A week in tech

A round-up of all the latest tech news in the region.

· Internet business developer Livedoor intends to acquire all outstanding shares in BestReserve, a net-based travel agency. The acquisition is said to be through a stock swap. Livedoor will issue about 3.1 million new shares, valued at 1.1 billion yen ($10.7 million), and exchange them for those held in BestReserve by Jafco, the largest shareholder in the travel firm, and others. BestReserve operates a website that allows users to make online reservations at more than 3,000 hotels nationwide. The company posted a pretax profit of 39 million yen ($380,000) for the year through March 204, on sales of 207 million yen ($2 million).
· The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications will introduce telecommuting, with six staffs to be assigned to the telecommuting shift at least one day a week until the end of February. The ministry expects this initiative, though small in scale, to build a momentum for the government’s goal of raising the ration telecommuters to all employed workers up to 20 percent by 2010. The six will work at such locations as homes, libraries or universities from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm. In case of meetings, they will utilize teleconferencing and online chats. The ministry plans to expand telecommuting to cover some 500 employees by fiscal 2006. 
· Hitachi said it will buy a 14.5% stake in Clarion Co. from HBK Master Fund, making it the largest shareholder in the Japanese automobile-use audio equipment maker. The Japanese electronics company said in a statement it has reached an agreement with the Texas-based fund to buy 40.7 million Clarion shares. Hitachi did no disclose the purchase price.
· JVC showed a prototype of a disc that combines standard DVD and new Blu-ray technology for a combined 33.5GB of capacity. Blu-ray is a new read-only optical disc technology that increases the amount of storage on a disc with the aim of allowing content producers to distribute high-definition movies. But analysts warn that competing technologies like Blu-ray and High-Definition DVD (HD DVD) could do more short-term harm than good by prolonging confusion in the market. A combined Blu-ray and standard DVD disc could help the situation. If content producers start distributing the combo discs, consumers might be more inclined to buy Blu-ray players. JVC said it hoped the combo disc would help spur more innovative content offerings and cut down on waste.
· Canon Inc., Nikon Corp. and other makers of digital cameras are working very hard to deal with proliferation of counterfeit batteries for their cameras, mostly in China. They fear that poor-quality counterfeits, which sometimes explode and injure users, will tarnish their brand image. The report also said that recently developed fake batteries were about to enter the Japanese market. While there is a chance that these illegal products will spread worldwide, digital camera companies have yet to work out ways to solve the problem. Nikon incorporated a “secret weapon” against such batteries in two new models of its Coolpix digital camera series. The technology makes it unable for users to operate a digital camera with other batteries than Nikon’s. The company has not disclosed much information about the technology. According to Japan Dry Battery Industries Association, there have been cases of people, mainly in China and Southeast Asian countries, which people have suffered  burns or other injuries caused by fake lithium-ion batteries.
· Toshiba plans to stop manufacturing and selling plasma display panel (PDP) TVs in Japan by next summer, and then discontinue the products in other markets after that. The company will instead focus on surface-conduction electron-emitter display (SED) TVs. The company plans to focus on SED TVs for the over-50-inch segment by cooperating with Canon, with the first product being introduced in August 2005. In addition, Toshiba has also shown great interest in the LCD-TV market and has set up and LCD-TV panel joint venture with Hitachi and Matsushita Electric Industrial. Toshiba is not the first Japanese vendor to announce its plan of phasing out it its PDP-TV production. In response to a report that Sony will exit the PDP-TV market, Sony admitted that it does plan to focus on the LCD-and rear-projection-TV (RPTV) markets but denied that it will stop producing PDP TVs.
· NEC said it was seeking to build third-generation (3G) mobile phone infrastructure in China in a bid to gain a foothold in the world’s biggest mobile market. NEC said it had been in talks with China Mobile Communication, China’s biggest mobile phone operator, and China Telecommunications to sell 3G equipment. Beijing was expected to allow local telecommunications firms to offer 3G services in 2005. Despite its success in Japan, 3G has yet to gain mass acceptance in most of the world, with questions raised about whether many consumers will pay a premium price for its high-tech features. NEC has set up a showroom for 3G ground stations and other equipment in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou and plans to sell 3G-related equipment. The company aimed to achieve sales from 3G infrastructure and other related systems of 100 billion yen ($970 million) over the next three years.
· Online marketer Quin Land Co. announced it will start selling bar codes that direct cellular phones to specified web sites faster than black-and-white versions. The firm acquired the domestic marketing rights to color QR codes developed by a South Korean company. The square handset-readable codes, which measure about 1 cm on each side, will be sold to businesses and individuals through Quin Land’s portal site. The firm estimates sales of 300 million yen ($2.9 million) in the first year. The code comprises shapes, symbols and patterns in such colors as red, blue and green. When the image is read by cell phone, the handset is connected to a designated server, enabling the user to view web pages and images. The price of a single code for use by an individual for one year will be 1,000 yen ($9.7).
· NTT DoCoMo Inc. said that it will take stakes in two holding companies that have information service subsidiaries in China for a combined $8.2 million in order to provide its wireless telecommunications services to the rapidly growing country. Japan’s biggest mobile phone service company said that it will spend $4 million to take a stake in Emcore Technology Inc. which owns Chinese position information service firm Beijing Lingtu Spacecom Technology Co. DoCoMo will also buy $4.2 million stake in Digital Media Group which has its Beijing Eastlong Technology Development Co. subsidiary that offers digital advertisement services for subway stations and trains in Shanghai. The Japanese mobile phone service operator will take “minority” in the two companies in January.



