A week in tech, September 12-18

A round-up of all the latest tech news.

ò The Japanese government through its Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications announced its plans to enable high-speed internet access via existing power lines instead of telephone or cable TV lines. The ministry said it will revise a ministry regulation and start accepting applications for the internet access known as power line communications within this year. The Radio Regulatory Council recommended the lifting of a current ban on power line communications. In the planned service, power lines at home will be used as a local area network by attaching special modems to power outlets. The system is expected to be capable of transmitting information at a speed equal to that of data communications via fiber optics. Manufacturers of electric appliances, electric power companies and telecom operators have shown strong interest in developing the technology as it enables easy high-speed Internet access as well as remote-control of electric appliances at home via personal computers outside the home. Many amateur and professional radio operators, however, are opposed to lifting the ban on power line communications, as there is a possibility that they may leak radio waves and disrupt existing radio communications.
ò eBook Initiative Japan Co., an electronic books distributor, announced its new offer to distribute Japanese ômangaö comic books via an internet portal site in Singapore. The company said the service will initially offer 30 titles, with the number of tiles will be increased to 50 by the end of the year. The new service will be handled jointly with two Kyocera Corp. group firms û Kyocera Communication Systems Co. in Tokyo and Kyocera Communication Asia Pacific Pte. in Singapore. In order to read the manga, customers will have to use special software.
ò Softbank Corp announced that it has begun offering an Apple Computer iPod nano packaged with one of its own mobile phones. The company said the new promotion is designed to keep customers for at least two years as Softbank would require them to refund the cost for the handsets if they cancel their subscription within the period. Softbank is offering one of its cell phone models made by Sharp Corp. together with the new 2 gigabyte iPod nano, which Apple unveiled. Apple sells the new iPod model for $151. The price of the package is different at each retailer and Softbank could not provide a specific figure. Industry sources indicated that Japanese operators typically offer hefty subsidies to retailers to bring down cell phone prices, and earn back the cost over time through monthly fees. The new sales scheme allows Softbank to bring down the price of handsets while lightening the impact of the subsidy costs on short-term earnings.
ò According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the number of subscriptions to asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) services totaled 14.4 million at the end of June, down 0.2 percent from three months earlier, which was the first quarterly decrease. Industry experts said the decline shows the increased demand for fiber optics services capable of offering greater-capacity broadband internet communications services. The number of subscriptions to fiber optics services increased 15.5 percent from the end of March to 6.3 million, reflecting the expansion of fiber optics networks, with 79.7 percent of households in Japan having access to fiber optics services as of the end of March.
ò The countryÆs most popular online community site Mixi Inc. made an impressive performance on the Tokyo Stock Exchange with buy orders overwhelming sell orders and bids indicated 57 percent higher than its pre-market price. Raising some $93 million in its IPO, Mixi is expected to attract more users and advertisers as it grows, and investors say the stock is attractive to both retail and institutional investors. Mixi operates the nation's largest social network site (SNS), used by some 5 million people to chat, post blogs and create message boards to communicate with people who share similar interests. It is seen as the countryÆs answer to MySpace.com site in the U.S.

ò Sony Corp said its revealed plans to launch a DVD recorder using Blu-ray technology by the end of the year in Japan, a move that is seen as strengthening its lineup of high-definition optical disc products. Sony, which promotes the Blu-ray format in competition with the HD DVD standard led by Toshiba Corp., did not give details such as a launch date, price or overseas release dates. The company said it currently offers a Blu-ray drive in its VAIO computers and will be selling Blu-ray players in the United States in October. It also plans to roll out its PlayStation 3 game console, which is equipped with a Blu-ray player, in November in Japan and North America. A shift to the new generation of DVD discs and machines is expected to help boost sales at Sony.

ò IBM Corp. said it has started shipping its microprocessors for game machine manufacturer Nintendo Co.'s Wii next-generation console. IBM said the chips use technology that will help Nintendo deliver a large improvement in processing power while achieving a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption. IBM has so far provided its chips to Microsoft CorpÆs Xbox 360 and Sony CorpÆs soon-to-be-released PlayStation 3. Nintendo said it plans to ship the Wii in the fourth quarter of this year.

