel scenario even as it has already some 30 percent of its overall sales volume sold as e-tickets. China Southern Airlines is currently only selling e-tickets via its Chinese website. The 2006 sales of US$694.3 million in ticket sales came predominantly from Chinese airline ticket sales. The largest airline in China for the past 28 years, China Southern Airlines connects more than 80 cities around the globe.

ò According to China Internet Network Information Center, as of December 31, 2006, there were 137 million Internet users on the Chinese mainland. This represented about 10.5 percent of China's total population, which was an increase of 23.4 percent over that of the same period last year. The status report indicated that some 104 million Internet users in China were using broadband and 17 million were using mobile phones to access to the Internet. Related to Internet utilization, Beijing citizens' Internet literacy rate reached 30 percent, which was the highest in the entire country. Of all the Internet users in mainland China, 58.3 percent were male and 41.7 percent were female. Internet literacy rate in the urban areas were 6.5 times of that in rural areas. By the end of 2006, the country registered 4.1 million domain names, of which 1.8 million were .CN domain names, up 64.4 percent compared with the same period of last year. About 1.9 million domain names were .COM domain names, which stand for 47 percent of China's total domain names. The report said that, at the end of 2006, China had about 843,000 web sites and 98 million IPv4 addresses.

ò Industry sources said that Baidu has secured the approval to become an online news portal. A government source said that the countryÆs State Council Information Office (SCIO) granted Baidu an internet news content service license, allowing Baidu.com to do its own reporting rather than simply posting news search results. Analysts see the license as enabling Baidu an edge in terms of content over competitors that lack the permit. The SCIO is responsible for the government news release and tasked jointly in regulating Internet content with the culture and information ministries. Baidu had already started preparing its news department and been ready to hire staff, with the company also changing the logo and name of its "information" channel to "news" channel in Chinese characters. No comment was generated from Baidu. Sina.com, the countyÆs largest Internet portal, has secured a news service permit way ahead of Baidu, which is dubbed as ChinaÆs Google.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò 99Bill Corporation, the leading independent third-party payment service provider in China, recently announced the signing of a cooperation agreement with Ourgame, China's leading online game and entertainment operator. Under the agreement, 99Bill will provide real time and convenient payment services to Ourgame's 100 million global subscribers. The 99Bill's payment platform enables Ourgame's multiple age group users to pay for the services easily with bankcards as well as prepaid cards in real time. With the partnership, 99Bill will support Ourgame's ongoing service expansion with innovative and customized payment solutions. As the leading independent third-party payment platform, 99Bill has built an extensive partnerships with a board range of service providers in all major Internet and wireless service sectors, aggregated over 14 million registered accounts and won greater recognition among its users and partners. 99Bill's unique payment solution for the online game industry supports debit cards, credit cards, prepaid cards, and virtual accounts, as well as offline payment methods such as postal and bank wires. As the first email and mobile phone-number-based payment platform in China, 99Bill has already established partnerships with leading Internet content and service providers, as well as mobile value-added service providers.

Mobile/Wireless
ò China Mobile announced that it has secured an agreement with Millicom International Cellular S.A. that will allow the Chinese firm to acquire 88.8 percent of the outstanding shares of Paktel Limited, a mobile communications provider based in Pakistan. The deal implies an enterprise valuation for Paktel Limited of $460 million. Completion of the transaction is subject to the receipt of certain regulatory approvals. Once approvals are obtained, completion is expected to happen in February 2007.