· LG Group reaffirmed that it cannot join in a W1.2 trillion ($1.1 billion) rescue of LG Card, even as the card firm’s creditors gave the conglomerate to review the proposed bailout. Creditors, led by the state-run Korea Development Bank, want LG units and main shareholders to convert around 57 percent, or W670 billion ($643.1 million), of W1.1 trillion ($1 billion) LD Card owes to them into equity. The request was originally W875 billion ($840 million) and then lowered to W770 billion ($739.1 million). LG affiliates have balked at each level. A recent study suggested that LG Card write down 82.5 percent of its outstanding shares without compensation and get W1.2 trillion ($1.1 billion) of new capital to avoid credit downgrading and remain listed on the Korea Stock Exchange. The creditors say that liquidation of LG Card is inevitable if the group refuses to provide aid.
· Telecom companies said that nearly 3 million mobile-phone users switched service providers this year through number portability, which allows them to move to other carriers while keeping their numbers. According to figures from companies, 2.8 million people migrated to other carriers, with the churn rate, or the portion of subscribers switching carriers, slowly picking up again during the winter high-demand period. SK Telecom, the country’s largest mobile operator, lost more than 2 million customers to its smaller rivals KT Freetel and LG Telecom. LG Telecom, the smallest carrier, got around 1 million customers from the larger carriers. With around 10,000 mobile-phone subscribers changing carriers every day, and with the increased marketing efforts by telecom companies during the holidays, industry watchers believe customer migration will reach the 3 million mark by the end of the year.
· Samsung Electronics said it would spend $274 million to raise production capacity for LCDs. The investment to introduce more advanced manufacturing methods comes after rival LG.Philips LCD announced a $5.1 billion spending last month to build a seventh-generation production line. Samsung, the world’s top flat-screen maker, has already started building seventh-generation factory through its $2 billion LCD joint venture with Japan’s Sony. Samsung said it would spend W286.7 billion ($2.1 billion) to build the next generation line on its own. DisplaySearch forecasts global sales of LCD TVs will reach 16 million units next year, double the estimated 8 million this year.


