A week in tech, June 16 - 22

A round-up of all the latest tech news.

ò Intel disclosed that it is working with Microsoft and Tokyo-based BitWallet in a bid to boost use of Sony's FeliCa contactless IC card technology for internet transactions. BitWallet provides the EDY contactless payment system. The aim of the alliance is to increase up to three times the number of PCs fitted with FeliCa-reading functions and double the number of internet services compatible with the technology. The companies said they also are targeting doubling the number of online payments made using the technology within a year. Earlier, Intel said it had invested some Ñ5 billion ($43.4 million) in BitWallet and indicated that it would jointly work with the Japanese firm on boosting use of the EDY electronic money system for Internet payments, which allows customers to pay for purchases by waving the card over a reader at the point of sale as well as by way of the Internet. Some 17 million EDY cards are in use, with the e-money service available at more than 31,000 retail shops and 1,400 e-commerce sites in Japan. In fiscal 2005, 110 million transactions were settled via the EDY services.

ò Hitachi, Mizuho Corporate Bank, University of Tokyo and other Japanese business and academic institutions announced the setting up of an agreement to set up a consortium in July to develop a next-generation internet search engine. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry stated that it would support research and development for the project. The consortium is looking to commercialise an advanced Japanese-made search tool in three to five years. At present, thirty-eight companies and universities have declared their participation in the consortium--including Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., Sony Corp., Dentsu Inc. and Itochu Corp. Under the agreement, the consortium will focus on developing advanced search and analysis technologies to develop a search engine that can compete with US leaders Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc.

ò NTT DoCoMo, Inc. (DoCoMo) and Research In Motion announced that DoCoMo will start marketing RIM's BlackBerry handheld devices to its corporate customers in autumn of 2006. Under the agreement, DoCoMo will provide the devices to further meet corporate users' needs for mobile business solutions. The BlackBerry handheld devices to be sold in Japan will operate on both W-CDMA (UMTS) and GSM/GPRS networks and will be functioning around the world for voice and packet (data) communications. The devices will have QWERTY keyboards, similar to those of PCs, for fast and easy thumb typing. In a separate development, NTT DoCoMo is facing a dilemma in finding a partner in its planned rollout of 3G in China, because the Ministry of Information Industry of China has not granted 3G licenses yet, a company official was quoted as having said. DoCoMo said it could decide only on the kind of strategic alliances it can set up with Chinese partners after it gets an idea of the kind of 3G technology standard the Chinese mobile telecom carriers will adopt. Industry observers said China Mobile, the largest mobile telecom carrier in China, would be the ideal partner of NTT DoCoMo.

ò Hitachi announced its plans to launch full-scale wireless tag operations, aiming to cover about 16 percent share of the domestic market in the next four years. The market is valued at $3.5 billion. Hitachi said it is seeking to raise sales in its "traceability" business, including radio frequency identification (RFID) and IC tags, to Ñ80 billion ($695 million) in the year to March 2011, against an estimated Ñ5 billion ($43.4 million) in 2006-2007. To achieve this target, Hitachi will be deploying 125 different systems targeting specific industries and purposes. Hitachi said it looks to Ñ9.7 trillion ($84.2 billion) in consolidated sales in the year to March 2007.

ò US-based Spansion announced its plans to spend $1.2 billion to build a new flash memory production line in Japan, a move that will allow it to compete with larger rivals such as Samsung Electronics Co. The line, to be located in northern Japan, is expected to start commercial output of microchips with a circuitry width of 45-nanometers by mid-2008. Spansion said it may also make 65-nanometer chips at the new facility. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. Most of the world's advanced semiconductor factories currently produce chips with a circuitry width of 90 nanometers. Finer circuitry means the chip can be smaller while data can be processed faster, with the process able to cut production costs.


ò Powercomm, Korea's third-largest broadband internet operator, announced its decision to change its name to LG Powercomm, a move aimed at boosting its brand recall. The companyÆs board of directors, which made the decision, will wait for the final approval of the name change from shareholders during a meeting next month. Powercomm, which registered 600,000 subscribers, is one of the three communications affiliates within the LG Group. The other two are LG Telecom, a wireless carrier, and Dacom Corp., a fixed-line operator. Powercomm said it aims to widen its user base to 1.3 million by the end of this year and grow to 2 million by next year. At the end of March, the total number of subscribers to high-speed internet service in Korea hit 12.4 million. With 50.1 percent market share, KT Corp. holds the biggest market share. In a separate development, Dacom is reportedly considering changing its name to LG Dacom which observers see as fusing LGÆs communications firms under a single unifying LG name.

The US is No. 1 in having the largest number of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, according to the National Internet Development Agency of Korea. The US has 143.1 million IP addresses. It is followed by the European Union, with 75.1 million, and China, with 73.8 million. South Korea ranks ninth in the number of Internet protocol (IP) addresses, with a total of 43.4 million IPv4 addresses, or version 4 of the IP. IPv4 is currently the dominant network layer protocol on the internet. The report said that the countryÆs Internet industry posted a 13.1 percent growth in 2005.

