ò Softbank Corp. announced that it swung back to profit in the January-March quarter, results that it ascribed to strong sales in the company's broadband business. The firm said its net income hit Ñ39.7 billion ($358 million) in the fiscal fourth quarter, compared with a loss of Ñ27.2 billion ($238.6 million) a year earlier. Its quarterly sales posted an 8.4-percent growth to Ñ298.4 billion ($2.6 billion) from Ñ275.2 billion ($2.4 billion) a year ago. Its profits from its broadband service using ADSL continued to rise following a subscription gain of more than 5 million subscribers. Its fixed-line telephone business saw an improvement, as it generated an operating profit of Ñ2.9 billion ($26.4 million) compared to an operating loss it registered a year earlier and in the previous quarter. For the 2005 fiscal year, Softbank reported a net income of Ñ57.5 billion ($518.8 million) compared to a loss of Ñ59.8 billion ($524.6 million) a year earlier. It posted a 32.5 percent growth in its sales to Ñ1.1 trillion ($10 billion) from Ñ837 billion ($7.3 billion) a year earlier.
ò Ebara, a Japanese company that makes semiconductor-manufacturing equipment, announced that it has entered an agreement that will allow it to conduct research at Albany NanoTech. The three-year agreement is placed at about $5 million. With this move, the Tokyo-based Ebara becomes the latest semiconductor equipment company to join Albany NanoTech, a $3 billion partnership involving the University at Albany's College of Nano-scale Science and Engineering and semiconductor companies. Ebara posted $4.5 billion in sales in 2005. Equipment manufacturers Tokyo Electron of Japan and Applied Materials of California are two other companies with research-and-development agreements with Albany NanoTech.
ò Sony Corp. said it is looking to get Ñ17 billion ($150 million) in profit from its sale of retail businesses in the year to next March. The Japanese electronics and entertainment firm announced the completion of a transaction that saw it forming a holding company for several non-core businesses and said it sold a 51 percent stake in it to Nikko Principal Investments Japan, a unit of Nikko Cordial Group Corp. The financial details of the deal were not disclosed.
ò The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications announced its decision to urge Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. to cut the fees it charges other communications services providers for using its fiber-optic lines as early as fiscal 2008. The ministry's committee on competition in the telecommunications market is expected to include the reduction plan in its report due out July, the sources said. Having seen ADSL services rapidly expanded throughout the nation after lowering access fees, the ministry expects the same result in the fiber-optic services. It expects lower fees to encourage new service providers to enter the market, and therefore lower the charges for end-users. NTT dominates the fiber-optic communications market with about a 60 percent share. It provides fiber-optic access to households at Ñ5,074 ($44) per month. Other providers borrowing the lines from NTT charge about Ñ6,000 ($52) per month from households after covering part of the fees they have to pay to NTT.
ò Yahoo disclosed that it would pay $60 million for the acquisition of some 10-percent stake in South Korean e-commerce provider Gmarket. Yahoo, noting that the company does not have a leadership position in e-commerce auctions in South Korea, said it is looking to GmarketÆs leadership position in the country as valuable. Yahoo said that it would purchase the stake from venture capital firm Oak Investment Partners, which it said was the only significant outside institutional investor in Gmarket.
ò Gmarket Inc., an e-market company, announced itÆs filing for an IPO of up to $100 million in American depositary shares. The company said it plans to use the net proceeds from the sale of its shares in the IPO to upgrade and expand its network and to conduct marketing activities. Some of the funds will be used for working capital and other general corporate purposes. Goldman Sachs International, Cowen & Co. and Thomas Weisel Partners LLC are listed as the underwriters for the offering. For the three months ended March 31, the company posted net income of US$2 million and revenue of US$29.1 million. Gmarket did not disclose details about the number of shares to be offered or an estimated price range for the IPO.
ò TMSBroadcasting, and NCsoft North America announced the creation of Lineage Radio, the official online radio station devoted exclusively to supporting the LineageR II gaming community in North America. LineageRadio.com will feature a 24/7 audio stream, with exclusive Lineage II interviews, news and features. Industry observers are saying the Lineage Radio will set a new standard for Internet radio especially for gamers. The agreement between TMSBroadcasting and NCsoft is expected to bring listeners contests, podcasts, events, and access to the development process, as well as interviews highlighting key members within the Lineage II community, including both fans of the title and NCsoft staff alike.
