A week in tech

A round up of all the tech stories from Japan and Korea.

A week in Japan tech

Telecommunication

- Fusion Communications to start a service that would cut charges on calls from fixed phones to cellular handsets by 20-50%. The firm will charge 60 yen for three minutes, compared with the current 80-120 yen. The telecom company is expected to file an application for the new service with the Telecommunications Ministry on Thursday at the earliest, intending to launch operations on Feb 14.

Mobile / Wireless

- NTT DoCoMo to replace the battery packs in about 840,000 camera-equipped mobile phones made by NEC due to a glitch that caused handsets to overheat. The move, affecting the hot-selling "N504iS" model, is the biggest-ever replacement or recall by DoCoMo. DoCoMo and NEC are still estimating the cost of the replacement programme.

- NTT DoCoMo Inc. said it will be "pretty tough" for the firm to reach its target for subscribers to its third generation mobile phone service this fiscal year. DoCoMo aims to lure 320,000 3G subscribers by the end of March, but at the end of December only had 152,000.

- KDDI Corp. added 93,700 subscribers in January at its main mobile-phone businesses because more users signed up for its faster wireless Internet service. The new service helped the company almost triple its net subscriber additions from the same month a year earlier, when KDDI's au Corp. and Tu-Ka units added just 32,400 users. KDDI attracted 639,000 users last month to its high-speed CDMA2000 1X service, which began in April, bringing total subscribers to 5.3 million.

- J-Phone signed up 3,500 subscribers in January for its new mobile phone service, "Vodafone Global Standard." Since its launch Dec. 20, only 4,700 customers have signed up for the VGS service, which offers third-generation wireless services in Japan and international roaming services abroad. J-Phone is aiming for one million subscribers to the service by the end of March 2004.

- Users of mobile phone Internet services in Japan have exceeded 60 million people, the Telecommunications Carriers Association announced according to its survey of mobile phone companies. Of mobile phone Internet service subscribers, 36.56 million people, or 60.7%, were signed up for the i-mode service of NTT DoCoMo Inc. Subscribers to the EZweb service of KDDI Corp. (9433) and the Tu-Ka group totaled 11.94 million people, accounting for 19.8% of all mobile phone Internet service subscribers. Subscribers to the J-Sky service of J-Phone Co. came to 11.71 million people, accounting for 19.4% of the total.

Software

- Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to help private firms develop an Asian version of Linux. The initiative is designed to provide operating-system options beyond U.S. giant Microsoft Corp.'s software by creating a free platform for application software development. METI will invest about 1 billion yen from next fiscal year to support the training of software engineers.

Hardware

- Hewlett-Packard Japan to begin direct sales of personal computers, servers and workstations to regional sales agents from later this month. The company will bypass wholesalers, which will lower the sales agents' procurement costs and lead to lower prices for end users. The company sees the move as a de facto price cut and is expecting it to help expand sales in Japan.

Information Technology

- Sun Japan has received approval to list on the Jasdaq market. The company originally planned to list on the then Nasdaq Japan market last July, but canceled the IPO. Ahead of the Jasdaq market IPO, the company now plans to offer 4,400 shares to the public. Of those, 2,200 are newly issued shares and 2,200 are existing shares currently held in private. HSBC Securities is the lead underwriter of the offer.

- HP Japan opening a centre and establishing a dedicated team of consultants and technicians that will help companies make the shift from mainframes to servers. A market worth 100 billion yen has emerged from the trend among corporations to shift their information systems operations from mainframes to less costly servers, and HP Japan aims to capture a 30% share of that business.

Internet

- NTT West to reduce monthly usage charges for its ADSL services by 200-300 yen. The company is lowering its rates to keep pace with the low-priced services of competitors, such as the Softbank group. Starting in March, NTT West will charge 2,900 yen a month for its 12mbps service and 2,800 yen for its 8mbps service. Both new prices are 300 yen lower than current charges.

- Sony Communication Network Corp. (SCN) is providing high-speed fiber-optic network communications services free of charge for a limited time in an effort to expand its customer base. SCN is waiving installation charges of 29,000 yen and monthly fees of 7,800 yen through the end of July on applications received by March 31 for service on the network it operates using Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s fiber optic cables. For customers choosing to continue service beyond August, initial charges of 17,000 yen will be required.

