A week in tech

A summary of all the major tech stories in Asia this week broken down by country and sector.

A week in Japan tech

e-Commerce

- Seven-Eleven Japan is to end e-commerce services offered through its Seven-Navi terminals by month-end due to high costs. Some 1,200 terminals at its Tokyo stores will soon be removed. But the major retailer will continue to sell tickets for concerts, movies and sporting events sold by Pia, tours operated by JTB and flights on Japan Airlines System, using new terminals with touch-sensitive panels.

- Rakuten is to introduce a new virtual currency for use at its online shopping mall next spring. For every purchase made with real money, shoppers will accrue a certain number of credits toward the virtual currency, which can then be used to "buy" other items. Rakuten will introduce a new virtual currency for use at its online shopping mall next spring.

Telecommunications

- Nifty, Sony Communication Network and NTT Communications are to offer a free internet phone service. They will offer the Net phone services to their combined Net access subscriber base of about 10 million by the end of March, and provide the free phone service only to subscribers making use of ADSL or other broadband services.

- Heisei Den Den is to start a low-cost service enabling users to call from land line phones to cellular phones for Y60 per three minutes. The firm had been asking cell phone companies to review their current pricing system, which charges more than Y80 per three minutes. It will offer the new service via international communications lines owned by foreign communications firms.

- Fusion Communications is to shift IP telephone operations focus to a direct subscriber service. Fusion plans to channel its resources to launch a direct subscriber service that offers a rate of Y8 per three minutes nationwide and free member-to-member calls. It targets 2 million subscribers to the new service by the end of 2004.

Mobile / Wireless

- Itochu is to start selling a voice operation system for use with Internet sites for mobile phones and other hand-held terminals. Itochu has received an exclusive license to market in Japan voice input technology devised by U.S. firm Lobby7. The user will be able to give instructions by voice or buttons to access data while viewing the screen on his or her Internet-enabled mobile phone or PDA.

Software

- NTT Data and Sanyo Electric to form a 50:50 joint venture from Sanyo's wholly owned information systems company. NTT Data will buy a 50% stake in Sanyo Electric Software and dispatch executives to serve as the joint venture's president and directors.

Hardware

- NEC to transfer its PDA business to subsidiary NEC Infrontia at the end of October. Faced with a sluggish domestic PDA market, NEC aims to reduce its R&D costs.

- NEC Tokin to invest Y3 billion to build a new factory in China - its largest-ever overseas plant - to produce its main products, including tantalum capacitors and lithium-ion batteries. The new plant is to be located in Wujiang in Jiangsu Province. The move was prompted by a desire to better serve international mobile phone customers, many of which have shifted manufacturing operations to China.

- Fujitsu releases dismal interim earnings results. This poor performance is attributed to the slow pace of restructuring efforts. Fujitsu expects sales of data transmission systems in North America to drop, following a series of failures of U.S. telecommunications carriers, and a reaction to a demand surge until the outset of last year from telecom carriers for the laying of high-capacity cables.

- Foundry Networks to make a full-scale entry into the Japanese market. The company will begin operations in Japan in November through a new wholly owned local firm, which will be capitalized at 15 million yen. It will start out with about six employees. The new company will sell to firms that construct systems as well as to other businesses.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Nintendo releases online adapters for its GameCube console that would allow some games to be played online. As opposed to competitors Sony and Microsoft, who are making major online pushes with their PlayStation 2 and Xbox respectively, Nintendo has said it considers online play more of an extra feature than integral to its plans.

- CRI Middleware develops middleware for commercial and PC games. Combined with the company's existing middleware for home-use game consoles, game developers will be able to easily recreate their games for commercial game machines and PC games.

- Yoshimoto Kogyo and NTT West to jointly launch a service to distribute Yoshimoto's comedy and other entertainment software via broadband networks. They will start the new business Thursday on the Flet's Square, a broadband site set up on NTT West's own network accessible only to subscribers of the carrier's Flet's constant Internet access services.

Information Technology

- The city of Shanghai to introduce Japanese engineers to small and midsize local companies. City authorities will hold a job placement meeting in Osaka by next June to introduce the engineers, who will mainly be retired workers. The Shanghai government will provide the outplacement service through a unit it set up to support smaller companies.

- Domestic biometrics market to grow from Y3.7 billion last year to Y15.32 billion in five years. Growth is expected to be led by fingerprint identification equipment and technology, which are expected to account for more than 80% of the market's total size in five years. By 2007, shipments of fingerprint readers for mobile phones and other devices are expected to surge to 3.4 million units.

A week in Korea tech

Telecommunications

- Hanaro Telecom is to raise $1.4 billion from its foreign investors to take over Powercomm and reduce its debts. The company would attract $700 million through issuance of 210 million new common shares with a price of 4,000 won per share. Hanaro mandated JP Morgan and UBS Warburg to arrange the remaining $700 million in syndicated loans maturing in five years.

Mobile / Wireless

- KTF unveiled a new mobile Web browser aimed at allowing subscribers to surf the Web with their mobile handsets and enjoy multimedia in a graphic-based environment. The company demonstrated the mobile Web browser, dubbed KUN (KTF Unified Navigator), at a hotel in downtown Seoul yesterday, and claimed that the new browser sets a new standard for wireless Internet surfing.

