A week in tech, March 5-11

A roundup of the latest tech news.

Fujitsu has announced that it will upgrade the capacity of the South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe 4 (SEA-ME-WE 4) submarine cable network that connects numerous countries between Singapore and France. With completion scheduled in 2009, this multi-million dollar second upgrade project will triple the existing trunk capacity of the system, enabling SEA-ME-WE 4 to support the increased broadband traffic requirements along the route. Owned and operated by 16 international telecommunications carriers with 16 landing points. Fujitsu had the turnkey responsibility of designing and laying for Segment 1, linking Singapore to Mumbai. The network's capacity was subsequently doubled in the third quarter of 2007.

Pioneer Corporation said it would incur losses this fiscal year as it booked charges to pull out of plasma television-panel manufacturing after failing to convince consumers to pay steep prices for its TVs. The company cut its net outlook for this fiscal year through March to a Ñ15.0 billion ($147.1 million) loss from the Ñ6 billion ($58.8 million) profit it previously expected. It blamed expenses for the plasma-panel pullout as well as higher taxes for the second downward revision in its profit outlook in just over four months. Instead of manufacturing its own panels, Pioneer said it is now in talks with Matsushita Electric Industrial on securing supplies for its TV sets.

Fujitsu has released its new series of MHZ2 BT 2.5" hard disk drives with capacity of up to 500 GB. The new series responds to the growing need for hard drives in the 2.5" form factor that can handle high-volume storage for such products as digital video recorders and external hard drives. The MHZ2 BT series requires only 1.8W of power for read and write operations, ranking it among the most power-efficient drives in its class. The series is one of many new products announced as part of FujitsuÆs Green Policy Innovation program, unveiled in December 2007 to promote energy-efficient products and services as a way to help customers lower their ecological footprint.

Samsung Electronics plans to build a high-speed wireless internet network in Japan based on KoreaÆs home-grown technology WiBro. Samsung said that it has agreed with JapanÆs UQ Communications to provide equipment and facilities to establish the WiBro network. UQ Communications, a consortium led by JapanÆs second-largest mobile carrier KDDI, plans to start a test service in Tokyo and Yokohama in February next year and launch the commercial service around next summer.

Mitsubishi Electric has pulled the plug on its mobile handset operations, citing intense competition in the Japanese market. Local vendors are struggling to compete as handsets made by the major European and US players grow in popularity in Japan. Mitsubishi is the second major Japanese name to disappear from the market this year, following Kyocera's acquisition of Sanyo Electric's unprofitable mobile phone arm in January. Closure of the mobile unit will affect 600 employees across R&D, manufacturing and sales, although Mitsubishi said these will be repositioned within the group, mainly at its communications systems business.

The Japanese government is so bullish about fuel cell technology that it has earmarked $309 million a year for development. It also plans for 10 million homes, on about one-fourth of Japanese households, to be powered by fuel cells by 2020. The technology, which draws energy from the chemical reaction when hydrogen combines with oxygen to form water, is more commonly seen in futuristic cars with tanks of hydrogen instead of gasoline, which is a key factor in pollution and global warming. Nearly every home in Japanese cities is supplied with natural gas, which could make it relatively easy to spread fuel cell technology there.

A plan by Chubu Electric Power to use plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel to generate electricity at a nuclear plant in Shizuoka Prefecture has received approval from the government, clearing the way for its implementation. Governor Yoshinobu Ishikawa formally conveyed the local consent to the so-called pluthermal, or plutonium-thermal, plan to Chubu Electric President Toshio Mita.

Media, entertainment and gaming
Walt Disney will team up with Japanese companies Toei Animation, Madhouse and Jinni's Animation Studios to produce animated features in Japan. The Nikkei reported that the move was made to help Disney gain wider acceptance of its animated programming in Asia. The Nikkei said the partnerships would allow Disney to tap local talent and computer graphics technology to produce programs for audiences in Japan and across Asia. These programs will be broadcast by satellite and terrestrial channels, but Disney will also look into delivering content to mobile phones, the report said. For Disney, this will mark the first time that it has gone outside of the US with the core production processes for major programs. The studio has tried to enter the global animation market by exporting programs, but it has concluded that production should be done locally so that its shows will be widely accepted in different countries and cultures.


KoreaÆs semiconductor exports that have been on a downward trend since last year, fell 28.5% in February with total overseas sales reaching $1.4 billion. This marks the sixth month in a row that semiconductor exports fell on a year-on-year basis, according to the Ministry of Knowledge Economy. Parts for digital TVs rose 30% in the cited month, while LCD TV shipments increased by 34.5%.

