A week in tech

A round-up of all the key tech news in Asia.

Japan

Life Sciences

- Companies rush to develop mobile devices designed to address lifestyle-related diseases. Toshiba has developed a prototype of a wristband device to monitor the movements of users on a 24-hour basis. NTT has produced an experimental sensor capable of monitoring blood flow at the touch of a fingertip. Tanita has developed fat meters and blood pressure devices equipped with a radio transmitter.

- SGI Japan to launch a full-scale service to gather genome-related information on behalf of drugmakers. The service will use the company's proprietary systems and a database search system developed by SGI Japan and Kyoto University, in a bid to gather relevant information from the Internet more efficiently. The service, called BioSerendip, will start this spring.

Software

- Sybase names Masaki Sawabe president and general manager of its Japanese unit, Sybase K.K. Mr. Sawabe succeeds David Warren, who served as acting president for more than a year and will become vice president of business operations in the Japan unit. Prior to joining Sybase K.K., Mr. Sawabe held executive sales and management roles in SAP Japan and IBM Japan.

Internet

- Softbank has sold 40,000 shares in Yahoo Japan for ¥55.2 billion ($473 million). Softbank also expects to book a gain of ¥9 billion by selling eight million shares that Softbank's U.S. unit owns in U.S. equipment maker UTStarcom next month. The money will be used to invest in Softbank's broadband business. Softbank America's stake in UTStarcom, will be reduced to 15% from 21%.

- NTT East shortening the amount of time needed to install lines for its B Flet's fiber-optic communications service in Tokyo from a minimum two weeks to as little as six days. The installation time, which has taken an average of nearly a month, will be reduced to as little as six days for houses and 11 days for apartment buildings. The average installation time will be brought down to within two weeks.

Mobile / Wireless

- NEC, Fujitsu and other Japanese computer makers released laptops equipped with Centrino. Centrino is a microprocessing package – made specifically for laptops – that enables wireless Net access. The Centrino has 15% more processing capacity than Intel's Pentium 4 processors and can run computers for at least three to five hours.

- NTT DoCoMo to reduce weekday daytime call rates for calls made from fixed lines to cellular phones from 80 yen per three minutes to 70 yen, or 12.5%. This is the same rate charged for calls made from cell phones to fixed lines. NTT DoCoMo will submit the rate reduction proposal to the Ministry of Telecommunications by the end of March and plans to introduce the lower rates nationwide in May.

- NTT DoCoMo 3G FOMA cellular phone virtually sells out on its first day of release. Initial shipments of the P2102V terminal, capable of handling teleconference calls, are estimated to have totaled 8,000 to 10,000 units nationwide. The robust demand for the terminal signals a possible upturn in sales of FOMA cell phones, which have been slumping for over a year.

Hardware

- NEC to adopt a new corporate management structure to promote the integration of its computer and network-solution businesses. The company will introduce a flat management structure characterized by separate business lines. This is regarded as the final touch to its ongoing reorganization efforts focusing on solution service-type businesses, such as computer and network-systems integration.

- Toshiba to split off about 20% of its business into separate companies. The conglomerate said it will move four of its 10 core business divisions out of the parent company and into separate units in the Toshiba group. Those divisions account for about ¥750 billion ($6.41 billion) of Toshiba's projected ¥3.4 trillion in parent-company sales this fiscal year ending March 31.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Sony to shift all production of PlayStation 2 game console to China in the next business year in an effort to trim costs. Sony has already shifted half of its PlayStation 2 manufacturing to the Chinese factories of two Taiwanese electronics firms. The two firms are Hon Hai Precision Industry, Taiwan's largest private-sector manufacturer, and Asustek Computer.

Information Technology

- IBM Japan to partner to put grid computing technology into full-scale commercial use in Japan. IBM Japan aims to develop an analyzing system based on grid computing technology in tandem with Japan Research Institute. The tie-up with Kobelco Systems is intended to explore the possibility of using the technology for computer-aided design/manufacturing and CAE operations.

- Japan Telecom Holdings to sell a telemarketing subsidiary, Japan Telecom Max, to major telemarketer Moshi Moshi Hotline for an amount reportedly less than 5 billion yen. At the direction of its U.K. parent company, Vodafone Group Plc, Japan Telecom Holdings also aims to sell its fixed-line communications unit Japan Telecom Co. to U.S. investment fund Ripplewood Holdings LLC.

