A week in tech

A round-up of all the latest tech news.

Japan

Hardware

Canon Inc. has developed a colour LCD (liquid crystal display) that runs on about 30% less power than conventional LCDs. Unlike existing LCDs, which need to combine red, green and blue filters to reproduce other colours, Canon's new device requires just green and magenta filters. And because colour filters are the main cause of light loss in LCDs, one less filter translates into power savings. The new LCD so far is capable of reproducing less than 100,000 colours, while conventional high-definition color LCDs can display more than 10 million hues. Because of this limitation, Canon believes its new offering will be used mainly in cellular phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants), industrial-use display devices and toys. In the future, however, the company hopes to improve the device's colour reproduction capability to make it suitable for use in LCD TVs.

- Hitachi Cable has developed the world's first titanium electrode material for direct-methanol fuel cells. Such fuel cells generate electricity directly from methanol supplied from a replaceable cartridge. The devices are being developed as a power source for notebook computers and other portable digital equipment. With the new material in place of conventional graphite electrodes, direct-methanol fuel cells can be reduced in size by around half and manufactured for 50 to 100 times less money. The company has worked with Hitachi to prototype a 20-watt cell that is around the size of a business-card holder and can power a notebook computer. The goal is to have a practical version of the fuel cell ready in fiscal 2005.

- Seiko Epson Corp. has developed the world's largest OEL (organic electroluminescent) display at 40 inches. Currently, most OEL displays are made using small molecules, which are evaporated and deposited on a substrate in a vacuum. This method has been limited to manufacturing smaller displays. Consequently, the largest OEL created until now was by Sony Corp. at 24 inches. Seiko Epson's technique, on the other hand, paints polymers on a substrate using ink-jet technology and is more successful in making large displays. Seiko Epson's display has a resolution of 1,280 x 768 pixels and can show 260,000 colors. It has an operating life of 1,000 to 2,000 hours, but by improving the material, the firm expects to soon raise its operating life to 10,000 hours. Ultimately, Seiko Epson plans to increase the figure to about 50,000 hours, the level needed for problem-free television use. The company is aiming to mass produce large displays by 2007.

Internet

- Japan's eAccess Ltd. will buy AOL Japan's Internet service operations for $18.3 million in cash, marking the wholesale Internet provider's first foray into the retail business. AOL Japan is a wholly owned subsidiary of Time Warner Inc.'s America Online Internet service provider business. The unit, which was formerly DoCoMo AOL, used to be a joint venture between the world's largest media company and NTT DoCoMo Inc., Japan's largest mobile operator. DoCoMo pulled out of the business last November after it failed to attract customers. The two companies initially intended to provide a new service linking personal computers and cell phones over the Internet.

Software

- Knowledge Brain Inc. plans to release information system testing software capable of automatically finding bugs before and after the systems' completion. The new product, TestAgent expected to be released in July, will help information system developers shorten the time for testing to less than one-twentieth the current time. In the initial phase, the systems that can be tested by TestAgent will be limited to ones written in the Visual Basic programming language developed by Microsoft Corp., but after July, Knowledge Brain plans to add the Java, C++ and other programming language versions to its product line. The TestAgent software allows system developers to see differences between the data they add to the database and the data displayed on the monitor screen and make partial corrections.

Korea

Hardware

- During the first quarter, LG Electronics got a hefty boost from its liquid-crystal-display joint venture with Philips Electronics. Strong sales by the 50-50 venture helped the Korean company report better-than-expected earnings during April and the company's stock rose to a 52-week high. In the future, LG Electronics is expected to retain a sizable stake in the venture, but the overall picture for the Seoul-based company will look rather different to investors. LG.Philips LCD, is getting its own listing. The joint venture with the Dutch electronics company aims to make an initial public offering in July. The new listing will raise the question of whether investors' appetite for LG Electronics might wane because some will prefer to own shares of LG.Philips LCD.

Mobile / Wireless

- Samsung Electronics began exporting world-first "world phone" that enables roaming between GSM and CDMA2000 1X territories. Officials said that the dual-mode device is primarily targeted at businessmen traveling between the United States, which uses the CDMA (code division multiple access) mode for wireless communication, and GSM (global system for mobile communication) used in Europe. Sales will begin during the next month and the company expects annual demand of the phone to be in millions of units.