ò A government report indicated that South Korea's e-commerce sales posted a decline in April due mainly to seasonal factors. The National Statistical Office (NSO) said e-commerce transactions in the country hit 1 trillion won ($1 billion) in April, a figure that represents a 5-percent decline from 1.1 trillion won ($1.1 billion) a month earlier. The seasonal factors include the return of children to school, which increased demand for computer-related items, books and clothing. The NSO said that from a year earlier, April sales were up 31.2 percent. The report noted that there were eighteen more cyber-shopping malls in April than in the previous month, bringing the overall number to 4,421.
ò Major multinational online game publishers like Mforma, Gameloft and Electronic Arts are reportedly set to tap the South Korean mobile game market. EA Korea revealed its plans to expand the business from game consoles and PC online games into mobile games by leveraging Jam.com, a mobile game provider recently bought by the company. The company has decided to introduce a mobile version of the football game FIFA. Mforma, which bought Java Game and Mobile Game three years ago, said it is aiming to increase its presence in the market this year. The company has decided to change the name of the company to Hands On Korea in the third quarter of this year as a part of efforts to boost its mobile game brand image. Gameloft said it readying the launching of some 25 mobile titles including four 3D games in the second half of this year. The company already introduced æBrothers in ArmsÆ war game, and plans to roll out a series of 3D sports including baseball and football via SK Telecom.
ò CJ Internet said that 'Sudden Attack' developed by GameHI and serviced by its own game portal Netmarble continues to make record-breaking 120,000 concurrent accesses. The company ascribes the growth to the sudden rise of users in the middle of explosive popularity of the low-gravity map newly released and growing recognition and popularity of the company. The low-gravity map named 'G-Cube' is said to give a unique excitement in shooting as the battle is done in space. Along with this, a voice chatting system that was updated is an important contributor to the popularity of the game. Industry analysts are saying 'Sudden Attack' will be a source of revenues that will contribute to a huge profit in the second half of the year after being commercialized this month. CJ Internet said it plans to activate contests related to e-sports between regions and generations.
Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò Korea Telecom Hitel (KTH), a South Korean web portal company, announced that it would provide video contents for Wonder Zone, a KT WiBro video contents service. KTH will make the most of the wireless broadband environment and deal with unique subjects that movies or TV canæt touch on. Unlike other online VOD (Video-on Demand) services, Wonder Zone is an exclusive content-producing brand for WiBro and will provide various programmes covering comedy, humor and documentary genres.
ò NCsoft announced the release of a free expansion to City of Villains and City of Heroes, Issue 7: ôDestiny Manifest,ö in both North America and Europe. In addition to level 40 to 50 content for villains, the new expansion adds the opportunity for villains to wreak havoc in new ômayhem missions,ö and a player-versus-player (PvP) zone where villains and heroes clash to control a dynamically changing battlefield. The company said the expansion is free to both City of Heroes and City of VillainsÆ subscribers. The new City of Villains 40 to 50 level content includes more than 300 new missions and a new zone for level 40 and higher players. NCsoft said the free expansion also includes new base features including storage items, empowerment stations, super group banners, and base color tinting. The expansion provides a new set of costume options and adds ôsweepingö art and graphics improvements to City of Heroes.
ò Samsung and LG are competing in the Indian mobile market, with Samsung Electronics having rolled out India's first wide screen CDMA phone, Wideo, after LG Electronics launched its new GSM phone in India. Samsung, in its release of Wideo, said it is valuing its association with Tata Indicom and looks to boosting Tata Indicom's handset portfolio. LG Electronics launched its feature packed GSM phone in India, making it the first GSM in the country. The device is fitted with features that include a pre-installed English-to-English dictionary and a password-protected folder application called "data bank," which enables consumers to safely store confidential information on their phones.
ò The Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) of South Korea announced that South Korean and British companies have started test service of terrestrial DMB of Korea and DVB-IP of the UK for seven months until January 2007. Like DMB, DVB-IP is also based on Eureka-147, but adopts IP method, using Window Media Encoder. The mobile TV test service will be conducted in London, with a group of British experts to conduct a comparative experiment. During the test period, Korean DMB handsets will be provided, which the MIC expects will contribute to Korean DMBÆs penetration into the UK. Observers noted that the FIFA World-Cup is a factor that could lead to DMB boom.
