A week in tech

A round-up of all the latest tech news from Asia.



- A research group at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) has developed a software application enabling people to use their cellular phones to test their hearing capacity. The new software is designed so that people can predict an onset of hearing deficiency even before such reaches a critical level. Experts believe that when a person starts using a hearing aid before the condition worsens, that person will find it easier to adapt to the device. The software can be downloaded from the Internet. It shows an interface on the phone screen while the user listens to sounds through headphones attached to the handset. By pressing buttons when sounds of different volume and frequency are played, the program can perform a simple test of hearing acuity and display the results in graphic form. The AIST research group aims to work with doctors. The group also sees the service in a year or two. and have a service ready in one or two years.


- ACCESS Co. Ltd., a global provider of mobile content delivery and Internet access technologies, announced that its NetFront i-mode Global Profile Integrated software solution has been selected by Motorola for use in its E378i handset. NetFront i-mode Global Profile is one profile is ACCESS' NetFront Mobile Client Suite, which was optimized and developed for NTT DoCoMo's i-mode Global service. The service has been proven in over 43 million deployments of i-mode handsets in Japan and over 4 million i-mode Global handset deployments worldwide. NetFront browser recently surpassed over 150 million deployments globally that include 342 unique devices ranging from mobile phones and PDAs to digital televisions, gaming consoles, and automobile telematics systems form 90 major Internet device manufacturers.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- There is a standoff between Livedoor and Fuji Television Network in the two companies' effort to acquire shares of Nippon Broadcasting System Inc. Livedoor, a web portal operator, was reported to have approached Fuji TV about entering into a partnership, but the major TV network was said to have rejected the proposal. Fuji TV now plans to buy more shares of Nippon Broadcasting in order to have a majority stake. Livedoor is believed to have 20-30 billion yen ($189 millon-$284 million) to spend, which include cash, deposits and its bridge loan from Lehman Brothers Japan Inc. Livedoor estimates that, if Nippon Broadcasting's share price remains firm, it will be able to turn the radio broadcaster into a subsidiary, this without having to raise additional funds. This is not good news for Fuji TV because even if it acquires more than 25 percent of the radio broadcaster's outstanding shares, it will not have a control of the company if it becomes a subsidiary of Livedoor.

- The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications is consider imposing tougher restrictions on the foreign ownership of broadcasting stations, an idea born out of the surprise acquisition bid by Livedoor of Nippon Broadcasting System. Presently, the Radio Law states that if a foreign firm takes direct control of at least 20 percent of a broadcasting station, the license of that broadcaster will be withdrawn. The ministry is said to be considering now expanding this regulation to cover cases in which stakes are acquired by Japanese entities that belong to foreign corporate groups. In order to finance the purchase of the Nippon Broadcasting Shares, Livedoor plans to issue 80 billion yen ($757 million) in convertible bonds. Lehman Brothers Japan Inc. is going to lead-manage the issue. If Lehman Brothers converts the bonds to shares, it will become a major shareholder in Livedoor, bringing about a scenario where the foreign financial firm may exert undue influence over Nippon Broadcasting's management.

- BBMF Corporation has announced that it has signed a definitive agreement with Tokyo Broadcasting Entertainment (TXBB). The partnership agreement will allow BBMF to exclusively develop, operate and manage the mobile game channels, based on the existing licensed mobile contents of TXBB. The new game channels will be launched on all three carriers in Japan, namely, NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and Vodafone. The agreement stipulates that, every month, 5 new branded character games will be released to each channel. BBMF Corporation is one of the largest developers of mobile games in the world with presence in Japan, Hong Kong, China, Korea and the U.S. TXBB is a majority owned subsidiary of TV Tokyo, the leading TV broadcaster in Japan with a viewership of around 33.3 million households.


- NTT DoCoMo Inc. is going to terminate its PHS (personal handy phone system) and has been reported as planning to stop accepting new customers for the said service as early as April. The company would then withdraw from the business altogether. After Willcom Inc., formerly known as DDI Pocket Inc., NTT DoCoMo is the second-largest PHS service firm in Japan. With Astel group, the third-largest PHS service provider going into downsizing, DoCoMo's pullout would leave just Willcom as the only PHS firm providing nationwide service. Withdrawal from the PHS will bring about a loss of 60 billion yen ($568 million) for NTT DoCoMo

Information Technology

- Japanese company Business Design Laboratory announced that it has developed a toy "Ifbot" that can deliver material picked up from the internet, such as weather reports, by voice. Ifbot was one of six robots used to demonstrate the delivery of weather reports in Tokyo as part of a Robot Service Initiative being developed by robot makers. The maker says Ifbot can also understand spoken words, shows a variety of expressions - including "happy" and "embarrassed". The robot is able to put expression into its conversations.



