A week in tech

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

A week in Japan tech

Life Sciences

- Merck's $1.5 billion takeover of Banyu Pharmaceutical takes another turn, eight days before the U.S. drug giant's offer expires. A Banyu shareholder who contends that he has acquired enough support from other shareholders to block the deal says he sent a letter to the Japanese firm, urging it to oppose Merck's offer. It also requests that Banyu immediately hire an independent financial adviser.

- Oji Paper first in the world to complete genome sequencing of the eucalyptus tree, and says it has created its own database of eucalyptus genome information and plans to file for a patent on the database. Analysis of the genome data is expected to accelerate the development of genetic-engineering-based culturing techniques and help ensure a stable supply of eucalyptus for paper production.

Telecommunications

- Sumitomo to sell part of its equity stake in Jupiter Telecommunications to its equal partner in the venture, Liberty Media for some Y17 billion. Sumitomo will use the proceeds to buy shares in other cable TV companies, in a bid to expand its broadcasting network in cooperation with Jupiter Telecommunications, which serves a wide area across the nation.

- Kansai Electric Power launches takeover bid for Osaka Media Port, or OMP, a vendor of corporate communications services, aiming to make a full subsidiary of a company in which it is already the leading shareholder. Kansai Electric may be considering merging OMP with another subsidiary, K-OPTI.com Corp., which offers personal communications services.

- Japan Telecom to accelerate the reorganization of its affiliated group firms. Japan Telecom will merge two subsidiaries that sell fixed-line communications services, and it will sell a company that handles installation. The moves are seen as preparation for the sale of fixed-line communications subsidiary Japan Telecom, so the group can refocus its resources on mobile phone unit J-Phone.

- NTT regional companies to lower fiber-optic usage fees for the home. NTT West announced that it will offer to customers who sign up in the March-April period a limited period discount of 3,000 yen on basic monthly fees that now range from 3,000 to 9,000 yen. NTT East Corp. is considering a standing reduction of roughly 1,000 yen on its basic monthly fee of 5,800 yen.

Internet

- NTT DoCoMo to launch an always-on internet service for users of PDAs and notebook computers that access the Net through PHS (personal handyphone system) telecommunications. The move reflects efforts to catch up with DDI Pocket, the largest provider of this kind of service, which unveiled a device that allows both data and voice communications.

- Japan's ISP's had a combined 8.34 million broadband contracts as of the end of January, up about 540,000 from the end of December. Most of the high-speed access contracts were for the asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) service, which came to 6.12 million, up from 5.65 million a month before.

Hardware

- Toshiba is aiming to become the first company to market internet domestic appliances that can be linked to the internet using network technology adopted by a Japanese consortium. Toshiba is currently seeking certification by the consortium, Echonet, for its first network appliances including a refrigerator, a microwave oven and a washing machine.

- Domestic shipments of PCs fall 11.1% to just above 12.45 million units in 2002, according to IDC Japan. This decline marked the first time that PC shipments have slipped two years in a row, and the 11.1% drop is the largest decline on record. The downturn was led by a 12.9% plunge in PC purchases by individual users to 5.78 million units as price hikes depressed demand.

- Retail prices of camera-equipped cellular phones declining rapidly, since phone makers have scrambled to release new models, resulting in excessive inventories. Some older models, which were released last summer, are being sold to new subscribers for only one yen each, far below their production costs.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Sony signs deal with Butterfly.net to use a videogame grid operated inside IBM data centres. Grids are collections of computers that work together as a single system, providing supercomputer power much more cheaply than traditional supercomputers. Butterfly has created a grid that could let as many as a million players commit mayhem in imaginary worlds or explore the universe together.

Venture Capital / Investments

- Internet Initiative Japan to increase its capital by about Y5 billion via a third-party share allocation mainly to existing stockholders. The firm plans to use some of the added capital to expand communications facilities and develop new services. Internet Initiative, which debuted on the U.S. Nasdaq market in August 1999, is seeking to debut on a domestic stock exchange possibly by summer.

A week in Korea tech

Telecommunications

- KT opposes integrated telecom billing system, signaling that it would take issue with the government's plan to exclude other telecom carriers from the industry. KT officials said that fixed-line telecom carriers in other countries do not collect and handle billing for their competitors, arguing that the integrated billing system is unacceptable.

- KT faces internal conflict over the 2.3GHz spectrum for which a license is to be granted by the Korean government later this year. The showdown will be staged between KT and its mobile unit KTF, with an internal clash between the subsidiaries inevitable for the much-coveted spectrum reserved for 2.3GHz mobile internet services.

