A Week in Tech

Our round-up of the latest tech news from around Asia.



- Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. will use ¥45 billion ($428.6 million) during the next three years to set up supply-chain management systems, mainly in Asia, where its manufacturing bases are centered. The Japanese maker of Panasonic-brand consumer electronics plans to create computer systems to help optimize local manufacturing and other operations. The systems will help track order flow, procurement, production, inventory, distribution and sales. To improve group wide efficiency, Matsushita said it would invest about ¥120 billion ($1.1 billion) to upgrade its information systems over three fiscal years, starting this month. The company spent ¥115.3 billion ($1.1 billion) during the previous three years.

- Toshiba Corp. plans to release in fiscal 2005 a flat-panel TV that it has been developing with Canon Inc. Toshiba aims to make imaging-device-related businesses a new core revenue source. The television will be equipped with a 50-inch-class SED (surface-conduction electron-emitter display), a new high-definition device that features less than half the power consumption of plasma display panels. It is scheduled to be launched in fiscal 2005, but its mass production will likely start in fiscal 2006.

Information Technology

- Netplus Inc. has developed software that rapidly converts two-dimensional computer graphics into three-dimensional images for display on special monitors made by German firm X3D Technologies GmbH. Netplus is a venture spun out from Tokyo Denki University that specializes in development of software for naked-eye viewing of 3-D images. X3D Technologies develops hardware and software for 3-D imaging, and Netplus acts as a sales agent in Japan for its monitors that can display 3-D images viewable without special eyewear. The new software, OpenGL Enhancer, was developed together by the two companies for use with monitors made by X3D Technologies. It supports and enhances the inherent features of OpenGL, the open software environment for developing 2-D and 3-D graphics applications. Although OpenGL incorporates functions for 3-D imaging, a regular personal computer monitor cannot display 3-D images.

- The Society of Japanese Aerospace Companies will soon set up a panel to explore the possibility of developing and launching a next-generation earth observation satellite in collaboration with Asia-Pacific countries. The panel will consist of satellite makers -- Mitsubishi Electric Corp. and NEC Toshiba Space Systems Ltd. -- and academic experts. Officials from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Environment Ministry are also expected to join in as observers.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Square Enix Co. has started a business-to-business service providing software for companies to advertise on mobile phones. The software uses a game function that companies can use for sales giveaway campaigns.

Mobile / Wireless

- NTT DoCoMo Inc. has jointly created software that can maintain data transmission speeds for its FOMA third-generation mobile phones at close to the upper limit of performance. Developed with Base Technology Inc., the software is designed for firms whose employees frequently connect to company LANs (local area networks) from outside the office via personal computer equipped with data transmission cards or FOMA handsets. The software is installed in individual personal computers and in a firm's server that connects FOMA transmissions with a LAN. The new software combines multiple bits of information to create a large volume of data and then sends it all at once. This makes it possible to send information at a constant 350kbps, which is about 90% of the maximum FOMA transmission speed of 384kbps, rather than the roughly 150kbps that FOMA systems typically use to transmit small amounts of data. The product will be available for purchase toward the beginning of April.


- The silicon wafer-making joint venture of Sumitomo Metal Industries Ltd. and Mitsubishi Materials Corp. will double its wafer output by mid-2005. Sumitomo Mitsubishi Silicon Corp. of Japan will invest ¥30 billion ($282 million) to double its monthly output of 300-millimeter wafers used for microchip production to 300,000 wafers. The decision reflects robust demand for microchips for use in electronics products such as flat-screen television sets and mobile-telephone handsets. Sumitomo Mitsubishi Silicon expects global demand for 300-millimeter wafers to increase to 900,000 units a month by the summer of 2005. The 50-50 joint venture set up by Sumitomo Metal and Mitsubishi Materials in 2002 is the second-largest silicon wafer maker after Shin-Etsu Chemical Company.

- Japan's fair trade watchdog raided the local unit of the world's leading microchip maker Intel on suspicion it violated the country's anti-monopoly law. The Fair Trade Commission launched raids on offices in Tokyo and Tsukuba, northeast of the capital, and several other locations linked to the US giant. The Japanese unit is suspected of having unfairly appealed to client companies not to use products of rival computer parts makers.


Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- CJ Group, Korea's food and entertainment giant, entered the unfamiliar territory of the online game industry. CJ Corporation and CJ Entertainment, subsidiaries of CJ Group, acquired a controlling stake in game and entertainment service provider Plenus Inc. giving CJ management rights. It purchased 18.8% of the company, or 4 million shares, from majority shareholder and company president Bang Jun-hyuk's 4.9 million shares. The acquisition is worth W80 billion won ($69.9 million).