ò The Korea Electronics Institute stated in its report that South Korea's online learning market is expected to grow rapidly by the year 2010, ascribing the growth to the countryÆs keen interest in education and the country's information technology (IT) infrastructure. The report said the market for e-learning is forecasted to rise to W1.9 trillion ($1.9 billion) for the full year of 2006 and expand at an average annual growth rate of 20 percent by 2010. The paper indicated that the local e-learning market registered W1.5 trillion ($1.5 billion) in 2005, up W316 billion ($329.4 million) from a year ago. Megastudy, Credu, YBM Sisa.com and other leading e-learning companies in Korea are looking forward to attaining best business achievements this year, backed by increasing online students and the synergy effect of both online and offline. In particular, as the e-learning industrial development law was enacted in 2004, the e-learning market, which had been limited to online activities, expanded into broadcasting and other industrial categories, such as solutions, contents and services. The market is to be further intensified with new services, including u-learning (ubiquitous) and m-learning (mobile).
ò The countryÆs Ministry of Information and Communication reported that the government is continuing to shut down access to Korean-language gambling web sites, whose operations are based in foreign countries. The authority admitted it had blocked this month alone up to 53 gambling sites, which had moved servers overseas to avoid the local laws. Observers said these gambling sites constitute 29.3 percent of the 181 foreign gambling sites banned by the ministry this year. The recent gambling scandal caught the nation off guard last month when prosecutors indicted heads of two firms manufacturing illegally doctored video slot machines named ``Pada Iyagi,'' or ``Sea Story.'' Most of the gaming machines, of which more than 45,000 units were sold, were unlawfully reprogrammed to allow higher payouts than the legal limit of W20,000 ($21). Some sites tried to sidestep the clean up by transferring servers to foreign countries such as the United States and Canada, where the South Korean laws do not have authority.
ò KT Freetel announced that it would stop providing adult content such as porn literature starting November this year. Starting with adult literature, KTF will continue to terminate service of adult only contents. By 31 Mar 2007, KTF disclosed that it will no longer be servicing adult contents through its wireless internet network.

ò Industry sources said that SK Telecom announced that it will be partnering with Google to start a mobile search service. Under the deal, SK Telecom will be combining its existing phone-based wireless internet search service with Google's fixed-line search technology. SK Telecom and Google have been known to be in talks for collaboration for the past year. Until now, SK Telecom had been providing a search service through its Nate wireless internet service but usage was low due to a limited database the search engine provided. SK Telecom said it looks to the new service as a means to boost its data revenue.
ò Samsung Electronics and SK Telecom said they have begun selling a new mobile phone designed to work on networks in more than 90 nations. Samsung said the SCH-V920 phone allows users to make or receive calls on both CDMA (code division multiple access) and GSM (global standard for mobile communications) networks. The company said the device is also available for use in Japan, which has its own network standard for mobile phones. Samsung said this is the first time a handset has hit the market capable of roaming across the world, including Japan. The SCH-V920, dubbed the ôreal world phone,ö will debut in the Korean market with a price tag of around W500,000 ($521). Boasting the widest roaming range in its class, the slide-type phone is topped with an electronic translator, 1.3-megapixel camera, navigator and MP3 player, as well as Bluetooth functions. The gadget translates Korean into English, Japanese or Chinese, according to Samsung and SK Telecom. The new phone supports code division multiple access used in North/Central America and Asia, global system for mobile communications used in Europe, Commonwealth of Independent States and Oceania, as well as Japan's JCDMA. According to SK Telecom, users will be able to send and receive text messages in GSM areas. The operator plans to offer free text message services in GSM areas until October.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò Company records show that NexonÆs Kart Rider, which started commercial service in April in China, has exceeded 700,000 concurrent users. The game reached 500,000 concurrent users on May 17th. There are only two other South Korean games that have reached over 700,000 concurrent users û one is The Legend of Mir II by Wemade Entertainment and B&B by Nexon.