Samsung Electronics has released the worldÆs first 3D-ready plasma TV set, which allows people to enjoy three-dimensional movies and games at home. Users need to wear a pair of special glasses to experience the 3D effect. The TV set, Pavv Cannes 450, also produces clearer images, with a contrast ratio of 1 million to one, the company said. It comes in two sizes - 42 inches and 50 inches - with a price tag of W1.75 million ($1,868) and W2.5 million. The 3D accessory kit, which includes glasses and the software and runs on a PC connected to the TV set, costs an additional W150,000 ($160).

KoreaÆs digital electronics exports rose 7.7% year-on-year to $9.8 billion in February due to strong demand for mobile phones and liquid crystal displays, according to the government. The Ministry of Knowledge Economy said last monthÆs imports of digital electronics rose 15.8% to $5.6 billion with the trade surplus reaching $4.2 billion. The size of the surplus is 1.7% smaller than last year. Mobile phone exports rose 22.9% to $1.6 billion during the cited period, while exports of LCDs increased 36.1% to $1.5 billion. Demand for premium mobile phones has been going up in recent years, surpassing semiconductors and making them KoreaÆs number one digital export. Mobile phone exports that had been hurt by cheap phones made by foreign rivals in 2005 and 2006 started to pick up as global consumers started to look for high-end products that local companies make.

Members of an overseas Chinese democracy party has sued Yahoo for human rights abuses, claiming the company turned over information to Beijing about a colleague that led to his arrest and jailing. Zheng Cunzhu, a Los Angeles businessman and member of the China Democracy Party, sued on behalf of party member Li Zhi who was sentenced in 2003 to eight years in prison after Yahoo supplied information to identify and convict him, according to a complaint filed in San Francisco federal court. The February 22 lawsuit comes three months after Yahoo agreed to provide legal, humanitarian and financial support to the families of two jailed mainland writers to resolve a similar lawsuit over disclosures made to the central government that led to their arrests. Yahoo chief executive Jerry Yang apologised to the families at a US congressional hearing last November.

SK Telecom plans to open an online marketplace in China this year and is contacting Taobao and other Chinese e-commerce firms for possible partnerships, according to the company. Last week, SK Telecom opened a customer-to-customer online shopping site, "11st", targeting ChinaÆs $17 billion e-commerce market, which is currently dominated by Yahoo-owned Gmarket and eBay's local unit. Aside from offering everything from shoes to flat-screen TVs and air tickets, the new site allows customers to chat with other shoppers and to synchronise their PC screens allowing them to shop together. The company is aiming for more than W1 trillion ($1.1 billion) in transaction value in 2009, which is the point where it expects to start generating profits, helped by gains from mobile payment and advertisements.

Ctrip.com International said quarterly net profit doubled, beating expectations because of higher bookings. The company, which is benefiting a wealthier and expanding mainland middle class that is spending more on travel, said it is growing faster than its competitors. Ctrip.com confirms that its market share increased last year due to such events as the Beijing Olympic Games in August and the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. For the full-year, Ctrip said it expected to maintain a year-on-year net revenue growth of around 35%.

China Hualu Group is entering into the domestic mobile phone market and will introduce six series of concept mobile phones in March as a first step. China Hualu is controlled by the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council and is currently mainly engaged in the audiovisual, movie and IT industries.

Beijing has completed the testing of the TD-SCDMA standard on the mobile phone network, edging closer to the commercial launch of thus homegrown 3G technology, industry insiders said. The field tests were carried out in 10 major cities and involved employees of telecommunications companies and professional users. The central government wants to showcase the TD-SCDMA standard during the Beijing Olympics and a successful trial would pave the way for the issuance of 3G licenses. The process is now at the optimisation phase and once this is completed, trials involving citizens will be launched. China Mobile has spent about Rmb25 billion ($3.5 billion) on building a TD-SCDMA trial network in eight cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Qinhuangdao, Xiamen, Tianjin and Shenyang.

China Mobile foresees only a small Chinese stock market float when its planned listing finally goes ahead, according to the companyÆs chief executive officer, Wang Jianzhou. According to Wang, there are a lot of procedural issues to be resolved, but China Mobile is working hard to achieve a listing in the A-share market.

China has hammered out a scheme to lower the ceiling for domestic roaming fees. The scheme will be fully implemented by ChinaÆs two mobile operators, China Mobile and China Unicom on April 1, 2008. According to China Mobile, the lowering of domestic roaming fees will reduce its revenues, but the company expects the loss to be offset by an increase of subscriber numbers and profits from data services. China Mobile is also negotiating with overseas partners to lower its international roaming fee.