ò K-Netpi announced the launching of a mobile game displaying as many as 40 characters on a 2-inch screen. The mobile game is called "Suhoji Mussang Battle," a large battle game with up to 40 characters played at the same time, via SK Telecom, KTF, and LG Telecom. The company said the new game delivers 3D-like effects in distance and space over 2D mobile handsets.
ò Pantech Group announced signing up on a contract on ODM manufacturing of CDMA phones with Nokia. Pantech & Curitel revealed that the contract valued at US\\$129 million would allow the company to ship CDMA camera phones and EV-DO phones to the Finnish phone maker. Curitel supplied mobile phones to Nokia last year, too. The contract will be implemented from June to December 2006 and the phones will be on sale in North America. According to Pantech Group, the contract would assure stable sales and order intake in the region.
ò Analog Devices, a supplier of high-performance semiconductors for signal processing applications, announced its acquisition of South Korean DMB tuner chipset maker Integrant Technologies in a deal valued at $160 million dollars. Integrant holds more than 100 patents or patent applications around the world including, among others, the technology to convert RF signals to baseband frequencies directly. It will be part of Analog Devices as it deals with high-speed signal processing whose innovations in RF design focuses on receivers and transceivers for broadband wireless, satellite radio and terrestrial and cable TV. Analog Devices said that it will acquire all the shares of Integrant through 60 days of due processes.
ò SK Telecom said it is seeking to expand in markets elsewhere in Asia, especially in China. Analysts see this as the firmÆs response to the saturated domestic market in the country. The report said SK Telecom is reportedly making plans to take a 10 percent stake in China Unicom, ChinaÆs second-largest mobile company. Some reports even disclosed that SK Telecom would shell out up to $1.1 billion for the China Unicom stake. SK Telecom is now is in search for advisers to work with them on the proposed deal. Sprint Nextel of the U.S. and KDDI Corp. of Japan were some of those foreign firms interested in Unicom.
ò In what is seen as another level of market competition, Telecoms carries such as KT, KTF and Hanaro Telecom are rushing to roll out differentiated services adopting Wi-Bro wireless internet, 3.5G HSDPA and TV portals, putting final touches on brand promotion and new price plans. Wi-Bro and HSDPA offerings are set for some W30,000 ($31) monthly, and Hanaro Telecom has decided to provide TV portal service for around W10,000 ($10) as earlier announced. KT said it is naming the new Wi-Bro service, launching ads and writing policies. KT is now considering combining the basic rate and pay-as-you-use; offering handset subsidies for notebooks and PDAs; and lowering prices for convergence service. KTF is also making moves after moving up the launch of HSDPA service from next month to this month, with the company changing its brand service. Hanaro Telecom disclosed that it is putting final touches on brand marketing and policies and procedures ahead of the launch of its TV portal service set for early next month. The company is now weighing between "Hana TV" and "Hanofos TV," and seeking to highlight differentiating features of TV portal service through advertising campaigns.
ò ZCOM, an e-magazine platform developer in China, announced that it has signed an agreement with 23 Chinese publications that will allow it to launch the online versions of these magazines. With over 60 print magazines working on the e-versions of their products using the technology of the company, ZCOM is considered to be one of the largest e-zine platforms in China. It has a combined circulation of more than 3 million subscribers. A top official of the company looks to the launching of these 23 e-magazines to boost their companyÆs content and popularity.
ò CEC Telecom, the mobile-phone manufacturing subsidiary of electronics firm Qiao Xing Universal, announced its plans to seek a Nasdaq listing. The company said it aims to raise some $150 million by the fourth quarter of this year and that it would use it for research and development of 3G-handsets. CEC disclosed that it has secured $60 million from private equity funds. In November 2005, Qiao Xing said CEC had an unaudited gross profit of $24.6 million for the first nine months of last year, representing a 91 percent rise from a year earlier. Qiao Xing first bought 65 percent of CEC, partly from China Electronics Corp, in March 2002, for Rmb316 million ($39.4 million), followed by 25 per cent in May 2004, and the remaining 10 per cent at the end of last year. CEC competes with other mainland brands such as TCL, Konka and Ningbo Bird for a share of the country's handset market, which saw 22.3 million units sold in the first three months of this year.