ò KT Corp., the country's dominant fixed-line and broadband operator, announced the start of its first commercial "broadband convergence network" service in the southern island of Jeju. BcN, which is part of the countryÆs Ministry of InformationÆs project aimed at advancing its network infrastructure, is a system that enables the convergence of telecom, broadcast and internet services via an integrated internet protocol. The companyÆs BcN is expected to deliver simultaneous voice, data and multimedia service between Jeju and other cities via a single terminal, and will cover some 2 million fixed-line and 500,000 multimedia service subscribers in the area. KT said it is strengthening its pursuit of digital content-associated businesses by acquiring domestic educational content companies. Earlier, the company focused its attention to educational areas and strengthened its learning site called KT Campus. It is making a foray into the e-library and e-book market. The company said it has formed a partnership with Kyobo Bookstore to provide book content online, and decided to co-develop an electronic library system in league with PDF solution vendor Unidocs. The company also plans to provide e-library APS for schools, enterprises and public organisations, and offer book content for individual users via Wi-Bro wireless Internet and IPTV.

ò Electronic ArtsÆ (EA) online soccer game FIFA Online said it has recorded over 100,000 concurrent users. Game publisher Neowiz announced that in the first twenty days since starting open beta service, the game attracted more than 1.5 million cumulative users and over 100,000 concurrent users. In another development, YNK Korea announced the start of a closed beta service of Rohan this month and open beta in August. The companyÆs partner in Japan is Excite Japan.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò Considered as one of AsiaÆs most successful RPG Games, CABAL, said it is launching its English beta across Europe this month. Industry observers point to CABAL's clever use of combined weaponry action and smooth game play as factors that brought it to the top of the play charts in South Korea and the closed Beta launch in Europe. The game combines the best in console game action moves with online game community features. In addition, unlike many other MMORPGs, it also has an end to the months of battle at which time players can choose where they stand in the world war and mass guild warfare.

ò KTF announced the start of commercial service of HSDPA in 50 cities in July, with the company deploying two HSDPA handset models - one from Samsung Electronics and another from LG Electronics. Under the program, KTF said it will be offering a subsidy amount of W200,000 ($209) for HSDPA phones, W100,000 lower than what SKT is offering. KTF revealed its plans to introduce three HSDPA tariff plans. The company said it will invest a total of W1 trillion until the end of the year, expanding its coverage to 84 cities. In another development, SKT said it has plans to go on an expansion that will cover some 84 cities by October.

ò Three wireless operators SK Telecom, KTF and LG Telecom, announced their decision to launch the ôMobile Touchö service in the second half of this year. The mobile payment environment adopting mobile phones will adopt RF (radio frequency) chip cards in partnership with some 150,000 member stores that include E-Mart, Family Mart, Shinsegae Department Store, Mega Mart, Kyobo Bookstore, Marche and Crown Bakery. Under the alliance, SK Telecom and KTF said they plan to link RF features with USIM chip cards installed in WCDMA/HSDPA handsets, delivering the world's first RF in USIM cards mainly used for subscriber identification and global roaming. The two companies are also aiming at increasing the number of RF-enabled mobile phones to 10 million units by late this year. LG Telecom also expects the number of "Bank On" handsets with RF functions to be around 1.4 million by the end of this year.

ò LG Electronics revealed that it has dropped plans to buy the handset- making unit of KT Freetel after negotiations broke down. LG Electronics signed a preliminary agreement to buy control of unlisted KTF Technologies, in March. The company said KT Freetel decided to end the talks after they failed to reach an agreement. KTF has a 73.9 percent share of KTFT. The company said it had intended to sell more than 50 percent of KTFT shares to LG Electronics, if the deal had been successful. Analysts are saying this development may cause a decline in the operating profits of LG in the second quarter.


ò Tom Online disclosed that it will acquire Infomax, a wireless entertainment company, in a deal valued up to $75 million. Tom Online said in a statement that the acquisition would give the company access to hundreds of millions of Chinese households via Infomax's television network, strengthening its presence in the country's wireless Internet market. The acquisition is expected to provide opportunities for product diversification, operational efficiencies and content sharing. Under the acquisition, TOM Online said it would acquire 100 percent of Infomax with the maximum valuation placed at Rmb600 million ($75 million).

ò eBayÆs China-based subsidiary, eBay Eachnet, announced its launching of a WAP-based mobile shopping platform in cooperation with Tom Online. Under the agreement, Tom Online said it will provide wireless technology for eBay Eachnet to allow users to do their shopping through WAP-enabled mobile phones. Aside from Tom Online, eBay Eachnet said it will also seek more partners in wireless value-added operators. eBay Eachnet is lagging behind local frontrunner Taobao.com, a unit of Alibaba.com, the premier business-to-business site in China. According to Chinese market research firm Analysys International, Tabao.com had a 57.7 percent market share compared with eBay EachnetÆs 31.5 percent in 2005.