A Week in Korea tech

Telecommunications

- Hanaro Telecom posts fourth-quarter loss of 18.2 billion won ($15.5 million), narrower than the 56.7 billion won loss in the same period a year earlier. South Korea's second-largest broadband Internet-access provider said sales for the three months ended Dec. 31 rose to 348.8 billion won from 243 billion won a year ago as it increased its market share to 27.6% by securing 810,000 new subscribers in 2002.

- Dacom, the nation’s second largest fixed-line telecom operator, said its deficit trend was reversed in 2002 after five years of radical restructuring. It netted 23.8 billion won in profit last year, a major turnaround from a loss of 68.8 billion won in 2001, on sales of 1.05 trillion won, up 5 percent from the previous year. It said cost reduction through structural restructuring was critical in pulling the company out of the deficit trend. Dacom plans to focus on Internet networking businesses and the development of new technology in fields such as wireless LAN and Ethernet.

Mobile / Wireless

- SK Telecom favors supporting various operating system platforms for PDAs. The company's move to adopt a variety of PDA operating platforms, underscores SK's position - in light of Microsoft's dominance of the market - that it will not limit itself to a single operating platform. Microsoft is also moving to push its next-generation digital devices and operating platforms.

- Wavecom to provide its products to Curitel Communications, a major handset manufacturer in Korea. Nasdaq-listed Wavecom, a French-based major provider of integrated wireless modules, said it will provide its quadband WISMO (wireless standard modules) to Curitel for integration into the company's new line of sophisticated GSM/GPRS multi-media mobile phones.

- Korean government moves to introduce a unified access code for mobile services and number portability. Korea is currently offering cdma2000 1x service and is scheduled to offer competing 3G service known as W-CDMA in the second half of this year. Beginning in January 2004, mobile phone subscribers can receive or convert to a unified access code of 010 for third-generation (3G) service.

- SK Telecom led the market last month in sales, threatening to unseat rivals KTF and LG Telecom - both of which lagged behind in attracting new customers due to having been slapped with temporary business suspension orders. The total number of mobile subscribers in Korea increased 75,000 to a total of 32.417 million mobile subscribers nationwide.

- SK may delay launch of 3G. SK Telecom Chief Executive Officer Pyo Moon-soo said yesterday the company’s roll-out of third-generation (3G) mobile phone service is dependent on the condition of the economy. The inability of mobile handset and system manufacturers to produce equipment on time is a possible threat to the company's deadline to launch its service.

- Pantech&Curitel releases a new line of secure mobile phones that are being billed as impervious to wiretapping. The secure mobile phone technology, developed by Pohang University of Science and Technology professor Lee Phil-joong, is equipped with what the company calls a "double" protection mechanism.

- Although the Korean government is keen to promote a dual wireless system, carriers appear reluctant to make another major network investment fraught with risk and uncertainty. Currently, their plans might be altered in a way that casts doubts over the viability of establishing two different, yet competing mobile networks in a country where Qualcomm's CDMA (code division multiple access), wireless technology predominates. Interestingly, SK Telecom and KTF are now confronting a dilemma in pushing for dual standards. W-CDMA 3G service is a development of next-generation wireless technology derived from the European standard - GSM (global system for mobile communication). Analysts and experts say that it will take some time before the two carriers start to refine their W-CDMA technology and develop related mobile content. Also, a dispute has arisen as to whether W-CDMA services would serve the interests of investors' amid rising worries over overlapping facility investments.

Hardware

LG.Philips LCD signs deal with Gyeonggi Provincial government to build the world's largest LCD plant in Paju, northwest of Seoul. The signing ceremony, held at a hotel in southern Seoul, marked the beginning of a major boost for Gyeonggi Province's local economy, and an opportunity for LG.Philips to establish its position as a global leader in the worldwide LCD market.

- The local post-PC market will grow by 58 percent year-on-year in 2003 and personal digital assistants (PDAs) are projected to lead the industry. The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy (MOCIE), in a 2003 Post-PC White Book it jointly published with the Korean Electronics Technology Institute (KETI) said the domestic post-PC market, which reached 200 billion won last year, would expand 58% to 317 billion won in 2003. It anticipated that PDAs would account for 63.1 percent or 200 billion won of total post-PC sales this year, followed by automobile-use auto-PC with 90 billion won in sales and thin clients, a portable computer device that relies on most of the function of the system being in the server, with 7 billion won.

A week in tech is brought to you by FinanceAsia, and IRG, Asia's boutique investment bank to the telecoms, media and tech sectors. More can be found at:

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