Semiconductors

- Samsung Electronics expects a shortage of DRAM chips throughout 2004, with inventories at low levels and supply constrained. Prices of dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chips, used mainly for computer memory, have soared since the start of the year on tight supply as chip makers switched to making flash memory and hit problems when they introduced new production technology. The chip shortage was a key reason for Samsung's near tripling of profits in the first quarter, along with buoyant handsets and flat-screen businesses.

- Hynix Semiconductor Inc. is closely trailing rival Micron Technology Inc. in dynamic random access memory market share, according to iSupply Corp. The global market research firm, Hynix narrowed the market share gap with Micron to 1.5 percent in the first quarter from 3.3 percent in the previous quarter. Hynix retained number-three position with 16.8 percent share, compared to Micron's 18.3 percent, while Samsung Electronics held on to market leadership with 27.1 percent.

Telecommunications

- Patent regulators turned down SK Telecom Co.'s claim to exclusive rights for its trademark "Speed 011," dealing a blow to the country's top mobile carrier which relies on the brand's popularity to lure new subscribers to the unified 010 access code. The court's decision allows mobile carriers KTF and LG Telecom Co. to use the digits 011 without the consent of SK Telecom. Before the government's decision to implement number portability and assign the 010 access code to new cellular phone subscribers, SK Telecom users were given the 011 access code, while KTF and LG Telecom users were given 018 and 019, respectively. KTF, the country's second-largest mobile carrier, filed a complaint last November over SK Telecom's use of Speed 011, claiming that the competitor should not hold exclusive marketing rights to the access code 011 with the government deciding to implement number portability. In a separate complaint, KTF demanded that the Korean Intellectual Property Office reject SK Telecom's application to register "Speed 010" as a trademark. SK Telecom may file a countersuit against the tribunal's decision within a month, said an official from the company's public relations office.

China

Information Technology

- China has deployed electronic tagging systems to track the merchandise of global retail giants. Key IT suppliers are hoping to start a new era in supply-chain management in the mainland by implementing radio frequency identification (RFID) systems for the Chinese manufacturing partners of some of the world's leading retailers, including United States retail giant Wal-Mart and Europe's Carrefour and Tesco. Alien Technology, EPC Solutions International, webMethods, Royal Philips Electronics, Texas Instruments, SAP, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, NCR, IBM, Accenture, BearingPoint and Microsoft are some of the information technology companies making an aggressive push for RFID-related hardware, software and services in the mainland and other large manufacturing sites worldwide.

Internet

- China might have the second-largest online population in the world but it only had about 1 percent of the global market for web advertising. Last year the Chinese Internet ad business was valued at $130 million, compared with a worldwide market totaling $11.5 billion. The figure indicates that China's huge online numbers - it had 79.5 million netizens by late April - do not necessarily translate into revenue for the country's ad-dependent dotcoms. Even more worrying for the Beijing leadership, which has said it is committed to developing a hi-tech economy, China's market share is actually shrinking, according to Shanghai Research. In 2004, the Chinese Internet ad market was expected to grow 67 percent compared with last year, below the 91 percent growth predicted for the world as a whole.

Mobile / Wireless

- Nokia will significantly expand its research and development operations in China, in an apparent move to revive its ailing market share. Known for its sleek handsets and mobile innovations and regarded as an industry bellwether, the company last month shocked markets when it announced a fall in sales and profit and gave a flat outlook, citing increased competition from American and Asian rivals like Motorola and Samsung. Nokias R&D expansion in China will be significant and include the establishment of a CDMA research centre in Beijing. The company has long said China, where it employs 4,300 workers, is a major market for it and an important centre of development for expanding its Asian business.

- China Mobile reported subscribers to its GSM network rose by 3.0 million last month. The net addition, a 2.6% fall from the record net addition of 3.1 million users in March, took the company's customer base to 153.3 million by the end of April. China's largest mobile-phone operator said the acceleration in its net user additions in recent months was due to its efforts to promote a prepaid regional service called Shenzhouxing that targets low-end consumers. Minutes of use, average revenue per user and operating costs for Shenzhouxing users are generally lower than other prepaid services China Mobile offers.