ò CDC Mobile, CDC Corporation's mobile value-added services business unit, announced that it has secured a letter of intent to make a strategic investment in JapanÆs BBMF Group. The letter of intent carries CDC MobileÆs intention to invest $20 million in convertible bonds issued by BBMF Group. Under the letter of intent, the two companies would also form a strategic alliance in operations to jointly target 3G markets in Japan and China. CDC Mobile would have a first right of refusal to distribute BBMF's 3G products and services in China, subject to terms to be agreed between the parties. This will be the first of CDC Mobile's MVAS targeted investments through its recently announced $100 million 3G Content Partner Program designed to provide first-mover advantage in the anticipated 3G content market in China. Headquartered in Tokyo, BBMF Group is a market leader in 3G content in Japan with one of the largest mobile comic sites and mobile online game sites in Japan, as well as one of the largest libraries and fastest growing number of files and titles available for download of any carrier. The company has licensed the right to publish mobile versions of over 1,300 comic titles by 470 authors. Based upon revenues in December 2006, BBMF's annual revenues would be approximately US$20 million, with its revenues forecast to grow significantly in 2007. Analysts project the 3G content market in Japan to be $1.2 billion by 2008.

ò China Construction Bank, in cooperation with China Jianyin Investment Securities, China Mobile and China Unicom, announced the formal launching of a mobile phone stock market service. The move of the group is seen as a taking a more advantageous position in the mobile value-added service market. The service is expected to enable stockbrokers to be more mobile, without the need to be at the stock exchange market or in front of computers to watch the stock price. With the service, they can check the market situation wherever and whenever they want through their mobile phones. Currently, China Construction Bank's mobile phone stock market service provides real-time stock price changes, stock price history and other stock market related information, with the bank not charging any fee for the service. Users, however, have to pay information traffic fees.

Hardware
ò AMD announced that TCL Computer, one of China's fastest-growing PC manufacturers, will offer customers a range of commercial notebooks and desktops based on high-performing, energy-efficient AMD64 processors. Industry sources see the technology partnership as a commitment to improving China's rapidly-growing IT industry and shows how the marketÆs acknowledgment of the advantages of AMD64 commercial solutions. Founded in 1998 in Shenzhen, TCL Computer designs, manufactures and markets mobile and desktop personal computers, as well as innovative digital products. The company is also one of the leading players in China's IT market. It is part of the core business lines of TCL Corporation, which is one of the biggest consumer electronics groups in China.

ò Skyworth Digital Holdings, China's second-largest television maker, announced that it would sell more than double the number of flat-panel televisions than it previously forecasted for this financial year. The company said it will sell about 1.1 million units for the year to March, compared with the previous forecast of 400,000 units, and forecast 1.8 million units for the next business year. Skyworth said total television sales would increase by 5 percent to 10 percent to about 8.9 million to 9.4 million units in 2007-08. The company said revenues from LCD televisions jumped 172 percent to HK$1.9 billion ($243.2 million), or 230,000 sets, for the six months to September, accounting for 34.6 percent of total sales, compared with 15.4 percent in the same period of 2005. Exports of CRT televisions, which dominate the company's overseas sales, declined by 8.3 percent in the first half to 998,000 units. Overall overseas television sales by the company surged 2.7 percent to HK$666 million (US$85.2 million) in the first half, accounting for 11.9 percent of total sales.

Semiconductors
ò Praxair China and Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) announced the signing of a contract that will allow Praxair to supply industrial gases to SMIC's new FAB 8 facility in Shanghai. With the agreement, Praxair is expected to upgrade its existing facility and pipelines in the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park to supply ultra-high-purity nitrogen, oxygen, argon, hydrogen and helium to the semiconductor plant. . Praxair will also build and operate the purification and gas-monitoring sytems located on the site. SMIC's FAB 8 facility marks a significant expansion of its existing facilities in Shanghai and will be used for the production of 300mm wafers with 90nm technology. Praxair also supplies SMIC's existing fabs in Shanghai and its 12-inch wafer fab in Beijing. SMIC is the largest producer of semiconductor chip wafers in China and one of the leading integrated circuit manufacturers worldwide.