· China has started to use CERNET2, the next-generation internet network, which connects 25 universities and 20 cities. The network is using IPv6, the next generation internet Protocol (IP) addressing that should solve the current shortage of available IP addresses. The United States has 74 percent of all the IP addresses on the internet. The connection speed on the network will range from 2.5 to 10 Gbps, which is considered quite extraordinary. For comparison, a fast broadband connection is 3 Mbps and the typical broadband connection is 0.5 Mbps.
· China has developed and demonstrated its first high-performance network core router based on the next-generation Internet standard known as IPv6. The country has been working on the router technology for more than two years as part of wider strategy to foster development of domestic intellectual property. The router bears the codename BE12016. Taiwanese media reports have made claims that the router would be backward compatible with the current IPv4-based Internet and capable of transferring 320 billion bits per second. The router comes into service as part of CERNET2, which connects several Chinese universities and cities. China as well as other Asian nations like Japan and Korea have been aggressively pursuing the development of an IPv6-based Internet because it can handle more IP addresses.
· China Telecom, one of China’s major telecommunications operators, announced that it plans to launch large-scale promotion of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) in 2005 on its broadband website. Made possible by the growing popularity of broadband internet connections, IPTV enables people to access TV programs through their computers or other internet terminals. China Telecom had already started IPTV service in Shanghai, with TV programs coming mainly from existing TV stations. China Telecom said it does not offer real-time TV programs, but only TV programs that have already aired. This service should be taken as a value-added business of broadband service providers and is considered “absolutely legal”, the company said. Another major Chinese telecommunications operator, China Netcom, is also stepping up development of IPTV.
· Chinese service providers showed an unprecedented collective consciousness in forming a professional organization in an effort to cope with the wireless value-added services. More than 30 SPs met and set up the Wireless Information Service Professional Committee of the Internet Society of China. Almost all major SPs including NASDAQ-listed Sina, Sohu, Netease, Kongzhong, Tom Online and Hong Kong-listed Tencent, joined the committee. The organization has tasked itself with monitoring and testing services of members and gives a China Trusted Wireless Service certificate to those qualified. China’s top three internet portals Sina, Sohu and Netease have already formed two alliances in the past three months, but the Internet Society and the three companies have decided to expand the range of alliance and established the committee.
· Huawei Technologies, China’s largest phone-equipment maker, was the recipient of a $10 billion credit line from China Development Bank to finance overseas expansion. The company aims to boost sales abroad to $4 billion next year from $2.2 billion in 2004 after signing the five-year facility with China’s biggest state-owned policy lender. Access to state funds will help closely held Huawei compete with publicly traded rivals such as Ericsson AB, Cisco Systems Inc. and China’s ZTE Corp. An analyst said the size of the facility would give Huawei the financial backing to follow Chinese computer maker Lenovo Group by buying an overseas rival.

· There were 2.3 million wireless internet access users in Taiwan in August 2004, mobile and non-mobile. This translates into a user-density rate of 10.5 percent, according to a sample survey of more than 4,000 respondents in August. Of the surveyed persons without wireless internet access experience, 43 percent were uninterested in such use of internet services, but 16 percent planned to apply for such use over the following half year.
· Taiwan’s direct internet connection with 17 other countries/regions attained a total bandwidth of 67.1 Gbps as of the end of the 3rd quarter of 2004. This increases by 13.1 percent for a quarter earlier and 170.4 percent from a year earlier. This was according to the Focus on Internet News and Data of the Advanced e-Commerce Institute (ACI-FIND). The survey was conducted among Internet Service Providers and organizations equipped with international network in Taiwan during the month of October.


Hong Kong
Information Technology
· The Hong Kong and Guangdong governments have approved funding for 24 Hong Kong and 43 Guangdong projects under a joint funding scheme to support research and development projects in six key technology areas. During the application period, the Hong Kong side received 79 applications while Guangdong side received 186 applications. The applications received by both sides have been considered separately by assessment panels drawn up by each side, with the participation of experts from the other side. Among the 24 projects approved by the Hong Kong side, six are projects of radio frequency identification technologies, seven are projects of automotive parts and accessory systems and one is of electronic and information technology.


· Falling microchip and disk-drive was once more proof of Singapore’s key export losing momentum. Output fell a seasonally adjusted 3.8 percent last month from October. That followed a 5.1 percent rise in October and compared with a median forecast for a 3 percent decline, this according to a survey of economists conducted by Reuters. Microchips fell as manufacturers were hit by slower global demand and high inventories. Disk drives contracted 19.9 percent from a year earlier, the ninth consecutive month in which they showed a fall, as demand fell in the key markets of the U.S. and Europe.
· Dominant telecommunications operator Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT) expects the growth of the domestic mobile phone business to ease next year as the subscriber base tops 40 percent of the population. The company expected to have more than 19 million subscribers at the end of this year, with main rival Globe Telecom targeting 13 million. The third player, Digital Telecommunications Philippines, expect to have 1.2 million subscribers by then. The penetration rate this year is already 40 percent. PLDT remained optimistic that profits from its wireless business would remain robust. The growth seen in the telecoms sector has been a major contributor to the Philippine economy’s overall expansion this year. The company said its units Smart Communications and Pilipino Telephone (Piltel), added about 1.6 million new wireless customers in the three months to December, matching the rate for the three months to September. PLDT posted a record net profit of 20 billion pesos ($2.7 billion) in the nine months to September.

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