Semiconductors

- Semiconductor start-up Green Mountain Integrated plans to set up an eight-inch wafer facility in Nantong, Jiangsu province, and hopes to sell shares to the public in 2007 or 2008. The mainland company aims to bring the plant on line in the second quarter of next year, with a capacity of 30,000 wafers monthly. The company has raised $40 million from investors and wants $30 million more.

Telecommunications

- China is close to completing a draft of its first Telecommunications Law, which could help level the playing field for domestic carriers, better protect consumers and provide opportunities for foreign vendors. After a quarter-century of effort, participants say a draft could be submitted to the State Council, or cabinet, next month, and go to the national legislature for passage as early as next year. If enacted, it would set basic rules to guide the behaviour of China's telecommunications carriers, addressing issues from market access to regulator supervision to a universal service system to ensure affordable phone service for the country's poorest citizens.

- China Telecom Corp. and its bankers have decided to raise the company's share sale by 15% to $1.7 billion by increasing the number of placement shares. The size of the placement has been raised to 5.9 billion shares from the original 5.1 billion. The deal's pricing remained unchanged at HK$2.3 ($0.29) a share. China Telecom's shares were suspended from trading in the afternoon session on the Hong Kong stock market. The share sale by China's largest fixed-line operator was previously designed to raise $1.5 billion.

Singapore / Malaysia / Philippines / Indonesia

Telecommunications

- Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. said that SingTel Optus intends to make an off-market takeover offer for all of the ordinary shares of Australia's Uecom. The offer will be made via SingTel's Australian subsidiary Optus Networks. Optus is about A$226.8 million ($157.7 million). Optus believes Uecomm is a strong growth company and a natural complement to Optus's existing businesses. Uecomm's independent directors have unanimously recommended that shareholders accept the Optus offer. Uecomm is a leading provider of fiber broadband data services to the government, large corporations and other carriers and telecommunications service providers in Australia.

- Telecom firm Global Crossing had obtained $100 million in financing from Singapore's ST Telemedia, the firm that gained control of Global Crossing when it emerged from bankruptcy. News of the new credit arrangement came weeks after Global Crossing was hit with shareholder lawsuits and announced that it was conducting a review of its previously reported financial statements for 2002 and 2003. The review of its finance statements could lead to its delisting from the Nasdaq stock market. The company said the interim or "bridge financing" would help keep its operations on course.

Hong Kong

Mobile / Wireless

- Hutchison Whampoa, a conglomerate that is one of the chief backers of controversial "third-generation" phone services, reported the number of people subscribing to its 3G services world-wide increased 66% during the past two months, to 1.7 million customers. The number surpassed some market estimates, but still builds off a low base of subscribers. More important, analysts and some small shareholders continue to fret about the damage the new business is doing to Hutchison's profitability - particularly because Hutchison is slashing the prices of its phones to lure new customers.

Telecommunications

- PCCW Ltd.'s plan for a possible alliance with a Chinese Network Communication Group has prompted criticism from some minority shareholders who fear such a deal could dilute PCCW's control of its core asset - and leave the telecom firm with sharply reduced revenue. PCCW was in confidential discussions with China Network Communications Group about business opportunities and joint ventures, including the possibility China Netcom - as the Chinese company is known - would take a stake in PCCW's wholly owned phone unit PCCW-HKT Telephone Ltd. The unit is Hong Kong's dominant fixed-line carrier. PCCW, which spent heavily on acquisitions during the 1990s technology boom, is struggling to pay down debt and has seen its stock price languish recently.

- PCCW has slapped the telecommunications regulator with a lawsuit, claiming it overstepped its powers when it overhauled charges paid to the fixed-line operator by IDD providers. The company has filed an application for judicial review in the High Court, arguing what was supposed to be a study by the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA) of the principles and methodology of these charges turned out to be a policy review. As a result, a key component of the local access charges paid by IDD operators to piggy-back PCCW's fixed lines was to be stripped out, the writ contends. PCCW is seeking to quash the decisions contained in a February 2004 review of the principles behind the charges, along with the changes announced to the cost structure this month.

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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