ò Alibaba, the largest business-to-business e-commerce site in China, revealed its plans to go global in the next few years. The companyÆs top official said it considered the expansion following its $1 billion merger with Yahoo China in 2005. Alibaba's popularity is reflected in its Chinese-language site that counts some 13 million members. Its international site, which is in English and focused on import-export dealings, has 2.3 million members in 200 countries. To go with its planned global expansion, Alibaba disclosed that it aims to triple the size of its overseas staff within a year or two. The company said it is in search of local partners to assist its operations overseas, with the firm looking to publishers of trade magazines as good candidates for the posts given their network with local small and medium-sized companies. Alibaba stated that it has collected more than $100 million in revenue last year and expected to make more than $200 million this year, with much of the revenue coming from subscription services on its B2B site. Besides the B2B site, Alibaba runs Taobao, the largest online auction site in China.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò The display advertising market in China posted revenue of Rmb1.5 billion ($189 million) in the second quarter, a performance that industry analysts ascribed to strong spending from the vehicle, computer and electronics, and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sectors. The report by Internet media and market research firm Nielsen/NetRatings identified Nissan as the leading advertiser from the vehicle industry, Founder Electronics leading in the consumer and electronics space, as well as Coca-Cola. The report said that those three sectors accounted for almost 60 per cent of ChinaÆs Internet advertising expenditure from May to July this year. It was noted, too, in the first ever mainland survey of online display advertisers that online display advertising spending closely approached mainland magazine advertising expenditure, which was forecast to hit Rmb1.9 billion in the same period by Nielsen Media Research, a sister company of Nielsen/NetRatings. The company's AdRelevance, an online advertising tracker service that scans more than 200 Chinese websites, reported 817 advertisers in July, compared with 587 in May. The number of campaigns jumped to 2,276 from 1,500 in May, while banner ads increased to 5,785 from 3,700.

ò ZTE Corp announced a deal with BT Movio, the wholesale mobile TV provider division of UK incumbent BT Group Plc, to develop a dual-mode 3G/DAB-IP handset for launch in 2007. BT MovioÆs business model is to transmit the TV channels on the countrys commercial digital audio broadcasting (DAB) radio multiplex, operated by a company called Digital One. The idea is to offer the content as a service on mobile phones, with its customers being the mobile operators, who in turn will market it to their subscribers, leaving their cellular networks free to carry voice or other content. It enables broadcasting for a mass market, while the point-to-point cellular connection can be used for other services, such as video-on-demand (VoD) or catch-up TV, where viewers can go back and see something thats already been broadcast.
ò Motorola announced the opening of an innovation center in Hunan Province, as part of its drive to increase research and development (R&D) in China. Called the Hunan Innovation Centre, the center will focus on developing wireless applications to drive innovation in China's dynamic telecom sector. The move is seen as another step in Motorola's R&D strategy to aggressively transfer R&D to China. Motorola said it has established about 20 similar centers, and has invested more than $600 million into these centers.

ò Three Chinese firms û Huawei Technologies, China International Telecommunication Construction and ZTE û announced their plan to invest $1.5 billion over the next four years to upgrade EthiopiaÆs telephone system. The three firms said they have plans of expanding the network as part of one of the largest ever-financial projects in the country. The Chines companies were among the eight international bidders, which included Ericsson, Nokia and Siemens. The group said they aim to increase the number of mobile phone users in the area from the current 1.5 million customers to 7 million. The three also looked to fixed lines increasing from 1 million to 4 million users. Sources said that the Ethiopian government is looking for an extra $900 million needed to completely overhaul its telecommunications infrastructure.
ò China Telecom Group, China's major telecommunications operator, announced the inauguration of its European branch in London as a strategic step in its plans for overseas development. A top company official said the founding of China Telecom (Europe) Ltd. would increase China Telecom's competitive edge in the international telecommunications industry in addition to improving its brand values. China Telecom is China's largest fixed-line network operator serving some 220-million fixed-line subscribers and 27 million broadband users. The company pledges to continue its aggressive expansion into overseas markets to provide better worldwide communication services for all its customers, especially for Chinese companies outside the mainland. The European expansion is one aspect of the group's strategic growth plans and follows its move into North America, the Asia Pacific region and other key locations in central Asia.

ò Far EasTone Telecom announced that it has joined three consortiums to compete for a government bid to test-broadcast TaiwanÆs first mobile TV programming. The companyÆs top official said that TaiwanÆs telecom-service market has grown as a whole, but cellular-service providers have seen their revenues remain flat mostly because of the governmentÆs tight control of pre-paid card issuances, increased intranet calls and increased international calls via the Internet. The company estimated consolidated revenues and revenues from telephone service for this quarter to be NT$16.9 billion ($529 million) and NT$15.5 billion ($486 million), respectively. Meanwhile, its pretax earnings and after-tax net income are estimated at NT$4 billion ($127 million). The official said that the Cabinet-level National Communications Commission (NCC) recently tightened controls of pre-paid card sales, leading to a sharp decline of the number of cellular subscribers using the cards to 1.3 million from 2 million. The new policy also led to the companyÆs loss of NT$2.5 billion ($78 million) in the card business. In a related development, the company said it would introduce 3.5G cellular services by the end of this month, which will be based on HSPDPA (high-speed downlink packet access) technology.

