A week in tech

A round-up of all the latest tech news from Asia.

Japan

Hardware

- Fuji Electric Holdings Co. plans to begin manufacturing organic EL (electroluminescence) panels at a subsidiary as early as fall 2005. Fuji Electric Advanced Technology Co., a research and development unit of Fuji Electric Holdings, is expected to spend ¥2-3 billion ($18.2-27.2 million) to produce organic EL panels for small displays in cellular phones and car audio equipment. The subsidiary's plant in Yamanashi Prefecture will initially manufacture 1.2- and 2.1-inch panels, and its production capacity is estimated as equaling about 1.2 million 2.1-inch panels a year.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Nintendo Co.'s group net profit fell 51% in the latest fiscal year as game-console sales faltered and earnings abroad were eroded by a strong yen. The results, though expected, show how Japan's former videogame king is struggling to retain its title in a cutthroat industry increasingly characterized by high-cost games aimed at older players. Nintendo traditionally has been strongest in videogames for children. The earnings report also shows how dependent Nintendo is becoming on its handheld-game franchise, which is starting to see the entry of new competitors.

- The planned launch of a portable edition of Sony's hugely popular PlayStation game console series is eagerly awaited by game fans and retailers in Japan but analysts are more cautious about a product claimed by Sony to be as revolutionary as its Walkman. The PSP is Sony's weapon in the battle to win a share of the ¥400 billion yen ($3.6 billion) global market for portable game consoles, a segment currently 95 percent controlled by the Nintendo GameBoy series. Sony boasts the hand-held console, measuring 17 cm by 7.4 cm and weighing 260 grams, will be capable of producing graphic and sound quality equal to Sony's hugely popular PlayStation2.

Mobile / Wireless

- Vodafone Group PLC plans to spend as much as $4.7 billion to buy out minority stakes in its struggling Japanese units, even as the giant cell phone operator warned that performance in Japan might get worse before it gets better. Despite that outlook, Vodafone plans to buy out minority shareholders in Vodafone Holdings K.K. and Vodafone K.K.

- Vitria Technology Inc. will market a system that enables mobile phone companies to smoothly exchange the names, phone numbers and related information of customers that switch carriers. The system will enable the companies to complete the work necessary for such exchanges in a matter of hours, so that they can make switches the same day they are requested. The new system can be linked to existing ones such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Vitria is marketing its system in anticipation of the introduction of such a program in Japan in fiscal 2006.

- Connect Technologies Corp., which develops cell-phone systems, has developed an electronic locking system for condominiums that uses cell phones incorporating a non-contact IC card as the key. The company plans to sell the system to real estate and condo management firms beginning in August. The system can enhance security for condo dwellers by preventing lock-picking and illegal duplication.

Telecommunications

- Softbank Corp. will acquire Japan Telecom Co., the country's No. 3 telecommunications carrier, from a group led by U.S. investment fund Ripplewood Holdings LLC. Under terms of the deal, Softbank will buy all of Japan Telecom's common shares from the Ripplewood group for ¥143.3 billion ($1.3 billion) in cash and new stock. Softbank also will assume ¥164 billion ($1.5 billion) of interest-bearing debt -- mostly bank loans -- and ¥32.5 billion ($295 million) in Japan Telecom preferred shares owned by Vodafone Group PLC. The purchase is scheduled to close Nov. 16.

Korea

Information Technology

- SK Telecom's portable Internet technology was selected as an international standard by the world's largest technical professional organization. The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, with over 360,000 members in 150 countries, chose SK Telecom's "Quality-based Reporting for Uplink CQI (Channel Quality Indicator) channel" to be a standard for portable internet technology. It was the first time that a Korean telecom company has been selected by the institute for a portable internet solution.

Mobile / Wireless

- The talks to resolve the prolonged dispute over free music on mobile phones broke down, paving the way for a possible legal battle between record producers and a telecom service provider. Representatives of the music industry, mobile service providers and electronics makers held the fifth and last round of negotiations at the Ministry of Information and Communication. Industry officials said the talks ended without progress as LG Telecom rejected a compromise proposal to limit the playing of music files on mobile phones to 72 hours after downloading. Immediately after the meeting, a recording industry group threatened to take legal action and stage a boycott campaign against the telecom provider, accusing it of copyright infringement.