- Ministry of Information and Communication mulls over a 10% cut in mobile phone rates, hinting at a possible change in its position over the contentious mobile rate issue. A ministry source said various options are being discussed with regard to the consumer price trend and telecom industry's fair competition.

- SK Telecom faces numerous obstacles in its strategy to diversify its business. For the first half of the year, the mobile carrier announced a series of merger and acquisition plans to expand its business areas into credit card, digital cable TV and online financial services. However, little progress has been made so far, and the future profitability of the company is in question.

- Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) to reallocate part of the spectrum currently used by wireless local loop (WLL) for high-speed mobile Internet users. In preparation for the coming wireless Internet era. Under the decision, the MIC is to ask major carriers to gradually give up their spectrum rights.

Hardware

- Samsung Electronics is to invest $2 billion to build a new LCD factory in South Korea, said San-wan Lee, president of Samsung's TFT-LCD Business Division. The South Korean manufacturer began operating a new factory in September, but plans to aggressively invest in new plants to gain an advantage over Japanese manufacturers.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- The Korea Media Rating Board announces suspension of many online game services for running casino-like operations. Dacom Multimedia Internet and four other online game service providers were slapped with up to 60 days of service suspension and forced to revise the content of a total 15 online games, including mahjong and poker, in which cash is at stake.

A week in China tech

Telecommunications

- French wireless communications gear maker Wavecom opens in Beijing. Company officials said the new office at Zhongguancun, a sprawling Silicon Valley-type district to the northwest of Beijing, would cater to a growing number of client manufacturers based in the Northern and Central parts of the country.

- Chinese alliance announces TD-SCDMA standard. Chinese officials, telecommunications firms and domestic equipment suppliers gathered at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to officiate at the formation of the time division synchronous code division multiple access (TD-SCDMA) alliance, a home-grown standard for 3G mobile networks.

Software

- ChinaSoft International to expand operations in Hong Kong. ChinaSoft has a strong presence in mainland government infrastructure projects, especially e-government. With about 300 employees and a yearly business of Rmb1.3 billion and growing, ChinaSoft attributes much of its success to the Chinese government's support for technology, and a large pool of talented but cheap labor at its disposal.

Internet

- Japanese PC makers slash forecast for domestic PC sales this business year to slightly over 10 million units, opening the way for China to overtake Japan as the world's second-biggest PC market. Japanese businesses and consumers put off information technology investments and purchases of new PCs, while China's domestic PC shipments expected to increase to 13 million units this year.

- Profitability of three of the four largest domestic telecom suppliers drops, due to a slowdown in mainland telecommunications equipment purchases. ZTE reported a third-quarter profit of Rmb37.4 million. Datang Telecom Technology reported an unexpected third-quarter loss of Rmb12.4 million, following a quarterly loss of Rmb64.35 million announced by Eastern Communications.

A week in Taiwan tech

Mobile / Wireless

- Taiwan had 23 million mobile phone subscriptions as of the end of September, translating into 105.5 subscriptions for every 100 people, according to statistics issued by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting & Statistics (DGBAS). The figure represents a 13.2% increase over the level recorded one year earlier.

Semiconductors

- Acer to double shipments of portable PCs to its domestic market next year to between 140,000 and 150,000 units. Acer's operating president for greater China, HL Lin, said Acer's desktop PC shipments in the domestic market were expected to rise 20 percent to 30 percent next year.

- Acer to absorb its marketing arm Acer TWP, as well as buy the remaining 49 percent stake in Weblink International that it does not already own, by the end of the year. The company plans to take full ownership of its distribution units in the future. Acer expects its distribution operations to post NT$20 billion in sales this year.

A week in Singapore / Malaysia tech

Telecommunications

- Telekom Malaysia pushes through takeover of Celcom (Malaysia), creating the country's biggest mobile group despite objections from Celcom's long-time foreign partner, Deutsche Telekom. Telekom Malaysia inked a deal to sell its mobile arm TM Cellular to Celcom in return for Celcom shares worth M$1.68 billion.

Hardware

- Singapore electronics sector is contracting and threatens to bring an end to the steady growth in the overall manufacturing industry, according to the latest Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) report for October. The leading indicator for the whole manufacturing sector fell one point to 50.6 percent in the month (a reading below 50 percent indicates the manufacturing sector is contracting).

A week in Hong Kong tech

Software

- Sales-automation specialist AKuP International to expand Greater China operations. The GEM-listed AKuP has acquired a 12.24 percent stake for $1 million in Taiwan software firm UED. The move is expected to help AKuP improve its marketing, distribution, and research and development programs, as well as broaden its customer base with government agencies on the mainland.

Internet

- E*Trade to launch an online banking business in Hong Kong by the first quarter of next year. Initial services would be tailored to help stock brokerages manage assets. However, it hoped to introduce retail-banking services for high net-worth individuals within six to nine months of the launch. These services would include certificates of deposit and time deposit products.

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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