ò SAP revealed that it paid more than $12.6 million for a minority stake in Neusoft, one of China's leading IT services and training firms with more than 8,000 staff and sales of Rmb2.8 billion ($350 million) last year. A top company official said China's demand for business management software - including enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management and supply-chain management applications - would continue to grow over the next few years with much of it driven by SMEs. The Neusoft deal and other local partner investments are expected to help SAP reach more potential customers through known market specialists. SAP has about 30 local partners on the mainland. Analysts estimate the mainland ERP market to be worth about $200 million, with aggressive local players such as Kingdee International Software Group and Ufida dominating the SME segment. SAP has prospered by focusing on large domestic enterprises and other multinationals. With a compound annual growth rate of 70 per cent over the past nine years, SAP is one of the most profitable foreign companies in China.

ò TC Interconnect, one of the leading manufacturers of printed circuit boards in China (PCB), announced its plans to raise up to HK$60 million ($7.7 million) in its Hong Kong IPO this month. Without divulging details, the company said it has received positive reception to the institutional portion of its offering with a prominent strategic investor already on board. Kingboard Chemical, one of the worldÆs largest makers of laminated and printed circuit boards will be holding a 9.9 percent interest in the company with a lock-up period of six months after the listing. The company has one production plant in Guangdong province with an annual production rate of about 36.6 million sq ft worth of PCBs. It plans to construct a new plant in the same province in August this year, with the aim of completing it before the end of the year. The company reported for the year ended Dec. 31, 2005 profit of HK$37.2 million ($4.7 million) on the back of revenue of HK$495.6 million ($63.8 million). CAF Securities is sponsoring the listing.

ò Far EasTone Telecommunications (FET), a mobile carrier, announced the launching of a marketing activity aimed at Taiwan's youth market. The offering will allow FET subscribers who call the "616-6" voice service of KG Telecom between now and August the chance to chat with their favorite Taiwanese pop icons. Users will also be given the chance to join FET's trips to northern, central, southern, and eastern Taiwan. Membership to KGT's voice service is free. Presently, more than 300,000 people make up "616's" customer base. FET, which acquired KGT three years ago, is counting on some star power to draw mobile phone subscribers to its voice services.

ò High Tech Computer (HTC) announced its unveiling of its first two self-branded smartphones, including a Windows Mobile product that is loaded with Microsoft's Office applications. The device offers push e-mail capabilities and operates on the latest 3G wireless networks. HTC, a company based in Taiwan, makes mobile phones that are sold by most of the major wireless operators around the world. The two new handsets represent the first time the manufacturer will put its own name on a line of products.

ò Hon Hai Precision Industry, maker of electronics components, plans to offer up to $1.8 billion in shares overseas. The move, according to analysts, is the latest of a series of Taiwan technology firms to tap global capital markets to raise funds. The company disclosed that it is planning to issue up to 300 million new shares for the issue of GDRs. The planned issue follows the same moves by Powerchip Semiconductor and Nanya Technology, two Taiwan-based manufacturers of memory chips that announced earlier this year their plans to issue shares overseas in a bid to raise funds for the building of new factories. Hon Hai counts among its clients Dell and Hewlett-Packard. It looks to earn a net profit of around NT$54 billion ($1.6 billion) in 2006.

Hong Kong

ò The launching of the i-mode data platform and the first ôsuper 3G serviceö is putting Hong KongÆs mobile operators back in the limelight, analysts are saying. Observers note that the launch of the two services are highlighting the failed expectations regarding the present 3G services, the consumers gave better appraisals of i-mode as providing better access to the Internet. i-mode is talked about as giving more ease of use for developers as well as users. With its open platform based on regular internet standards, content developers are having ease in creating mobile applications at a lower cost. The slow download speeds demonstrated by 3G since its deployments have also prompted Hong KongÆs 3G operators to launch HSDPA services before the end of the year.

ò Hutchison Whampoa said it has bought an additional stake in its Indian GSM mobile business for at least$550 million. The acquisition would bring Hutchison Telecommunications International Ltd.'s direct holdings to 47.4% in Hutchison Essar, which would bring the value of the Indian firm to $10.7 billion. Hutchison Essar is India's No. 3 mobile operator on the basis of its 18 million GSM customers.


ò The Philippines National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) said the wireless market is expected to peak soon to about 50 percent of the population. The report said the Philippines would see wireless subscriptions posting a growth to about 7.5 million. At present, the country has 40-percent penetration. At 50 percent, the country would be well behind South Korea and even Taiwan but will be almost in the same league as Japan and ahead of Thailand.

ò Celcom, a subsidiary of the Telekom Malaysia group, announced the launching of its high speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) services in Malaysia with Nokia's HSDPA solution. Under the agreement, Nokia is supplying the Nokia HSDPA solution with 3.6Mbps capability, a radio access network and transmission from its radio network portfolio.
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