A week in tech

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



- Nine major electrical equipment and materials producers including NEC Corp. and Toyoda Gosei Co. have jointly developed a transistor that can efficiently amplify high-frequency signals. The new transistor is made of gallium nitride, the same material used in blue lasers. The material enables a single transistor to have the same functionality as three or four gallium arsenide semiconductor devices, such as those used in existing receivers. The device is one-third the size of conventional transistors and could cost only 25% as much to produce. Operating at 50 volts, three times the voltage of gallium arsenide devices, the transistor converts power into electromagnetic waves 50% more efficiently and has an output of 230 watts, a record level for a chip of that material. Its higher efficiency and output allows the transistor to be used in base station receivers for high-speed wireless communications and next-generation mobile phones.

- Hard-disk drive maker Hitachi Global Storage Technologies will build up production of its one- and 1.8-inch hard drives over the next few years to meet growing demand from the consumer electronics sector. The firm believes that China, as the manufacturing base of many information technology and consumer electronics firms, would probably account for about 90 percent of the company's hard-drive sales over the next few years from about 50 percent now.

Information Technology

- The market for smart tags is growing quickly and Hitachi Kiden Kogyo Ltd., NTT DoCoMo Inc. and Lintec Corp. in April plan to start selling a smart-tag-based system to prevent information leaks while monitoring people's movements at the entrance to factories, offices and hospitals. Using radio receivers, the system can track the signals from smart tags borne by people and objects. The firms hope to sell around ¥5 billion (US$45.7 million) worth of the systems in three years.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- NTT West Corp. and Sharp Corp. will begin a joint broadband-based service to allow users to download movies to watch on television. The service connects Sharp's Galileo personal server with NTT West's broadband Internet access service to download movies supplied by NTT Solmare Corp., NTT West's wholly owned subsidiary engaging in content distribution. The server is hooked up to a TV to show the movies, which will be automatically erased after a set period of time for the sake of copyright protection. The two companies will initially make 49 movies available, raising the number to 200 to 300 by the end of this year.

Mobile / Wireless

- NTT DoCoMo's i-mode may be hitting a plateau in Japan, DoCoMo's most important market. DoCoMo last week announced that i-mode, which allows web browsing and e-mailing on a handset, was the largest mobile Internet service in the world, with 42 million users globally. And DoCoMo expects revenue from sending data over the i-mode service will total about ¥1 trillion ($9.1 billion) in the year ending March 31. I-mode technology already is being licensed by seven carriers outside Japan, and DoCoMo continues to pitch the service to overseas operators. The company would be happy to discuss an i-mode-related partnership with mmO2 PLC.

- Sanyo Electric Co. has developed a thin, low power-consuming digital camera module for mobile phones. The product has the industry's thinnest and lowest power-consuming megapixel charge-coupled device, or CCD, camera module. CCDs function as the eyes of digital cameras by converting light into electric signals to capture images.


- Toshiba Corp. and e-Beam Corp. have developed a machine that can make a variety of system chips in small quantities quickly and inexpensively. The device will enable manufacturers to change chip designs easily according to trends in demand, saving them a lot of expense. The two companies plan to begin selling the equipment for around ¥1 billion ($9.1 million) per unit in fiscal 2005, after completing performance tests by the end of fiscal 2004.

- The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) has developed a new memory element structure that promises to greatly increase the data storage capacity of MRAM (magnetic random-access memory). The memory element is the fundamental structure of a memory device, storing the information representing an individual bit of data. MRAM is a new type of high-speed memory being developed for personal computers and other applications. Data bits are stored as changes in the magnetic direction of the electrons in the memory element.

 Venture Capital / Investments

- Softbank Corp. received about ¥124.1 billion ($1.1 billion) in fresh loans from Citibank NA, a U.S. unit of Citigroup Inc., to finance its Internet broadband business. The Japanese Internet investment firm said the loan was received by Softbank Broadband Investments.


Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- With the passage of legislation to launch digital media broadcasting (DMB), SK Telecom Co. is accelerating its bid to grasp this opportunity by preparing for a commercial service in July. Satellite DMB is designed to allow mobile phone users and drivers to watch television or listen to radios through their portable terminals. SK Telecom, which is keen to expand its business coverage into new growth-oriented items, views DMB as a chance to piece together the new technology and its huge user pool.

Mobile / Wireless

- Korean mobile handset makers increased their sales of smaller sized handsets as consumers favored these cheaper models, cutting away at monthly performances of Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Inc.'s Samsung sold about 900,000 units last month, down 13,000 units from January. LG shipped 430,000 units, down 50,000 units from a month earlier. Midsize handset maker Pantech & Curitel, by contrast, sold 330,000 units in February, up 30,000 units from a month earlier. Telson Electronics, another smaller rival to Samsung and LG, posted 220,000 units in sales last month, up 400,000 units from January.