Semiconductors

- Creditors of South Korea's Hynix Semiconductor were to endorse U.S. financial giant Citigroup's bid for the world's third-largest chipmaker's non-memory chip operations. Citigroup Venture Capital (CVC) has proposed a bid of about W970 billion ($824 million). The proposal was likely to get approval from Korean Exchange Bank and other creditors as the Citigroup unit had nearly doubled its bid.

Telecommunications

- A government advisory panel's decision not to impose restrictions on SK Telecom Co. drew criticism from rival mobile-phone operators who accused the company of antitrust violations. The panel decided not to hit SK Telecom with additional fines for violating phone subsidy bans, which were part of antitrust regulations imposed following the company's 2002 acquisition of Shinsegi Telecom. Competitors accuse top carrier of trying to influence competition panel. Threatened by the possibility of antitrust action, SK Telecom Co. will limit its market share to 52.3 percent through 2005, in a conciliation gesture toward a government panel that is considering whether to impose restrictions on the country's top mobile-phone operator.

China

Hardware

- Sumitomo Metal Micro Devices Inc. will set up a joint venture and build a factory in China to begin production in August of electronic parts used to run devices such as large LCDs (liquid crystal displays) and plasma panels.The Sumitomo Metal Industries Ltd. subsidiary had been manufacturing such parts in Japan, but will set up a facility in China because many of its clients, including home electronics and information technology equipment makers, are moving into that nation and setting up production sites in the Shanghai area. The joint venture will be established in Shanghai with SVA Electron Co., a major manufacturer of CRTs (cathode-ray tubes). It will have a capitalization of about ¥1.8 billion, with Sumitomo Metal Micro Devices taking a 70% stake and the Chinese firm taking the rest.

Internet

- Although China had the second-largest number of Internet users in the world, it lagged behind even Taiwan when it came to online games. China's online games market recorded total revenue of $159.7 million last year, according to consulting firm IDC. That puts it behind Taiwan, although China has four times as many Internet users - nearly 80 million - as Taiwan has people. However, China's online games market grew 46 percent in 2003 and was likely to continue expanding rapidly to overtake first Taiwan and then South Korea to become the Asia-Pacific's largest market within the next three years.

Taiwan

Telecommunications

- Chunghwa Telecom Co. has reached an agreement with three private companies to give them access to the island's main telecommunications network. The decision to lease the crucial "last mile" of Chunghwa Telecom's network to competitors further liberalizes Taiwan's telecom market. Rivals would now have direct access to customers in the island's three largest cities, Taipei, Kaohsiung and Taichung. Chunghwa Telecom did not say how much rent it would charge for the connections nor when the agreement with Taiwan Fixed Network Co., Eastern Broadband Telecom Co., and New Century Infocomm Tech. Co. -- also known by its brand name, Sparq -- would take effect.

Singapore / Malaysia / Philippines / Indonesia

Internet

- Singapore unveiled planned new laws aimed to reduce e-mail spam while still protecting the interests of marketers using the Internet. Under the guidelines, marketers had to label their messages as advertisements and provide a valid opt-out mechanism for e-mail users who do not want to receive their messages. They also have to send their messages from a genuine e-mail address and are forbidden to use misleading or false subject headers.

Hong Kong

Hardware

- Computer-screen maker Proview International Holdings Ltd. expects revenue to rise 50% in the next three to five years. The growth should come as it continues to expand its traditional tube-based and its liquid-crystal-display businesses. Hong Kong's Proview ended 2003 as the world's fifth-largest maker of cathode-ray tube computer monitors by unit sales, and it ranked seventh among makers of LCD monitors. Proview expects to overtake LG Electronics Inc. and Philips Electronics NV this year, moving into the third spot among CRT screen makers. Samsung Electronics Co. and TPV Technology Ltd. are the industry leaders in terms of unit sales. For the six months ended Dec. 31, Proview posted revenue of HK$4.3 billion ($555.5 million).

Telecommunications

- Full ownership of Hutchison Whampoa's British third-generation (3G) mobile unit has raised the group's risk profile and will lift its expenditure in coming years. After buying back the 20 percent share held by strategic partner NTT DoCoMo for $20 million, financial responsibility for the British business rests squarely on Hutchison's shoulders. However, market watchers said the conglomerate should have little problem carrying the weight, especially with $18 billion in cash.

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