ò eBay and Tencent Holdings' Paipai.com announced they are entering into an alliance that will enable them to offer a free mobile online auction and purchase service. The partnership is expected to boost the chances of the two mainland companies to obtain a large share of the market from Taobao.com, the present market leader. Paipai.com revealed its plan to keep the auction free of charge for at least three years, with eBay offering a service that will enable users to purchase directly from the portal, but not to bid online. According to iResearch, Taobao.com holds a market share of 57 percent in the first quarter this year, with eBay holding 28 percent and Paipai.com 14 percent. Paipai.com has more than 17 million registered users at present.
Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò China Mobile Group announced that it would indeed take 19.9 percent of mainland broadcaster Phoenix Satellite Television Holdings from Rupert Murdoch's Star Group. The move signals its initial incursion into the media. Even as the two firms would not disclose details of the financial transaction, other sources state that the stake was sold at about HK1.4 billion ($180.3 million). With the transaction, China Mobile eases out Star as the second-largest shareholder of the broadcaster, with Star owning 17.6-percent stake. Under the deal, China Mobile and Phoenix will form an alliance to explore business opportunities in mobile media globally in areas such as the development, production and distribution of wireless services such as music, social networking and other value-added services.
ò CCTV, China's State TV station is predicting an audience of 10 billion for its World Cup coverage. With full coverage of all 63 matches, CCTV is expecting an audience that will come up to more than the combined total of 7 billion in the year 2002. Even as the Chinese national team is not playing, having not qualified for this yearÆs World Cup, CCTV believes that this would not significantly affect the interest of the Chinese audience. The time difference of the coverage is not crucial also to deter the audience from tuning in to the coverage. A poll conducted by Global Market Insite Inc. found that up to 70 percent of the Chinese respondents said they would watch all the World Cup Games, despite the time difference. About two-thirds said they planned to call in sick or take leave from work to watch the matches that would come out in China in the early hours of the morning.
ò Sohu.com announced it is setting up a wholly owned entertainment company, Sohu Entertainment and Culture Media Co., Ltd., a move that marks its entry into the entertainment sector. A top official of the Chinese Internet portal said that the new company is not expected initially to bring in profit although they expect to gain experience and learn lessons from the new venture. The registered capital of the new company has not been disclosed although Sohu said it has never made such a large investment on a side business like this entertainment company. In a separate development, ôThe Time of Our LivesÆ, the official song of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, was released in China by Sohu.com. Sohu.com Inc. has entered into a cooperation agreement with Sony BMG, the official music copyright owner of the FIFA World Cup 2006 Germany.
ò Fujitsu said it is looking to expand computer hardware sales in the mainland and Hong Kong up to $500 million by 2008. The company said it can only achieve its global business goals if it succeeds in China and thus looks at the move as a marketing move beyond Japanese multinationals and into Chinese enterprises. Fujitsu defines its strategy as including the establishment of platform solutions centers that would enable customers to test systems in Shanghai. Already, a center of this type has been set up in Shanghai, with one in Hong Kong to be opened soon and another in Beijing slated to be built in March 2007. The company looks to its sales of PCs to post $200 million and its servers and storage systems to reach $300 million by 2008, growths ascribed to steadily growing technology investments of businesses. The company said its sales of the groupÆs computer hardware products reached $200 million in 2005 in the mainland and Hong Kong. Fujitsu for a long time said it has concentrated on providing for the IT requirements of Japanese multinationals in the mainland and Hong Kong. Gartner said IT spending in the mainland this year would reach $62.3 billion, of which $14 billion would consist of hardware. In Hong Kong, enterprise technology investments are forecast to hit HK$50.5 billion ($6.5 billion) this year, with hardware accounting for HK$8.4 billion ($1 billion), according to Gartner.