- SK Telecom Co., has signed a joint marketing partnership with Canada's Nortel Networks Corp. to develop and promote wireless Internet products. SK Telecom signed a memorandum of understanding with Nortel, one of the world's biggest telecom equipment makers, which should pave the way for its entry to the global wireless solutions market. The deal is expected to help SK Telecom secure a footing in expanding its wireless Internet applications business overseas through Nortel's global network.



- Chinese consumer-electronics and mobile-phone maker TCL International Holdings Ltd. said its 2003 net profit rose 12%, led by a jump in overseas television-set sales. TCL International said net profit was HK$641.8 million ($82.5 million) last year, up from HK$573.7 million ($73.6 million) in 2002. Revenue rose 24% to HK$15.2 billion ($1.9 billion) from HK$12.2 billion ($1.6 billion).

 Mobile / Wireless

- Lucent Technologies Inc. received a US$130 million contract from Shandong Netcom to deploy Lucent's high-capacity Personal Handyphone System in networks serving four cities in Shandong province. The equipment should be operational in early July. Shandong Netcom, a subsidiary of China Netcom Corp., is expanding its Personal Handyphone network to Qingdao, Jinan, Weifang and Yantai as part of its Phase VI development project. This contract is the largest single contract awarded to Lucent for its Personal Handyphone solutions in China.

- China was expected to export 100 million handsets this year. This will mark a 5 percent rise after mobile phone exports of 95.2 million last year according to the Ministry of Information Industry. China's position as the top producer of cell phones globally has been boosted by a strengthened position in the domestic market. Domestic manufactures' market share hit 56 percent in 2003, up from just 5 percent in 1999.


- China Telecom is in talks with its parent on the next round of asset acquisitions, estimated at between $2 billion and $3 billion. The deal, expected to be finalized in the next few months, comes as the company plans to issue additional H shares, raising up to $1 billion, to finance the purchases. China Telecom notified United States regulators of its intention to sell up to $1 billion in debt and equity to U.S. investors in the next two years. This would allow the mainland's largest fixed-line operator flexibility in seeking funding from American investors while it works out its acquisition plans.



- Taiwan increasing its output from its fifth-generation TFT-LCD production lines, prompting speculation that the country could pass Korea to take the No. 1 position on the global flat-panel display market. According to DisplaySearch and industry data, Taiwan is expected to increase its TFT-LCD output to 57.8 million units this year. The surging output is led by five Taiwanese flat-panel makers: AU Optronics, Chi Mei Optoelectronics, China Picture Tubes, HannStar and Quanta Display.

Singapore / Malaysia / Philippines / Indonesia

Mobile / Wireless

- Singapore Telecommunications would launch Asia's first multiplayer mobile phone game that can locate several users within two kilometers and allow them to compete. From Monday, SingTel mobile subscribers with Java-enabled phones will be able to use their devices to scan for other gamers within the vicinity and invite them to play the 'Gunslingers' game through short message service (SMS) or Java. Points earned from winning against opponents can be redeemed for prizes such as mobile handsets. The game costs S$6.30 ($3.70) per month for subscribers who choose to play using Java.


- Temasek Holdings Pte. Ltd., the Singapore government's investment arm, confirmed it has bought a 5% stake in Telekom Malaysia Bhd., a move that could pave the way for similar deals between the two countries. The Singapore company paid the Malaysian government's investment arm, Khazanah Nasional Bhd., 1.6 billion ringgit ($421.1 million) to acquire the stake in the country's biggest company by market value. Temasek bought 165 million out of 300 million Telekom Malaysia shares that Khazanah sold in a placement with Malaysian and foreign investors.

Hong Kong

Mobile / Wireless

- Hutchison Whampoa is in danger of losing a strategic partner in its British third-generation mobile venture, as NTT DoCoMo is reportedly seeking another tie-up to launch its i-mode service. Hutchison could be forced to buy out the Japanese mobile-phone giant's 20 percent stake in 3UK after choosing to use W-CDMA instead of i-mode when it launched its 3G service last March. DoCoMo is working through the finer details of pulling out of the investment. DoCoMo might seek a partnership with mmO2 without tying itself to a large group, but was unlikely to engage in a takeover.


- PCCW Ltd. unveiled its second full-year loss in a row, hit by a write-off of the telecommunications operator's investment in its undersea-cable operator Reach and a continued erosion of its dominance over Hong Kong's fixed-line market. Despite a surge in revenue from its non-core property interests, PCCW reported a 2003 net loss of HK$6.1 billion ($782.7 million) as a result of HK$7 billion ($891 million) in provisions, compared with a net loss of HK$7.8 billion ($1 billion) in 2002.

- PCCW has no plans to inject additional capital into its troubled joint venture with Telstra, Reach, despite the troubled future prospects of the undersea cable operator. PCCW took a $533 million provision for Reach last year, with its share of the losses from the joint venture amounting to $105 million. Reach had been reducing capital expenditure as rivals aggressively cut prices to fill up unused capacity. Last year, Reach recorded a loss of $215 million, compared with a profit of $189 million in 2002. Revenue dropped 28 percent to $905 million.

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