Semiconductors

- Shareholders of Hynix Semiconductor approve 21-for-1 share-writedown plan. The company had held a shareholders' meeting to discuss various issues. Hynix's board approved the capital-writedown plan in January, after receiving the green light from creditor banks in late December. After the capital writedown, Hynix's capital will be reduced from 26.2 trillion won to 1.27 trillion won.

- Samsung Electronics to upgrade and expand its two chip facilities in South Korea by investing W305.1 billion in the first half of this year. The company will use its cash reserves for the spending, which is part of its planned W6 trillion capital investment for this year. The world's largest memory chipmaker said it will upgrade and expand its fifth production line in its plant in Giheung city.

- Hynix Semiconductor executives offer to resign to pave the way for further restructuring at the troubled computer memory chipmaker. This came a day after Hynix said one of its two presidents, Park Sang-ho, tendered his resignation as shareholders approved a fresh bail-out plan for the indebted chipmaker amid the worst global downturn in the semiconductor industry.

Hardware

- Samsung Electronics targets net profit of over W7 trillion this year. Last year, the company, which is the world's largest memory chip maker, posted a record W7.05 trillion in net profit. Earlier this year, Samsung Electronics said it is targeting a slight rise in sales for 2003. It is aiming for sales of W41.1 trillion, as against the W40.5 trillion it posted last year.

Information Technology

- Korean businesses forecast to raise their investment in their IT capabilities by 2-5% this year compared with 2002, according to market researcher KRG. The average IT budget for this year will stand at W7.2 billion, according to the report that surveyed 160 companies in six industrial sectors.

A week in China tech

Telecommunications

- Qualcomm establishes close ties with China's leading fixed-line and mobile operators, hoping the world's largest country will adopt its CDMA technology. Chairman and chief executive Irwin Jacobs said he was in talks with China Telecom and China Netcom about adopting its 3G standard in next-generation mobile services.

- Microsoft forges strategic partnership with China Unicom for co-operation in CDMA wireless data services. An MOU of strategic partnership was signed in Beijing by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and China Unicom president Wang Jianzhou. Under the agreement, the firms will develop value-added services for the advanced CDMA 1X platform of China's No 2 mobile carrier.

Mobile / Wireless

- Toshiba is to market in China cellular phones capable of sending and receiving moving images. The device will sell for about Rmb6,000. Toshiba has set the initial sales target at 500,000 units. The handsets will be produced at Toshiba's Chinese JV, Nanjing Postel Wong Zhi Telecommunications.

Software

- webMethods steps up expansion in Greater China with a plan to open a software development centre in the mainland. The facility is part of a strategy to raise investment in Asia following sales growth in the region of 47% last year. The centre will be webMethods' second in Asia. It opened its first in Japan in 2000.

- Microsoft to allow Chinese government limited access to Windows OS proprietary source code, a move that could go a long way toward dispelling lingering distrust of the company in China. China has agreed to participate in the company's Government Security Program, a new system under which Microsoft grants participating governments controlled access to Windows source code.

Internet

- Netease.com reports record revenue and net profit for the fourth quarter of 2002 and said it expects continued strong growth through 2003, as the Chinese online company reduced its focus on online advertising and developed new fee-based products, primarily online games and wireless short-messaging service. Revenue surged 29% to $11.6 million from the third quarter.

- Tom.com may exchange content with NTT DoCoMo in order to boost the use of its wireless data services. Separately, Tom.com is holding talks with China Electronic to have its MMS embedded in the mainland handset maker's phones. Tom.com will start charging for its MMS in April after the end of a six-month free introductory period. It targets monthly MMS revenue of Rmb1 million by June.

Semiconductors

- Taiwan government approves part of TSMC's $898 million investment in China but stopped short of granting a full go-ahead for the project. The move is slated to be the first officially sanctioned investment by the island's chip companies in China. The Investment Commission approved an initial investment of 6% to 7% of the $898 total.

Hardware

- Maxtor to spend up to $200 million to build a new plant in mainland China over the next five years. The world's second-largest hard-disk-drive maker after Seagate Technology said the plant will be built in Suzhou Industrial Park. Construction is expected to begin in mid-March and to be completed in the second half of 2004.

- LG Electronics to invest Rmb65 million yuan in a Nanjing plant that it hopes will be the world's biggest producer of plasma display panels for color televisions. LG has signed an agreement with the Nanjing city government to build a wholly owned plant - due to start production in October - with an initial investment of Rmb65 million yuan.