China's communications industry generated a total business volume of Rmb184.6 billion ($25.9 billion) in January, a 27.8% increase year-on-year. Revenues rose 9.9% to Rmb69.5 billion, which included Rmb31.3 billion contributed by mobile communications networks where revenues grew by 15.2%. The talk time of long-distance calls through fixed-line telephones reached 8.06 billion minutes in China in January, down 0.4% from the same month 2007. The talk time through mobile phones increased 36.2% to 221.89 billion minutes in spite of the impact from the snowstorms in Southern China. A total of 54.64 billion short messages were sent through mobile phones during the month, which marked an increase of 32.8%. The number of telephone users in China increased by 7.0 million in January to a total of 919.7 million. The number of fixed-line telephones users fell by 1.5 million but the number of mobile phone users increased by 8.5 million to a total of 556 million.

According to CLSA, the Ministry of Information Industry has confirmed that the restructuring of China's telecom industry is underway. The brokerage firm said the restructuring has passed the first hurdle, but the process could drag on as the government is trying to create "super ministries" by combining the MII with other ministries. This is likely to require new Vice Premier Wang Qishan's approval, and CLSA expects no real change in the sector until 2009.

China Unicom said the reshuffle within ChinaÆs telecom industry is expected to start in the first half of this year. According to market rumours, the company will be split into two full-play telecom operators. China Unicom denied rumours that it is planning a refinancing exercise.

Nokia China has opened its new headquarters in Beijing. The six-story building has a total floor area that is larger than that of its world headquarters in Finland and will house 2,000 research and development and management staff. The headquarters, R&D centre and manufacturing base are located in the Beijing Economic-Technological Development Area in Yizhuang in Southeastern Beijing, and will form the Nokia China Campus. Construction on the headquarters building started in May 2006 and has cost Rmb450 million ($60 million).

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
SK Telecom has signed an investment agreement to acquire a 42.2% stake of recording company Beijing TaiheMusic (TR Music). SK Telecom will participate in the management of the company as an equal majority shareholder along with Taihe Media, which is currently the largest shareholder. Through this agreement, SK Telecom expects to create strong synergy effects with its other businesses such as mobile phone, content, and convergence services. SK Telecom and TR Music will focus on pioneering new business areas, developing capable producers and fostering young talent, while striving to develop new business models for digital music contents. The Chinese music market is posting continued growth due to the broad consumer base, fast-growing digital music services and government efforts to address the illegal market. SK Telecom plans to build TR Music into a major music label not only in China but also in Asia. Digital contents created by TR Music will also be offered through Viatech and UNISK, SK TelecomÆs subsidiaries in China, which will help the Korean firm secure strong distribution networks in the digital contents market.

Giant Interactive Group will be cooperating with Huawei Technologies on R&D of server platforms for online games. The two companies will make joint a effort to develop next generation computing platforms to improve maintenance, customer service, and playersÆ overall game experience. Under the agreement, Huawei will provide high-level hardware and customised software, while Giant Interactive, which recently saw peak concurrent users of its pillar game ZT Online break 1.5 million, will set multiple indicators for server operation and optimisation, based on its know-how of ChinaÆs online game industry. Giant Interactive has applied its self-developed advanced server engine to its new game Giant Online, which will enter into public testing soon and is expected to draw 1 million concurrent players. According to iResearch, Giant Interactive generated revenues of Rmb440 million ($61.8 million) in the fourth quarter of 2007, ranking third among domestic peers after Shanda and Netease.

Chinese software company CDC is aiming to generate revenues of $1 billion within the next three years. The company believes that without billion-dollar scale, it cannot compete with the Microsofts of the world. CDC claims to be, at the moment, the only Chinese software company with the global reach to achieve that. The drive to reach a competitive, world-class scale follows the ambitious path taken by Lenovo Group in the computer hardware sector and is expected to help stimulate further development of the mainland software market. According to Thomson Financial, CDC's sales should grow 15.6% to $426.1 million this year from $399.7 million last year. Net profit is forecast to rise 6.05% to $33.1 million. From April 2002 to September last year, CDC Software has made about 16 strategic corporate acquisitions, including human resources and payroll management software specialist Platinum China and United States-based ERP supplier Ross Systems.

Shanda Interactive Entertainment reported a 21.8% increase of its fourth quarter profit to $40.1 million after it upgraded titles and strengthened promotions. Sales surged 51.8% to $97.8 million from a year earlier. The company expects its first quarter revenue to grow by another 6% to 9% to between $103.6 million and $106.6 million, versus a consensus estimate of $97.5 million. Active paying accounts increased 12.7% in the fourth quarter from the third quarter to $3.47 million, but the average rate dropped 3.1% to Rmb57.8 ($8.12) per month. According to Citigroup, players were drawn to Shanda's games because of the release of upgrade packs and promotions.