- The government said it would allocate part of its radio spectrum to local airlines in order that local airlines may be able to provide in-flight e-mail and other internet services to their clients. The Ministry of Information and Communication announced this even as the concerns about interfering with aircraft safety are brought up and addressed. With the capability, passengers will be able to plug their laptop computers into ports at their seats and surf selected web sites, or send and receive e-mail.


- Local mobile phone carriers are reported to be planning in expanding their WCDMA third-generation mobile telephony services to 24 cities by the end of the year, this in the midst of a slow rollout of the technology during its soft launching. According to industry sources, SK Telecom, the country's largest mobile-phone operator, will cover in its expansion 23 cities this year, with areas including the major areas of Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Incheon and Gwangju. The company said it would invest W600 billion ($584 million) in its plan to develop and market WCDMA services in 2005. KT Freetel, (KTF) second to SK Telecom, will commercially launch WCDMA services in 17 cities this year, a plan reflected in the draft submitted to the Ministry of Information and Communication. KTF said it plans to spend W300 billion ($293.1 million) in developing its WCDMA services this year. SK Telecom is targeting 200,000 WCDMA customers this year, forecasting a million customers by 2007. KTF is targeting 133,000 WCDMA customers this year, with the aim of upping this to 1 million by 2007. The government is helping ease the investment burdens of the company as it allows the carriers to some flexibility from the business plans they submitted in 2003 during the licensing process.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- The Korean Broadcasting Commission, the country's broadcast regulator, is accepting license applications for mobile television services. With the government planning to allocate the licenses next month, three of the six spots will be divided between Korea's four terrestrial television stations, which are KBS, MBC, SBS and EBS. The remaining three spots will go to consortiums forged by cable operators, radio broadcasters and equipment makers. Six consortiums representing about 300 companies have already announced their interest and plan to join the licensing competitions. According to a report by the state-run Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute, mobile television services are expected to generate W14.7 trillion ($14.2 billion) in services and equipment production through 2010, and creating 160, 000 jobs annually during the same period.

- TU Media Corp., Korea's lone operator of satellite-based mobile television, said it plans to invest W120 billion($117 million), to install more gap-fillers. The said equipment is used to retransmit satellite signals. With more of gap-fillers installed, broadcast coverage also gets expanded. The investment plan though is contingent on broadcast regulators giving the go-signal for the company to relay land-based television programs on their satellite network. TU Media spent W120 billion ($117.2 million) last year to install 4,800 gap-fillers in 26 cities nationwide, to enable reception in main areas. Through the additional investment, the company hopes to expand its coverage to 58 cities by the end of the year.



- ZTE, China's leading maker of telecoms equipment, is reported as among the candidates for a possible partnership with German electronics giant Siemens in the area of mobile phone handsets. ZTE, China's biggest listed telecoms firm, which is listed in Hong Kong and in Shenzhen, makes mobile phone handsets and also offers infrastructure solutions for fixed-line and mobile networks. So far it has only made handsets for the Chinese market. The list of potential tie-up partners for Siemens' loss-making mobile phone business is already growing. The list has two other Chinese firms, Ningbo Bird and Huawei, South Korean group LG Electronics and Japan's NEC.

- A report released by IMS Research said that by 2010 there would be 120 million subscribers viewing TV programs on mobile phones. This development would transform the phones to the "Fifth Media", following newspaper, radio, television and computer networks. Chinese companies have taken note of this lucrative market and have taken steps to start this business. China Unicom has launched a service to provide TV programs to mobile phone subscribers. China Mobile followed, with a TV mobile phone service through its GPRS network. With the bright future of the business, industry analysts observe that TV mobile phones are still at their early stage of development in China for reasons that would include limited broadband capacity, limited choice of handsets, higher prices and lack of standards and policies.

- China mobile production capacity is expected to rise from 300 million handsets in 2004 to 500 million this year, according to a report of the National Development and Reform Commission. The report notes that as the capacity of domestic enterprises rises rapidly, market competition will result in more intense competition and a decrease in the capacity of the entire industry to post profits. Preferential policies for the industry have brought in major investment form multinational as well as domestic companies. From 1999 to 2002, China's mobile phone industry sold some 300 million phones, in the process earning some 350 billion yuan ($42.3 billion) in sales and over 45.5 billion yuan ($5.4 billion) in taxes. By 2003, mobile phone sales reached 180 million units with 95 million sets sold overseas. The number makes up 36 percent of mobile phone sales outside China.