Information Technology

- China's market for IT services is expected grow 18% this year to $4.9 billion as companies like banks and telecommunications operators spend to upgrade their systems, according to Gartner. China is expected to be the world's second-fastest growing market for IT services over the next three years, with a compound annual growth rate of 20% pushing the market size to $8.9 billion in 2006.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Sony Computer Entertainment to launch its PlayStation 2 game consoles in China from this autumn. Beijing-based Sony (China) will handle local sales, with several game software titles also due to be put on sale. SCE currently consigns production of PlayStation 2 video machines to two Taiwanese companies in China for shipments to other foreign markets.

A week in Taiwan tech

Software

- Microsoft announces steep price reductions for its products in Taiwan, and said it had agreed to a list of concessions to end an investigation by the island's government into alleged unfair trade practices. The settlement with Taiwan's Fair Trade Commission ends a probe begun last May into accusations that Microsoft was artificially inflating its prices and selling only expensive suites of software.

Hardware

- BenQ expects sales to triple in the next five years and said it had found a winning strategy - selling its own name. Formerly known as Acer Communications and Multimedia, BenQ was renamed to distinguish the consumer-oriented business from Acer's traditional hardware name and has turned itself into a billion-dollar brand. It reported sales rising 50% to $3 billion last year.

A week in Singapore / Malaysia tech

Telecommunications

- Maxis Communications reports a 58% jump in earnings for last year, helped by double-digit subscriber growth. Maxis posted a net profit of M$949.7 million for the year to December 31, up from M$600.9 million in 2001. The result contrasted with state-controlled Telekom Malaysia, which yesterday reported that profit last year had fallen.

- Singapore to introduce new leading-edge technology that allows users to detect buried items or objects behind walls and to track people. Called Ultra Wide-Band (UWB), the wireless technology uses very low power radio signals consisting of very short pulses. By generating millions of pulses per second, UWB devices could transmit large amounts of data. Potential UWB applications include wireless LAN.

Information Technology

- Satyam Computer Services establishes disaster recovery hub in Singapore to protect corporate clients against information system breakdowns. The centre, its first outside India, was designed to ensure clients seamless and uninterrupted support in case of a country outage due to a disaster. Satyam is the first among the major Indian software companies to establish such operations in Singapore.

A week in Hong Kong tech

Mobile / Wireless

- SmarTone Telecommunications launches a new service it says guarantees Hong Kong's lowest monthly tariff plan, sparking industry fears a new price war may be looming. The No 3 mobile operator said the monthly tariff for its "Go" service was set initially at HK$50, with a per-minute rate of 25 cents for the first 300 minutes of talk time and 80 cents a minute after that.

- CSL reports higher interim earnings despite a drop in revenue and average customer spending. For the six months ended December 31, the Telstra-owned subsidiary reported earnings before interest and tax of HK$253 million, up 9.05% from the corresponding period in 2001. Without revealing the net profit figure, CSL said EBITDA dropped 3.3% to HK$674 million. Also, CSL to delay launching its 3G mobile services until it gets more evidence of an uptrend in revenue from its data services, but it will increase spending on its network. Data revenue, including picture and ring-tone downloads and the popular SMS, accounted for about 5% of CSL's six-month revenue of HK$2.13 billion.

- CSL Hong Kong teams up with Palm to introduce Tungsten W, a wireless mobile phone and e-mail device, which the companies hope to introduce next month. Testing of the Tungsten W and services with CSL's 2.5-generation GPRS network were complete but pricing issues, such as packaging the device with CSL's mobile data services, had not been finalized.

Software

- Oracle and HP open migration centre to help local independent software vendors and developers (ISVs) migrate from legacy systems to Oracle/HP solutions. The Competency Centre, at HP's headquarters in Taikoo Shing, is designed to help ISVs which may not have access to big systems and related hardware.

Venture Capital / Investments

- ZTE presses ahead with its proposed $450 million Hong Kong share offering, despite mainland reports that the plan had been shelved. Weak market conditions prompted ZTE's management to scrap the H-share offering in favor of an overseas private placement.

- Zhongxing postpones plans for a public listing in Hong Kong and is considering instead an overseas private placement. Zhongxing, based in the eastern city of Hangzhou, announced plans to issue H shares of not more than 30 percent of its total capital. The company said it wanted to raise at least $450 million with a listing in the final quarter of last year or the first half of this year.

Telecommunications

- Concerns about PCCW send stock to four-month low. PCCW's investment rating was also downgraded by several research houses. ABN Amro, UBS Warburg and CLSA said they were worried PCCW might have to delay its scheduled dividend payment next year due to the sharp downturn in the wholesale broadband business that triggered a huge writedown for both PCCW and Telstra.

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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