UTStarcom, a Chinese networking solutions provider, announced that its IP Video Surveillance (IPVS) system had been selected by China Netcom to serve as the primary design and deployment platform for the latterÆs Safe-City project in Benxi, Liaoning Province. Financial details of the deal were not disclosed. UTStarcom is responsible for the overall design, implementation and construction of the entire surveillance system in this project and the company will establish 700 surveillance points (cameras) throughout Benxi in the first phase of the project.

Samsung Corporation generated total turnover of about $38.9 billion in the Greater China Region for fiscal year 2007, up $9.0 billion from the previous year. The turnover reaped in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan accounted for about 25% of SamsungÆs total overseas turnover by the end of 2007, the South Korean consumer electronics giant said in a statement on its website. Notably, the turnover it achieved in Mainland China reached a record high of about $10.8 billion in 2007, accounting for more than 40% of the total it captured in the Greater China region.

The China Securities Regulatory Commission has urged Amoi Electronics to carry out corporate reform after an investigation into its huge losses. Responding to the CSRCÆs requirement, the company said that it will close all of its branches and subsidiaries across the country and turn some of them into representative offices in a bid to reduce operational costs. Moreover, the companyÆs new management team will make changes to the company structure and business models in the near future. In the third quarter of 2007, Amoi Electronics recorded net losses of Rmb110 million ($15.5 million), which came on top of a Rmb352 million loss in the first half. Sales and gross profits of the companyÆs mobile phone sector have been falling significantly and its liquid crystal display TV business was also struggling during the period.

Chunghwa Telecom reported a net profit of NT$1.9 billion ($61.5 million) for February, down 47.4% from a year earlier, after booking a NT$3.0 billion charge related to a foreign currency derivative contract. Revenues rose 3.6% to NT$16.0 billion. The company didnÆt specify whether the unaudited figures were parent-level or consolidated.

Ericsson Telephone is aiming to become TaiwanÆs largest IPTV service provider in the next three years. According to the company, there are now about 2 million registered users of IPTV services through fixed-line broadband in the global market, and the figure is estimated to grow sharply to 40 million in 2011. To prosper, Ericsson says, the sector should hammer out a series of common open standards. The worldÆs nine representative companies in the communication industry, namely AT&T, Ericsson, France Telecom, Sony, Samsung, Siemens, Panasonic, Philips and Telecom Italia, have together formed the Open IPTV Forum to do the job.

Taiwan's Asustek aims to become the world's third-biggest laptop maker from its seventh-ranked position currently, according to a company executive. The company had previously said it aimed to become the world's fifth-biggest laptop vendor by 2010. Asustek sold 350,000 Eee PCs in the fourth quarter, according to Mercury Research, and aims to sell 5 million globally this year. Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile said at CeBIT on Tuesday it will start selling the A5-sized Eee to customers in Germany and Austria for Ç299 ($459.0), with a contract including 300 hours of Internet access at T-Mobile hotspots. Europe is Asustek's most important market, accounting for 52% of its sales.

Compal Electronics, a Taiwanese contract laptop PC maker, expects laptop shipments to fall in the first quarter on weaker US demand, but said shipments will pick up from the second quarter. After reporting a 60% rise in fourth-quarter profit that matched market expectations, Compal forecast its first-quarter laptop shipments would drop 5%-7% from the fourth quarter. Second-quarter shipments will rise about 10% from the first quarter, although the second-quarter gross margin will fall slightly from the first quarter when it was unchanged at 4.9%, the company said. Demand in the third quarter is expected to be strong and as a result Compal has left its 2008 shipment target unchanged at 32 million units.

Powerchip Semiconductor said sales fell to NT$4.9 billion ($158.6 million) in February from NT$9.2 billion a year earlier. In the first two months of the year, sales dropped to NT$10.3 billion from NT$21.0 billion in the year-earlier period.

Qisda Corporation will invest $18 million in Qisda (Shanghai), a mainland China consumer electronics maker. Qisda, formerly known as BenQ Corporation, consigned the old name to its branded operations which were spun off on September 1. The parent company now focuses on original design manufacturing for clients, including the BenQ unit.

Advanced Semiconductor Engineering (ASE) has signed a NT$24.8 billion ($809.1 million) syndicated loan agreement with banks led by the Taipei branch of Citibank. ASE, a global independent integrated circuit packaging and testing firm, said the financing will facilitate its plans to buy out the remainder of Singapore's ASE Test, of which it is now the majority owner.