- The Chinese government said it has shut down more than 12,575 internet cafes from October to December last year for reasons of illegal operations. Although no details about the violations were released, the government mentioned as the major purpose of the crackdown the creation of a "safer environment" for young people in the country. While China promotes Internet use of business and education, the government noted that Internet cafes are causing a lot of harm by giving children access to violent games and sexually explicit materials.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Sales of online games in China soar 47.9 percent to 2.4 billion yuan ($298.4 million). China has about 94 million internet users, 20.2 million of which are online games enthusiasts. According to industry watchers, the online games market has the potential to have a boom, with revenues expected to reach 9.3 billion yuan ($1.1 billion). The same figure could also level off in 2009 on forecast sales of 10.9 billion yuan ($1.3 billion). In 2003, China registered 13.8 million online games players, with sales of related products and services amounting to 1.3 billion yuan ($157 million). A significant number of games played in China are from overseas but authorities want to focus on and increase sales of the more than 300 homemade online games over the next five years.

- Shanda Interactive Entertainment Limited announced Saturday that the company acquired 19.5 percent of the outstanding ordinary shares of Sina Corporation. With the acquisition, Shanda becomes the largest shareholder of Sina, which is one of China's key portal websites. The acquisition was done with Skyline Media Limited, Shanda's subsidiary by way of open market purchases. The amount of money involved was not disclosed. Shanda has a market value of $2.1 billion; Sina has a market value of $1.3 billion.



- Taiwanese chipmaker United Microelectronics Corp (UMC) admitted using its "mainland foundry ally" He Jian Technology to win market share in China's burgeoning chip market before a future acquisition of the company. A company official denied violating Taiwanese regulations covering investments in the mainland but revealed the company's strategy to help the young mainland foundry gain market strength at the expense of Shanghai-based rival Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. UMC, the world's second-largest chipmaker, has failed to shake off allegations it founded the mainland firm in 2001 in violation of Taiwanese investment regulations. Mostly former UMC managers run He Jian and the Taiwanese company in the past has said it will do nothing to discourage staff from quitting their jobs to work at the mainland chipmaker. UMC is also believed to have sold used 200mm chip-making equipment to He Jian and referred customers to He Jian. In a statement to the Taiwan stock exchange yesterday, UMC denied selling equipment and transferring patented technology to He Jian. The Taiwanese government restricts investment by the high-technology sector in mainland firms to prevent over-dependence on cross-strait economic ties and the "hollowing out" of technical expertise. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing was the only Taiwanese foundry with approval to open a semiconductor plant in the mainland, using older "trailing edge technology". A spokesperson for Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, an arm of the economic ministry, was unable to comment on a case under judicial process.

- Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, the world's largest supplier of custom-made microchips, said sales in January rose 4.6 per cent month-on-month to NT$20.8 billion ($660.8 million). The growth has been ascribed to higher wafer shipments. Sales in December reached NT$19.9 billion ($632.2 million). The January figure marked a rise of 8.8 percent year on year. The company gave no further details. TSMC reported a record net profit for last year of NT$92.3 billion ($2.9 billion), up 95.3 percent, while sales grew 26.8 percent to NT$256 billion ($8.1 billion).


- NeuStar, Inc., a leading provider of information exchange services for the communications industry, announced that it has been awarded an exclusive five-year contract develop, implement, and support number portability in Taiwan. Number portability is expected to be launched in Taiwan in October of 2005. Neustar's partner in this endeavor is Taiwan's Computer and Communication Research Labs under the Industry Technology Research Institute and Systex Corporation. With the technology, Taiwan consumers will be able to retain their wireline and wireless telephone numbers when they switch to another service provider.


- Firich Enterprises, a leading manufacturer of POS (point of sale) devices in Taiwan, said it would establish an assembly factory in Shanghai in the second quarter of this year. The main reason cited by the company for this move is so that it could meet the fast growing demands by retail chains in China.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Business Wire Taiwan (BWT) and the Central News Agency (CNA) have entered into an agreement, which would give BWT access to all of Taiwan's media outlets, internet service providers and mobile phone operators. Under the agreement, news from BWT will also be available to government agencies, academic institutions and private industries. The more than 100 newspapers that subscribe to CNA and cater to overseas Chinese communities worldwide will also be getting the news. Business Wire is leading global business and financial newspaper, which disseminates electronically about a thousand full-text news releases daily to the media, the Internet, online services and databases, and the global investment community in 150 countries in 45 languages.



- MobileOne announced it is rolling out its 3G mobile phone service, which makes it the first company in Singapore to do so. The commercial launch comes at the end of a trial period involving 200 subscribers. SingTel is also launching its 3G service this quarter although the company has been selling 3G handsets since December.

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:

www.irg.bizIRG logo

Share our publication on social media
Share our publication on social media