Ventures/Investments
ò Market sources said that Beijing Novel-Tongfang Information Engineer, a digital television device maker partly controlled by China's Tsinghua University, announced plans to raise as much as $400 million in an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. The company is one of the mainland technology companies favouring a listing on the NYSE or NASDAQ over Hong Kong for the higher valuations that they can secure from the large number of technology funds that invest there. Beijing Novel was set up in 2001 as a joint venture between Tsinghua Novel and Tsinghua Tongfang, a Shanghai-listed information and biotechnology company. Tsinghua Novel is owned by Tsinghua University and Hong Kong's Novel Group, a diversified conglomerate with property, textile and chemical units. The firm makes set-top boxes, digital television video recorders and cable-TV data transmission hardware. Among its clients are China Central Television, the Central Satellite Television Transmission Center and the Broadcast and TV Monitoring Centre at the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.
Taiwan

Semiconductors
ò Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the world's top contract chipmaker, posted an 18 percent decline in its net profit of NT$27.9 billion ($846.4 million) for the fourth quarter from NT$33.9 billion ($1 billion) in 2005 and down 14 percent from the third quarter. For the firm, this represents its smallest quarterly profit in five quarters even as it forecasted a drop in first-quarter sales. TSMC saw stable growth in the personal computer market this year, but shipment growth of mobile phones and consumer products would be slower for the period. TSMC also said it had no plans to give shareholders a special payout despite the announcement of its rival United Microelectronics Corp (UMC) that it would return up to NT$57.3 billion ($1.7 billion) to shareholders. TSMC's capital spending for this year is between US$2.6 billion and US$2.8 billion, similar to last year's budget. Analysts predict that UMC, the world's second-biggest contract chipmaker, is expected to report early next month a 67 percent rise in its quarterly net profit to NT$5 billion ($151.6 million), from NT$3 billion ($91 million) a year ago.

Hong Kong

Telecommunications
ò Citic Pacific announced that it has formally applied to the Hong Kong stock exchange for a separate listing of its Citic 1616 telecommunications unit, with the aim to open the way for the potential value of the business and raising new funds for the parent company. Market sources said that the IPO could generate some $100 million to $150 million by a sale of new and old shares. Citic 1616, wholly owned by Citic Pacific is a provider of value-added services to telecommunications operators with a focus on China and Hong Kong. The firm offers a range of telecommunications businesses including traditional international voice calls, roaming and advanced mobile value-added services such as a short messaging service. BNP Paribas handles the sale for Citic Pacific.

Mobile/Wireless
ò Hutchison Telecommunications International announced that it is offering Hong Kong users a flat-rate tariff for unlimited use of a new series of services. Hutchison said it is looking to about 40 percent of users of its mobile broadband operations to subscribe to the X-Series services, compared with 10 percent achieved during a trial period last month. The additional number of subscribers is expected to boost the companyÆs data revenue by 10 percent within 12 months. Subscribers to Hutchison's 3G services pay an average of HK$200 ($26) a month, with 20 percent of that accounting for data services depending on use. Hutchison said the X-Series targets the general public and aims at encouraging subscribers to use functions on their 3G mobile phones normally accessed through their desktop or laptop computers. The new mobile services include instant messaging, internet browsing and remote access to home computers through ORB software. Subscribers with a television set-top box using Sling Media technology can watch live television programs through their 3G mobile phone. A bundled package for all X-Series services including Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo and the home television service is available for HK$138 ($18) a month with unlimited data traffic usage. The services represent a change in business direction for Hutchison as they rely on third-party applications.

Singapore/Malaysia/Philippines/Indonesia

Semiconductors
ò SingaporeÆs Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing reported a 76 percent decline in its profit year-on-year in the fourth quarter, with the company ascribing the result to weaker sales. For the three months to December, the company said its net profit was $6.4 million compared with $26.5 million dollars a year earlier. Analysts had projected the company, one of the worldÆs biggest chip foundries, would earn a net profit of $3.9 million to $8.0 million during the fourth quarter. During the quarter, the companyÆs wafer shipments posted a decline of 6.1 percent to 295,500. For the full financial year to December, record revenues swung Chartered back into the black with net profit of $68.1 million against a loss of $159.6 million.
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