A week in tech

A round-up of all the latest tech news.

Japan

Hardware

- Tohoku Pioneer Corp. in fiscal 2004 will begin mass producing active organic EL (electroluminescent) panels with pixels driven by TFTs (thin-film transistors). The company will first introduce 2.4-inch QVGA (Quarter Video Graphics Array) high-resolution panels for use as the main screens in mobile phones. Materials deposition and other panel production processes will be conducted at its Yonezawa plant. TFT circuit boards will be supplied by ELDis Inc., a joint venture with Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co.

- Oki Electric Industry Co. will invest a little more than ¥5 billion ($43.7 million) in fiscal 2004 to increase production of driver ICs for LCDs (liquid crystal displays). The company is responding to greater demand for the products for use in devices such as personal computers, large televisions and mobile phones. The company will expand facilities at its key production site in Miyazaki Prefecture, and will introduce production equipment at a manufacturing site in Miyagi Prefecture. Oki Electric expects to ship 120 million LCD IC drivers in the current fiscal year, an increase of 66% from the previous fiscal year.

Information Technology

- Japan's largest internet investor Softbank reported its group net loss widened to ¥107.1 billion ($950 million) in the year to March from ¥100 billion ($874.9 million) a year earlier. Softbank, now aiming at expanding broadband Internet businesses through its affiliate, Yahoo! Japan, said the wider loss was mainly due to start-up costs for its Internet infrastructure business and special losses on its securities holdings. Its revenue of ¥517.4 billion ($4.5 billion), was up 27.2% from a year earlier.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Sony Corp. and Nintendo Co., Japan's two videogame kingpins, launched a long-awaited battle over the $4 billion market for hand-held gaming devices. At a news conference before the E3 videogame show, Sony for the first time showed a prototype of its sleek, black PlayStation Portable, or PSP, the company's initial offering for the hand-held market. Sony said the PSP -- expected in late 2004 in Japan and the following spring in North America and Europe -- will run movies as well as videogames at what Sony promises will be a video quality similar to that of its PlayStation 2, which is No. 1 in living-room consoles. Nintendo, the current leader in hand-held game gadgets, showed its feature-crammed Nintendo DS, a clamshell-shaped device with a screen in each half -- one of them a touch-screen sensitive to the pressure of a finger or stylus. Nintendo said the DS will go on sale this year in both Japan and the U.S., and in Europe and Australia in early 2005.

Telecommunications

- Nippon Telegraph & Telephone's net profit more than doubled in the latest fiscal year, helped by strong results at its NTT DoCoMo Inc. mobile-phone arm, as well as gains in its fixed-line communications business. The Japanese telecommunications giant posted a group net profit of ¥643.9 billion ($5.6 billion) for the year ended March 31, up sharply from ¥233.4 billion ($2.0 billion) for the prior fiscal year. Group operating profit rose 14% to ¥1.6 trillion ($13.6 billion) from ¥1.4 trillion ($11.9 billion). Revenue increased 1.6% to ¥11.1 trillion ($97.1 billion) from ¥10.9 trillion ($95.6 billion).

- KDDI Corp. and Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) announced that they have developed a cellular phone capable of receiving land-based digital broadcasts. The handset was jointly developed by KDDI, KDDI R&D Laboratories and NHK Science & Technical Research Laboratories. Weighing 140 grams, it has been miniaturized to the size of a conventional cell phone and is powered by a battery capable of playing about two consecutive hours of television programming. The price and release date of the unit have not yet been determined, but negotiations will be held with broadcast stations and others, according to a KDDI representative.

Korea

Information Technology

- The Korean information-technology sector was a major contributor to record monthly highs in exports and trade surplus in March, and the surging sales are expected to continue through this year. According to figures released by the Institute of Information Technology Assessment yesterday, local IT companies exported $6.3 billion worth of products this March, up nearly 50% from the same period last year. Mobile phones, computer chips and liquid-crystal-display screens and digital televisions pumped up the exports, accounting for about 30% of Korea's $21 billion in goods sent abroad. Imports reached $3.7 billion, bringing the IT sector's trade surplus to $2.6 billion since last August. In particular, the semiconductor industry is expected achieve a trade surplus for the first time in four years.