Hong Kong

CDC Software, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CDC Corporation, has agreed to buy a controlling stake in a Hong Kong-based vendor of ERP systems as part of its strategic expansion in China. CDC Software will have a 51% stake in Integrated Solutions when the transaction is completed by the end of March, the companies announced. CDC Software declined to reveal the cost of the transaction, citing its ongoing preparations for a public listing in the United States.

Mobile/ wireless
SmarTone TelecommunicationsÆ net profit rose 270% to HK$161 million ($21 million) for the six months ended December 2007. Revenues fell by 2% to HK$2.1 billion as the growth in mobile service revenues was offset by a drop in mobile telephone and accessory sales. The mobile operator declared an interim dividend of 28 HK cents per share, payable on April 15, 2008.

TCL Communication Technology Holdings has reported a 120% rise in net profit to HK$33 million ($4.2 million) in 2007. The increase was driven by strong overseas sales growth, while domestic turnover slumped. Operating profit jumped 246% to HK$52 million, excluding a loss of HK$19 million stemming from convertible bonds. However, sales fell 10% percent to HK$4.97 billion for the year. The company sold about 11.9 million handsets, up 4% from the previous year. Overseas shipments rose 9% to 10.8 million units due to strong growth in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, while local sales declined 31% to 1.08 million units. The company, which has been using the Alcatel label outside the mainland since 2004, will launch 15 models under the Alcatel brand and 52 models for TCL this year. TCL Communication expects to turn a profit in its home market this year and targets the shipment of 16 million handsets.

The online directory page of Macao's Public Administration and Civil Service Bureau (SAFP) has been hacked. The SAR government said in a statement that since the hijacked website only provides public information, it does not involve any leakage of internal information. However, Macao's Judiciary Police has launched an investigation into the case. Meanwhile, the SAFP will run a security assessment of the government websites and will step up online security monitoring, according to the statement. Websites in Macao have generally low security measures as it is not a common place for hacking activities, according to the Information Technology Manager of the Macao Inter-University Institute.

Lenovo Group Ltd. has been a top seller of notebook PC in Hong Kong in the past 10 years and according to IDC, it now has a leading position of both notebook PC and desktop PC sales in the territory. In 2007, Lenovo's desktop PC sales secured a market share of 23.4%, while its notebook PC sales accounted for 26% of the market.

Canon Hong Kong forecasts Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera sales volume will approach 180,000 units in 2008, compared with over 130,000 units in 2007. According to the company, among the buyers of DSLR cameras, the proportion of Chinese consumers increased to around 20% in 2007 from around 10% two years ago. The company sees good market potential and in 2007 invested HK$1 million ($128,000) in promotions that targeted Chinese consumers. It expects to invest a further HK$5 million on promotions targeted at the Chinese in 2008, including outdoor advertising at border areas and presenting gifts for Chinese consumers in Hong Kong. The company said branded DSLR sales amounted to more than 60,000 units in 2007, which accounted for 16% of all digital camera sales volume. It expects this to increase to over 20% in 2008 with sales volumes rising to 100,000 units.
Philippines, Singapore

Mobile/ wireless
Motorola has announced that it will roll out a number of products in the Philippines in the next few months despite earlier talk that it was contemplating spinning off its mobile phone division. Local and regional executives met with members of the IT media recently armed with new phone models that range from entry-level units to music phones and Windows-based Qwerty-enabled types.

Semiconductor-maker Intel has launched its first set of modular server building block products for the Philippine market. The company said the set will support a server specification announced last July by the Server Systems Infrastructure (SSI) organisation. By using these modular server building blocks, Intel claims that system builders can uniquely integrate computing, networking and storage capabilities into one system for small- and mid-sized businesses, meeting their needs for budget-friendly IT simplicity and flexibility.

88DB.com, a multimedia service portal and lifestyle network, has launched The 88DB First Online Battle of the Bands in the Philippines. The service revolutionises the way band competitions in the country are held. Amateur and upstart bands with no prior recording deal will go head to head via an online voting system at the 88DB.com website. Online video productions will be hosted by 88DB.com.ph for the Internet voting. Fans and friends can register, log on, view the pod casts and enter their pick. The top 15 bands with the most number of votes by March 31, 2008, will move on to the finals and rough it out again with their scores back to zero.

Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) has announced the certification of its suite of business Ethernet services by the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF), the international standards-setting authority on Carrier Ethernet services. SingTel's MEF Certification is the first of its kind and is poised to set new standards for the delivery of carrier grade Ethernet services in the region. Services that have been certified include SingTel's local connectivity service MetroEthernet and international connectivity services ConnectPlus E-VPN and E-line. SingTel had to undergo three stages of certification to comply with the MEF specifications.

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