ò Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the world's largest contract chipmaker, stated that key inventory adjustments in the semiconductor industry were expected to continue. Analysts watch inventories in the electronics industry as a key indicator of demand since the production chain is tightly integrated. TSMC said that ongoing inventory adjustments meant it expected third-quarter revenues to be flat or fall slightly compared with the three months to June. TSMC revised down its forecast for semiconductor industry growth for this year to 8 percent from the previous 8 percent to 12 percent range.
ò HannStar Board International revealed two aims: one is to raise as much as HK$575 million ($74 million) in a Hong Kong IPO and two is to increase its monthly production capacity of printed circuit boards for notebook computers by 23 percent. The company, a spin-off from Taiwan-listed HannStar Board Corp., said it plans to add a plant that will boost its output capacity. Printed circuit boards for notebooks accounted for 88 percent of its turnover last year. The company said it is selling 325 million new shares. HannStar disclosed that more than half of the proceeds from the offering will be used to boost output, and about HK$160 million ($20.5 million) will go towards debt repayment. HannStar reported a net profit of $23.4 million last year, up 157 percent from 2004, on sales of $170 million. In the first three months of this year, the firm posted a massive profit of130 percent growth to $7.8 million from a year ago. Polaris Securities and Taiwan Securities are the deal arrangers.

Hong Kong

ò Industry sources have identified Computime as a firm aiming for public listing. The company, an electronic controls and automation devices maker, is said to be pre-marketing its 200 million share sale, which accounts for 25 percent of its enlarged share capital, to raise $100 million this month. The company generated 42 percent of its turnover in the year to March from just five customers. More than 50 percent of ComputimeÆs sales come from building and home electronic controls.

ò PCCW reported a 10.6 percent rise in its first-half operating profit, with the firm ascribing the growth to its broadband services and increased sales at its property unit. The company said its operating profit went up to HK$2.1 billion ($269.8 million) from HK$1.9 billion ($244.1 million) a year earlier, with revenues posting a 21 percent growth to HK$1.4 billion ($179.8 million). Its net profit went down by 16 percent to HK$796 million ($102.2 million) from HK$954 million ($122.5 million) after a one-time investment gain in the year-ago period. The company said it is looking to increasing profit by drawing in more users to its broadband services, which delivers pay television as well as internet access while it tries to attract subscribers to its loss-making 3G mobile-phone business by offering free access. PCCW said its sales from its Now pay-television business climbed 66 percent from a year earlier to HK$303 million ($39 million), the first time the performance has been reported separately. The number of subscribers went up about 48 percent from June last year to 654,000 at the end of last month, while broadband users increased by 16 percent to 998,000 at the end of June from a year earlier.


ò Hewlett-Packard announced the renewal of the status of its International Headquarter (IHQ) in Singapore for another 10 years. The company said it has based its decision to continue to site its regional HQ in Singapore because of the excellent infrastructure, talent pool and pro-business policies in the country. The IHQ status is granted by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) to companies that commit to a certain level of investment in Singapore and it provides a number of benefits, including tax breaks. HP came to Singapore way back in 1970 and it runs its Asia-Pacific and Japan (APJ) operations from here. An HP official added that the company was looking forward to participating in the Singapore government's proposed tender to outsource its front-end computer systems. The approximately $2 billion plan (to be implemented in two tranches), called the Standard Operating Environment (SOE), has four short-listed consortia ready to bid for the contract, with HP leading one of the consortia.

ò Infineon Technologies, a chip manufacturer, made its entry into Asia by way of a $1 billion power semiconductor plant in Malaysia. The German firm said the plant in Kulim Hi-Tech Park in northern Malaysia is the groupÆs first facility in Asia designed to complement the firmÆs production sites in Europe including development and production facilities in Austria and Germany. The company said the fabrication facility in Malaysia will produce power and logic chips that enable efficient energy management for industrial and automotive power applications. According to the chairman of the Malaysian plant, the facility was expected to employ about 1,700 people and contribute significantly to Infineon's global revenue when it reaches full capacity in 2009. By the end of the decade, Infineon said it may consider building a similar-sized plant adjacent to the Kulim facility if market demand stayed robust. Infineon holds a 9.3 percent share in the $11.3 billion global power semiconductor market.

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