Mobile / Wireless

- Europe is the key to Pantech's drive to become one of the top six mobile phone makers in the world. GSM, global system for mobile communication, is the dominant digital mobile phone standard for most of the world. It determines the way in which mobile phones communicate with the land-based network of towers. Pantech is the Korea's third-largest cellular phone maker behind Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics, posting W615 billion ($559 million) in revenue last year. Pantech expects total overseas sales to reach 15 million units this year, with its domestic sales hitting 5 million compared to last year's 3.2 million. While most of Pantech's sales going to highly competitive Asian markets, including China, Taiwan and Thailand. the company is looking to Europe for new sources of revenue.

Semiconductors

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

China

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- China-linked IPOs continued to have trouble winning back interest from US investors, though a price cut helped shares of online-game company Shanda Interactive Entertainment Ltd. gain in its debut. Shares of Shanda, known for the "The Legend of Mir II" online game, closed on the Nasdaq Stock Market at $12, 8.8% above the US$11 price set on the Shanghai company's initial public offering of 13.8 million American depositary shares. Each ADS represents two ordinary shares. Despite the gains, Shanda raised far less than hoped in its IPO, led by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Coming into the week, it was marketing 17.3 million shares at $13 to $15, valuing the offer at $242.2 million. In the end, Shanda raised about $152 million.

Mobile / Wireless

- Wireless data services provider Linktone is aiming at nearly doubling its number of monthly paying subscribers by the end of the year, despite concerns that the mainland market for short-messaging services (SMS) such as horoscopes and games is maturing. The Shanghai-based firm plans to have eight to 10 million users by the year's end, against six million in the first quarter and 4.5 million in the fourth quarter of last year. Linktone has been diversifying sales channels to reach new subscribers. It recently sealed deals with mobile-phone manufacturers Bird and EastCom, whereby options to use Linktone services are included in handset menus.

Semiconductors

- Supporters of the $100 million initial public offering by mainland foundry CSMC Technologies are betting that the market debut flop by Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) has not soured sentiment for chip stocks. In research published by sponsor Citigroup, there appears to be clear differences between CSMC and SMIC, whose share price has fallen more than 30 percent since listing. For one, the two firms are not competitors and operate in different sectors of the mainland semiconductor industry. CSMC relies on China for much of its orders - about 79% came from the mainland and Hong Kong last year. SMIC ships 50% of its chips to mainland customers.

Telecommunications

- China Unicom is urging the Hong Kong government to speed up the controversial auction of its CDMA network licence, saying the current infrastructure, run by Hutchison Whampoa, is too old. China Unicom hopes to connect data roaming in Hong Kong as soon as possible. China Unicom, which has 23 million CDMA subscribers, is the latest company to join the chorus calling for a new CDMA network in Hong Kong. However, it is up against the city's incumbent mobile operators, who say Hong Kong does not need a new mobile licence because there is already too much competition.

Taiwan

Semiconductors

- Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., one of the world's largest contract chip makers, said its board approved a $1.4 billion budget to buy new production equipment. The Taiwan-based company has said its capital spending this year likely would exceed the $2 billion it had forecast but has not formally announced a new figure. However, the board's decision to allocate a budget for new equipment indicates spending may be raised. TSMC said in a statement that its board approved the money "to expand its manufacturing capacity in response to increasing customer demand."

Singapore / Malaysia / Philippines / Indonesia

Internet

- All of Singapore's government schools were temporarily disconnected from the Internet in a bid to contain a potentially damaging internet virus. The Gaobot worm, which exploited a fault in the Windows operating system, was discovered and infected the computers of at least 30 schools. The connection to the ministry of education enables schools to access the Internet, however their intranet operations are still operating so students can continue to use the computers for non-web related activities.

Hong Kong

Mobile / Wireless

- Sunday Communications Ltd. signed an HK$859 million ($110.1 million) contract for China's Huawei Technologies Co. to build, integrate and maintain a third-generation cellular telecommunications network for the Hong Kong operator. The deal was first announced in December and includes a seven-and-a-half-year HK$859 million (US$110.1 million) loan from Huawei to Sunday to finance the 3G equipment purchase as well as a two-and-a-half-year HK$500 million ($64.1 million) refinancing of earlier Huawei loans. The Chinese company is based in Shenzhen, where it has 3,500 engineers working solely on 3G projects.

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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