Korea

Mobile / Wireless

- Samsung Electronics to build handsets for Vodafone. Samsung is aiming to ship 52.5 million phones this year. That figure compares with about 42 million last year. Up to now, Samsung's strategy has been to keep its margins high by only making midrange and high-end phones, but Samsung may launch a "mid-low" phone in India in partnership with operator Reliance Infocomm.

- Korea Herald and SK Telecom to launch premium English-language education mobile service. The envisioned integrated services will bring together, daily news content from the Herald, English language instruction tutorials, an audio version of the Herald and translations that will can be accessed on multi-media capable mobile phones as well as other high-tech digital tools.

Semiconductors

- Samsung Electronics to buy back and cancel 2 per cent of its shares, which have lost around a tenth of their value this year. Samsung said it would spend one trillion won (about $823 million) to buy back and scrap 3.1 million common shares and 470,000 preferred shares between March 11 and June 10. The stocks to be cancelled represent 2 per cent of common and preferred shares each.

- Samsung Electronics ranked second in sales last year behind Intel. The market-research firm iSupply said that 2002 sales of Samsung Electronics surged 43.1 percent from a year earlier to $8.75 billion. Intel took the top position in sales at $23.7 billion. At the end of last year, iSupply forecast a 49.1 percent increase in sales for SEC this year.

Hardware

- Hynix Semiconductor to sell 47.3% stake in Imagequest, a maker of liquid crystal displays, to Kumho Electric Inc. for about 42 billion won ($34.3 million). Kumho will now become the company's largest shareholder. Under the deal, Hynix will receive an initial payment of 4.21 billion won and two subsequent payments totaling 37.89 billion won.

Internet

- Ministry of Information and Communication to push for a unified digital standard. The ministry said that it will map out a national distribution standard to classify digital content, a step that it hopes will accelerate the sales, purchase and usage of Internet-based content. The standard will be initially applied to digital content in the public sector.

China

Telecommunications

- A China Netcom consortium finalizes deal to buy Asia Global Crossing assets. Asia Netcom will assume some financial obligations in exchange for all the material assets of Asia Global Crossing. Asia Netcom will receive between $50 million and $100 million in cash from Asia Global Crossing, leaving $89.8 million in cash for the U.S. company’s creditors, including holders of $408 million in notes. Also, Asia Global Crossing seeking a 45-day extension of its exclusive period to file a Chapter 11 liquidation plan. The company's initial exclusive plan-filing period is set to expire Monday.

- Newbridge and Softbank Asia Infrastructure to buy minority stakes in China Netcom. People involved in the transaction said the two VC companies will each hold 24.5% of Asia Netcom, a newly created company that will own Asia Global Crossing's pan-Asian web of fiber-optic cables. China Netcom holds the remaining 51%, and its CEO, Edward Tian, is chairman and CEO of Asia Netcom.

- China Netcom to launch Xiaolingtong service in Beijing's suburbs next week. Beijing Netcom, the Beijing branch of the country's No 2 fixed-line operator, will launch the Xiaolingtong service in the capital's 10 suburbs on March 20. The capital was previously one of four big cities barred from receiving the fixed-line carriers' service.

Semiconductors

- Cisco Systems declines to pursue a criminal investigation into Huawei. Agents from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation in Silicon Valley approached Cisco to see if it would cooperate with a criminal inquiry, but Cisco did not respond. In January, Cisco filed a civil lawsuit alleging Huawei had engaged in a pattern of "blatant and systematic copying" of trade secrets.

- Applied Materials expects orders from China to stay flat or rise 15 per cent this year from last. But sales during the year should leap 50 per cent from last year. Applied's China operations booked about $500 million in orders in 2002. Its biggest customers in China include fledgling foundries Semiconductor Manufacturing International and Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing.

Hardware

- TCL International to make notebook computers in China through a venture with United States-based Lotus Pacific and a Chinese computer-maker. TCL would own 5 per cent of TCL Digital Technology, an 87 million yuan venture in Beijing that would start selling TCL brand notebook computers as early as next month.

- ZTE hoping for strong sales of CDMA and Xiaolingtong network equipment to fuel a near 20 per cent increase in revenue this year. The Shenzhen-listed equipment supplier, which is also known as Shenzhen Zhongxing Telecom, said yesterday the company hoped to win 20 billion yuan worth of contracts this year, compared with 16.8 billion yuan last year.

