A week in tech

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

Japan

Hardware

- NEC Corp. will reorganize its management structure from April 1 to better respond to customer needs and to enhance its networking solutions business. The major electronics maker will reorganize its current nine "business lines" into 11 "business units". Among them will be new business units for broadband solutions, systems services and network platform operations. In addition, NEC plans to strengthen companywide marketing systems and collaboration between the business units to explore new growth opportunities.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Nintendo Co. will effectively cut the prices of two video game consoles -- GameCube and Game Boy Advance SP -- by leaving their price tags unchanged when tax-inclusive pricing starts on April 1. Looking to attract demand from schoolchildren now on spring break, Nintendo will implement the effective price cuts from March 22. The GameCube home-use console is currently priced at ¥14,000 before tax and the Game Boy Advance SP portable machine sells for ¥12,500. The prices will remain unchanged after the 5% consumption tax is included, effectively lowering the sales price of GameCube by ¥700. Nintendo lowered the domestic price of the GameCube console to ¥14,000 from ¥19,800last October, meaning that the latest decision will be the unit's second price cut in one year.

- Two major Japanese video game developers have separately teamed up with U.S. firms to accelerate their development of game software for such devices as personal computers and cellular phones. Namco Ltd. has agreed with Flagship Studios Inc. to cooperate in the development of PC online games. They hope to release their first joint PC online title within two to three years and sell 3 million copies of the software worldwide. Namco hopes to obtain know-how in PC game software development through the tie-up with the major U.S. game developer. In the future, it wants to develop PC games on its own and expand overseas markets. PC games are not only popular in the U.S. and Europe, but are also becoming mainstream in China, South Korea and other countries where consoles have not made much inroads. Square Enix Co. announced that it will purchase UIEvolution Inc. (UIE), a U.S. venture that develops software that enables programs to run on multiple operating systems. Square Enix hopes to utilize UIE's technology and strengthen development of game software for cell phones. In the future, it hopes to expand the scope of its game software development to include programs for a wide array of digital devices.

Mobile / Wireless

- A group of public- and private-sector partners, including the government's Communications Research Laboratory, has developed technology compatible with the UWB standards for next-generation, ultra-high-speed wireless communications among TVs, DVD players, personal computers and other electronic devices. In a recent experiment, the new technology achieved the world's fastest data throughput of 320 megabits per second, more than three times the speed of fiber-optic communications. This means it can enable instant transmission of crystal-clear images among various kinds of electronic equipment. The wireless technology, which the partners aim to commercialize as early as 2005, is expected to greatly improve the convenience of communications equipment as it will eliminate the need for cables. The UWB, one of the next-generation wireless LAN (local area network) standards, is expected to play a core role in the so-called ubiquitous society, where one can have access to online data anytime and anywhere.

Semiconductors

- Fujitsu Ltd. will build an advanced semiconductor plant in Japan, a move that will help it stay in the race with other global manufacturers of new high-powered chips. The plant, to be built in Mie will use 300-millimeter wafers to produce chips with circuit widths of 90 and 65 nanometers. Fujitsu plans to invest about ¥160 billion ($1.5 billion) in the new plant, including an initial outlay of ¥75 billion ($701.1 million) for the first stage of construction. The plant will begin production in April 2005 and Fujitsu expects to start major shipments in September 2005. The company expects demand for chips with a circuit width of 90 nanometers to intensify by that time. When the new plant is fully operational, it will have a maximum production capacity of 13,000 wafers a month.

Korea

Hardware

- The Korean personal computer market expects 6.1 percent growth this year and to emerge from a period of slumping sales. In its latest "Korean PC Market Outlook Report," the Korean arm of IDC predicts sales will total 3.4 million units this year backed by economic recovery. The domestic PC market had seen steadily declining sales since the fourth quarter of 2002 until the third quarter of last year due to the slow economy. The report says that increased demand for desktop computers will stop at 3 percent with 2.7 million units due to market saturation. The notebook market, however, will enjoy an 18 percent increase totaling 710,000 units, as desktop users switch to notebooks.

Information Technology

- Information and Communication Minister Chin Dae-je confirmed support for the introduction of satellite-based mobile broadcasting services, promising the removal of a ban on wireless carriers beaming television programs. The mobile broadcasting service is scheduled to begin in July but Chin indicated that it may be delayed. The ministry will give time for wireless service providers KTF and LG Telecom to develop handsets to receive satellite data.

Internet

- Daum Communications will work with local authorities to transfer their Seoul headquarters to Jeju Island. In a meeting held at the Jeju Island provincial government office, Daum Chief Executive Lee Jae-woong signed a preliminary agreement with Jeju Governor Woo Geun-min to move its headquarters to the southern resort island. Under the agreement, the provincial government will provide administrative support and financial incentives to smoothen the transfer. Daum will support the development of the island's internet industry through joint industry-academic networks and give area residents preference in the company's future employment. Starting next month, Daum will send inspection teams to the island to select possible future locations.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- The launch of the first broadcast satellite for handheld devices last weekend was the opening shot in a new round of competition in the congested local telecom market. The satellite, owned by SK Telecom, Korea's largest wireless carrier, and its Japanese partner Mobile Broadcasting Corp., went into orbit a week ago. Once in operation, the 366 billion won ($310 million) satellite will be able to beam television and radio programs to wireless devices, including cellular phones and handheld computers, as well as terminals in cars. The service - digital multimedia broadcasting, or DMB - could start as early as July, with the satellite providing 11 video and 25 audio channels across the nation.