Mobile / Wireless

- Subscribers of local wireless service provider KTF will be able to access their Microsoft Outlook e-mail accounts through their cellular phones. The country's second-ranked cell phone operator announced the launch of "MagicN Outlook Service," which will send subscribers text messages alerting to new e-mails and enable them to adjust their scheduling calendar and contact list on their Microsoft Outlook accounts from their cell phones.

- More than 3 million cellular phone users have signed up or switched to the unified access code 010, which is given to new subscribers starting this year regardless of service provider. The trend reflects the slight rise in consumer demand generated by greater competition in the telecom market. According to figures released by the country's three wireless operators, about 3.4 million people signed up for the 010 access code services through March, just less than one-tenth of the total number of cell phone users which recently passed the 35-million mark.



- To deal with China's soaring steel consumption, local steel-trading companies have banded together to make trading more efficient through an online trading platform, the Shanghai Steel Electronic Exchange. While there are other regional exchanges for trading steel products in China, this is the first online trading exchange and could help create a more efficient market for pricing steel. The steel exchange's expects the platform to trade 40% of the total trading volume of steel in Shanghai by 2005. The exchange was formed by big steel trading firms and an investment company.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Shanda Interactive Entertainment hopes to shrug off the troubles of other recent mainland initial public offerings by raising $200 million through a listing on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The mainland's largest operator of online games plans to spend $65 million to develop or acquire new titles and $25 million to enhance its operational platform, according to the company's preliminary prospectus. It will also spend about $60 million to acquire or invest in related businesses.

Mobile / Wireless

- Wireless giant SK Telecom launched a joint venture with China Unicom and held a launch ceremony in Beijing for their joint venture, UNISK, which plans to provide music, games, chat functions and other mobile entertainment content to the 22 million China Unicom subscribers. UNISK had started commercial services from March 1 prior to the official opening and has lured 40,000 subscribers so far. The Chinese government approved a business license for UNISK in February. UNISK is a US$6 million investment by the two companies, with SK Telecom owning 49 percent of the shares and China Unicom owning the remaining 51 per.


- Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which is suing mainland rival Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC), has found itself at the centre of another patent infringement suit involving rival chipmakers in the United States. Last week, UniRAM Technology filed a suit in a US district court in California, alleging Monolithic System Technology (MoSys) had misappropriated trade secrets and infringed upon its patents. According to UniRAM's suit, it provided trade secret information to TSMC between 1996 and 1997. The suit then claims that MoSys obtained UniRAM's trade secrets from the Taiwanese chipmaker in an unknown manner.

- Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) may be the newsmaker of its sector, but it is the little known players that accounts for the bulk of China's chip-making industry. The mainland's semiconductor market is divided into two halves. In the top half of the draw are the big players such as SMIC and Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp, which use new equipment and advanced process technologies to churn out chips for global clients such as Texas Instruments and Broadcom. The bottom half lies the unheralded group of smaller, low-cost chipmakers such as Zhuhai Nanker, Jilin Sino-Microelectronics and Shenzhen SI Semiconductors. They primarily manufacture low-end semiconductors for the domestic market, using fully depreciated equipment from the west. These chips go into low-tech devices such as refrigerators and televisions and make up an important if all to often unnoticed role in the Chinese semiconductor industry.



- United Microelectronics Corp (UMC) saw a 27.6 per cent year-on-year rise in its March sales. March sales came in at NT$9.0 billion ($273.03 million), up 12.2 per cent from the NT$8.0 billion ($245.6 million) posted for February. Sales in the March quarter rose to NT$25.3 billion ($776.8 million) from NT$17.9 billion ($549.6 million) previously.

- Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company reported a 44.2 per cent year-on-year rise in its March sales on the back of higher wafer shipments. The company's March sales amounted to NT$20 billion ($607 million), up 8.6 per cent from NT$18.4 billion ($559.5 million) the previous month thanks higher wafer shipments and a better product mix. Cumulative sales in the first quarter to March rose 46 per cent year-on-year to NT$57.5 billion ($1.7 billion) dollars from NT$39.3 billion ($1.2 billion) a year earlier.

Singapore / Malaysia / Philippines / Indonesia


- A government campaign urging Singapore's tech-savvy youth to "respect the Net" was launched amid increasing concerns about Internet addiction, gambling and other cyber-ills. The National Internet Advisory Council of Singapore said its Cyber Wellness program aimed to encourage youths to use the Internet with respect, responsibility and balance.

Hong Kong

Mobile / Wireless

- Sunday Communications reported its first full-year profit after aggressive cost cuts, but the result still failed to meet expectations. Sunday made HK$27.2 million ($3.5 million) last year, against a loss of HK$117.3 million ($15 million) in 2002, but analysts had expected a profit of HK$34.2 million ($4.4 million).

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