Taiwan

Life Sciences

- Premier Yu Shyi-kun sets goal to attract 18 biotechnology investment projects by 2010 and pledged to make Taiwan the center of the biotechnology industry. The annual investment amount for last year was registered at NT$20.3 billion, up from NT$12.1 billion. The number of newly established biotech or pharmaceutical companies has grown from three in 1997 to 150 as of last year.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Introduction of cable-TV regulations held off by the Legislative Yuan, after legislators decided that the government department in charge could implement the new policy only after better defining the new rules of the game. The new regulations would allow cable-TV providers to decide what fees to charge for pay channels and pay-per-view channels.

Singapore / Malaysia

Telecommunications

- Telekom Malaysia says takeover of Celcom (Malaysia) progressing as planned. The nation's dominant fixed-line operator said it had called for an extraordinary general meeting on March 31. It would seek shareholder approval to make a mandatory offer to buy out all other Celcom investors at M$2.75 per share. It expects to complete the offer by June.

Semiconductors

- Chartered Semiconductor forecasts a first-quarter net loss of between $71 million and $74 million, a marginal improvement from its guidance in January. But the narrowing in its net loss forecast for the three months to March 31 reflected a $29 million gain from ending an employee bonus plan. Also Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing says it needs to raise additional funds. The state-controlled company said it would need to expand and add equipment to increase the capacity of its existing four production plants.

Hong Kong

Telecommunications

- Telstra and PCCW likely to confirm agreement on Reach refinancing. A person familiar with the talks said an agreement in principle between the 10 banks and the two telecommunications companies should be completed by Friday, when a debt waiver is set to end. With the terms to be closely watched by rating agencies, formal documentation is likely to be ready for signing by the end of March.

- Wharf T&T blames PCCW for hindering its growth by blocking its fixed-line customers from switching to other networks. The No 3 fixed-line operator yesterday announced a net profit of HK$53 million to December 31, up from HK$8 million in 2001. Turnover rose 3 per cent to HK$1.11 billion. Wharf said it installed more than 100,000 fixed lines last year, bringing the total to 340,000.

- Hong Kong Polytechnic University installs Hong Kong's largest IP-based telephone network built on Cisco Systems equipment. The announcement comes as networking-gear maker Cisco pursues a campaign to deploy more IP telephony systems in the government and small-business sectors. Cisco's previous biggest IP telephony installation in the SAR was at Hong Kong Baptist University in 2001.

Mobile / Wireless

- SmarTone raises hopes of a special cash dividend payout after reporting a better than expected interim net profit of HK$237.79 million. With a cash balance of HK$3.8 billion, the mobile-phone operator vowed to double its dividend payout to 66 per cent of full-year net profit this year and signalled that it might return excess cash to shareholders.

Software

- Secure Computing authorizes Senco-Masslink Technology (Senco) to sell its firewall technology in the region. Secure Computing protects some of the most sensitive networks in the world, including the networks of the CIA and the National Security Agency. Many of Secure Computing's customers in China are multinationals who negotiate deals with the company in Hong Kong.

Internet

- Cathay Pacific to offer PCCW's Netvigator e-mail service on all flights by the end of the year. The service will be offered on a free trial basis until June to passengers on 42 Cathay Pacific aircraft, more than half of the airline's fleet. The service enables passengers in first class and business class cabins, and the front rows in economy class, to send and receive e-mail messages using their laptops.

- Tom.com in talks to buy a stake in AOL's China Entertainment Television Broadcasting business. AOL Time Warner owns about 85% of CETV, a 24-hour Mandarin-language TV channel. The channel received approval from China in October 2001 to broadcast on local cable systems in the southern province of Guangdong. Tom.com said that talks were at a preliminary stage.

- Tom.com Ltd net loss narrowed last year on lower goodwill provisions and a spate of acquisitions that helped the Hong Kong media and Internet firm more than double its revenue. Tom.com posted a net loss of 410 million Hong Kong dollars ($52.6 million) for 2002, compared with a loss of HK$634.9 million for the prior year. Revenue surged to HK$1.62 billion from HK$627 million.

- iLink Holdings posted a net loss of HK$104.2 million last year after a provision for impairment losses of HK$35.8 million ($4.6 million) and HK$25.8 million ($3.3 million) in fixed assets for its data-centre operations in Hong Kong and Beijing respectively, compared with a net loss of HK$34.9 million ($4.5 million) in 2001.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

Telecoms company CTI expects to attract 25,000 subscribers to its pay-television service in its first year of business by offering cheaper prices than dominant operator i-Cable. CTI expects an ARPU of HK$150, well below i-Cable's average of about HK$200 to HK$220. Customers will be charged HK$100 to HK$150 per month, including rent on a satellite box. Subscribers pay HK$25 for each additional specific channel.

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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