Mobile / Wireless

- Just months after raising the picture resolution of camera phones, Korean manufacturers are close to unveiling further improvement. Samsung Electronics Co. and local rival Pantech & Curitel, have nearly completed the development of 2-megapixel camera phones, and plan for market release before July. Last December, the two companies were the first to release cellular phones with 1-megapixel resolution, leaping ahead of the less than 0.5-megapixel models.

- Wireless service provider KTF Co. will collaborate with local cellular phone manufacturers to develop technologies related to wideband CDMA, or W-CDMA, in an attempt to save its struggling third-generation mobile platform from further commercial failure. KTF will launch a technical development team with 16 other companies in the wireless industry, including the two major handset makers - Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Inc. The team is expected to focus on building a stronger core network for W-CDMA operations, thus providing flexibility in both circuit and packet switching, and enhancing coverage and receiver technologies. KTF officials hope that possible technology advancements will provide a breakthrough for the company's W-CDMA services, which have been largely ignored by the public due to the expensive handsets and lack of related content.

China

Hardware

- International Finance Corp (IFC), the private-sector investment arm of the World Bank, has announced plans to step up investment in the mainland electronics industry. The group was reportedly searching for investments in the semiconductor foundry, chip testing and packaging, flat-panel display and other electronics industries. IFC has invested $1.5 billion in 65 projects in China, ranging from Wumart Stores to Minsheng Bank. But the group has just two technology investments on the mainland: chip foundry CSMC Technologies and banking software developer Great Infotech. The group poured $200 million into the mainland last year and aimed at doubling this within two years.

Internet

- China shut down a popular website that hosted blogs, stepping up government attempts to control political discussion on the Internet. A note on the site, blogbus.com, said it was closed due to content problems. China has enthusiastically promoted use of the Internet for commercial applications, but battles to prevent it becoming a forum for criticism of the Communist Party. A special team of police monitors websites and chat rooms for sensitive content, and sites are told to censor themselves or face penalties. In addition, at least 54 people have been jailed for posting essays or other content deemed subversive online. Rights groups say the arrests point to a worrying new abuse of the country's loosely defined subversion and state secrecy laws.

- NetEase reported that US Securities and Exchange Commission staff had recommended the SEC bring a civil lawsuit seeking unspecified penalties tied to its restatement. Shares of NetEase, a leading performer on the Nasdaq Composite Index over the past 18 months, tumbled as much as 12 percent after it disclosed the possible SEC lawsuit. The firm sought to draw a line between its current management and former executives at the company when it listed American depositary shares on NASDAQ in 2000.

Mobile / Wireless

- China Mobile Ltd. posted 9.1% growth in net profit in 2003, mainly helped by a full-year contribution from networks it bought the previous year. However, bigger-than-expected network expansion costs pushed China Mobile's capital expenditure over budget last year for the first time since the company's 1997 listing. The company would increase 2004 spending by 18% from its earlier budget. The listed unit of China's largest mobile operator booked a net profit of 35.6 billion yuan ($4.3 billion) for the 12 months ended Dec. 31, compared with 32.6 billion yuan ($3.9 billion) a year earlier. Revenue climbed 23% to 158.60 billion yuan ($19.1 billion) as subscriber numbers for its global system for mobile communications, or GSM, service rose 20% to 141.6 million.

Semiconductors

- China stock offerings have lost their allure with Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) stock falling 8 percent on its trading debut in Hong Kong, suggesting that indiscriminate demand could be a thing of the past. The Shanghai-based chipmaker is the first main-board company in five months to fall below its offer price, marking a sharp contrast to the near certain first-day price gains of 25 percent seen in recent months. SMIC's lackluster showing followed the failure of high-profile spin-off Tom Online to match its offer price in its Growth Enterprise Market debut last week.

Software

- Oracle Corp. is close to agreements with 100 computer makers in Asia to bundle its financial management software with their hardware offerings, The software maker which is seeking growth for its line of business software applications from small-business customers already has such a deal with China's biggest PC maker, Legend Group Limited.

Hong Kong

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Hong Kong Cable Television had bid close to HK$800 million ($102.6 million) to secure exclusive Hong Kong broadcast rights for the next three seasons of English Premier League (EPL) football. Hong Kong's No 1 pay-television operator beat PCCW's NOW Broadband TV and ESPN Star Sports to the rights, seen as a key driver of subscriptions, but has bid almost four times i-Cable Communications' estimated earnings for last year. According to sources, ESPN Star offered to pay Sportfive, the EPL's official television rights partner, more than HK$450 million ($57.7 million) for the rights.

Mobile / Wireless

- Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. reported its advanced cell phone service is finally taking off, grabbing 400,000 subscribers world-wide since January after missing sales goals in 2003. The company reported net profit was 14.4 billion Hong Kong dollars ($1.9 billion) in 2003, marginally higher than the HK$14.4 billion ($1.9 billion) it reported for 2002. Executives took numerous financial steps, including recording previously deferred profits from asset sales, to offset the 3G loss.

Telecommunications

- Lehman Brothers Holdings had raised its stake in PCCW to 7.8 percent from 3.1 percent, according to a filing posted on the Hong Kong stock exchange website. Lehman Brothers paid an average price of HK$5.6 ($0.72) on March 8 for 253 million shares of Hong Kong's largest telephone company. It did not say from whom Lehman Brothers bought the shares.

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