ò Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC), China's largest maker of made-to-order microchips, said it would consider buying two government-owned plants so it could expand production capacity. The expansion is a response to the rising global demand for chips. SMIC earlier disclosed its plans to rent the plants in Wuhan and Chengdu from the government, with the intention of acquiring them in three to five years. The Wuhan plant would be built this year and was expected to start production at the end of 2007. The Chengdu plant was expected to start production of 8-inch wafers in the first quarter of next year but no output targets were given. SMIC said it has secured a deal with a group of banks for a new $600-million loan, which will be used to pay off earlier loans and in part to expand its Shanghai wafer plant. The 18-bank consortium includes ABN Amro and Bank of China.
ò An industry source said that China Netcom Group Corp (Hong Kong) and its parent firm will receive $402 million in cash from the sale of its undersea cable carrier Asia Netcom to three private equity funds, which include London-based Ashmore Emerging Markets, Liquid Investment, Spinnaker Global Opportunity Fund, and New York-based Clearwater Capital. A banking source revealed that the negative book value of the service and sales unit would make China Netcom record a one-off gain from the sale. Parent China Network Communications Group Corp, which owns the undersea cable network, is seen as receiving $233 million for its assets. Ashmore, which holds a range of telecommunications assets in Asia, is the biggest fund out of the three with $20 billion assets under management. Matthew Burlage, a banker at investment bank IRG representing the three private equity investors, said the new shareholders would give Asia Netcom three years before they decided whether to inject more capital so it could acquire other companies, or exit via an IPO.
ò International Data Corporation (IDC) forecasts China as getting a 24-percent share in the regional technology-services market share by 2010, which will result to the country overtaking Australia as the largest market for professional IT services in the Asia-Pacific, excluding Japan. IDC points to increasing domestic demand and with business leaders in China shifting to IT services as the reason for the rise of China in the field. IDC estimates the technology services market in Asia Pacific, excluding Japan, to post a 10-percent growth annually to hit $48.3 billion in 2010 from $29.5 billion last year. The mainland technology services market last year totaled $5.1 billion, a figure that represents a 17.2 percent regional market share, compared with Australia's IT services market last year worth $9 billion. IDC said the mainland technology services market consists of three sub-markets, namely outsourcing, consulting, system integration, and technical product support.
ò Dopod, a Taiwan smart-phone supplier, announced its plans to publicly list its shares in Hong Kong as early as next year after becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of High Tech Computer Corp. High Tech Computer, a Taiwan-listed firm, said it has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with DopodÆs existing shareholders to acquire the company in a deal valued at about $150 million. Dopod reported net profits of $8 million for the 12 months to December last year on revenue of $130 million. For the three months to March this year, the company said it net profits reached $5 million. High Tech Computer's smart-phone and PDA phone clients include mobile operators Vodafone and Orange. Dopod operates in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, the mainland, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia.
ò United Microelectronics Corp (UMC) announced a 30-percent rise in its revenue last month from the same month last year. For May this year, its revenue hit NT$8.5 billion ($261.4 million), compared to NT$6.4 billion ($196.8 million) in May 2005. The companyÆs products are used in desktop computers, notebooks, digital cameras and mobile phones. A JPMorgan analyst disclosed that UMCÆs May revenue was slightly lower than the NT$8.8 billion ($270.6 million) predicted but said that the company is expected to post ôdecentö revenues in the second and third quarters. UMC counts Texas Instruments, the worldÆs biggest manufacturer of mobile phone chips by revenue, as one of its biggest customers.
Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò PCCW may have Bloomberg Television, a US-based financial information provider, as a content partner for the business channel of its pay television arm NOW Broadband TV, according to an industry source. The NOW Business News Channel focuses on local and foreign stock market news and investment analysis and is seen as a Chinese version of Bloomberg and General Electric's CNBC. This move by PCCW is seen as a plan to help draw away audiences from major rival Cable Television, which also has a financial news channel. NOW's newly launched channel also said it aims to become a partner for foreign financial media firms who look for Chinese language programs. The report said Bloomberg expressed interest in the programs of NOW's financial news channel and proposed to use the programmes to build the Chinese version of Bloomberg Television Channel. Bloomberg could not be reached for any comment on the partnership. In another development, the Business News Channel said it plans to expand its coverage through mobile phone and the internet. Currently, the channel is now available on PCCWÆs 3G mobile phones.