A week in tech

A summary of all the major tech stories in Asia this week broken down by country and sector.

A week in Japan tech

Telecommunications

- NTT is to offer a new video streaming wireless service to fuel demand for NTT DoCoMo Inc.'s struggling third-generation FOMA service. In February, NTT Broadband Initiative Inc. and DoCoMo will jointly offer a trial service to allow DoCoMo's third-generation, or 3G, mobile-phone users to share video-streaming with NTT broadband customers sitting at a personal computer.

Life Sciences

- Olympus Optical is to begin sales of low-cost, mass-produced DNA chips that can be sold for around Y50,000 each. The company is working jointly with university researchers to choose the DNA probes to be affixed to the chips, and will use technology developed jointly with Dutch bioventure PamGene B.V. to produce chip substrates and analysis equipment.

Hardware

- Hewlett-Packard Japan is to close one of its two domestic factories for PCs and other hardware. HP Japan will close its Tama factory on the outskirts of Tokyo and concentrate production at its Akishima plant, also in Tokyo. It produces lower-end models of desktop PCs, workstations and PC servers at the Tama factory now, but all this output will be consolidated at the Akishima factory.

- Japanese manufacturers stepping up efforts to commercialize next-generation flat-panel TVs to counter foreign rivals and maintain their lead in the global market. Toshiba Corp. has developed jointly with Canon Inc. an FED (field emission display) energy-efficient flat-panel TV. Hitachi Ltd. plans to manufacture an FED prototype in 2005 and commercialize such products for mass production.

- Hewlett-Packard Japan plans to substantially lower prices of its PCs and PC servers. Since last year, other US PC makers including Dell Computer have been seeking to penetrate the Japanese market by aggressively slashing prices of PCs and PC servers. Benefits from Palo Alto, California-based Hewlett-Packard's merger with Compaq Computer have enabled the price cuts in Japan.

- Konica and Minolta are to merge, as competition from bigger companies in the lucrative digital-imaging business puts pressure on smaller firms. The new entity aims for sales of ¥1.3 trillion ($10.92 billion) and operating profit of ¥150 billion in the year ending March 2006. The two companies now have combined revenue of slightly more than ¥1 trillion.

- Toshiba is considering increasing production capacity for its flash-memory chips to meet growing demand for large-memory chips for use in digital cameras and cellphones with built-in cameras. The move follows the announcement in mid-December by the largest Japanese chip maker that it will spend ¥350 billion ($2.92 billion) to set up production lines for 300-millimeter wafers.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- JVC is to set up this spring a US R&D facility for software for use in digital televisions and set-top boxes. Locating the facility in the US will give the firm rapid access to information on changing standards and technologies to boost its competitiveness in the fast-growing arena of digital TV. It will likely be on the West Coast, but details have yet to be decided.

- Sony to back claim that the TV is a key item of broadband era home entertainment equipment by demonstrating its digital television receiver and Cocoon home server, released in November in Japan, which allows for storing in memory a mass of selected TV programs for later viewing. Sony will reveal its new plan to challenge Microsoft and Intel at the Consumer Electronics Association fair.

- Nintendo is to introduce an easier-to-play folding Gameboy console with an illuminated monitor. The light in the Gameboy Advance SP enables users to play in dimly lit areas, the company said. It measures only 85 millimeters in length, 82 mm in width and 24 mm in thickness. Nintendo put a rechargeable battery in the new 12,500 yen console instead of conventional disposable batteries.

Semiconductors

- Toshiba is to become as early as April the world's first mass producer of 90nm semiconductors with circuit widths of only 90 nanometers. Such semiconductors will double the level of integration of the latest system chips, enabling the size of such products as DVD players, game machines and servers to be halved and while their operating speeds are doubled.

A week in Korea tech

Telecommunications

- Telecom operators are to pay attention to the convergence of mobile and landline services in 2003. KT Corp. is set to establish its dominance in the telecommunications sector through the merger of its two mobile units by the end of March this year. SK Telecom is also expected to merge with its W-CDMA 3G service unit - SK IMT - soon.

- KTF is to invest some W200 billion in W-CDMA 3G service this year. The company appears determined to focus more on cdma2000 1x EV-DO service. KTF's total investment for 2003 is estimated at W1.1 trillion, which is little changed from last year. The decision to limit the W-CDMA service investment to W200 billion suggests that it holds a conservative view on the new 3G service.

Mobile / Wireless

- About 1 million mobile computers will be sold in 2003, spurred on by a bevy of wireless LAN (local area network) services offered by telecom carriers. The estimated figure is up 61% from last year. The market for laptops is expected to grow 15% to 550,000-600,000 units, while the PDA market is set to climb by more than 50% to 350,000 units this year.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Korea's PC game market is grappling with a severe slump as software makers focus solely on online games and are reluctant to produce PC game titles. The Korea Media Rating Board said it received rating applications for 766 PC game titles in 2002, down 25.1% from 1,023 titles a year earlier. More software developers are shunning the traditional game medium.

Information Technology

- Korea's SI market is expecting a downward trend in the first half of this year before staging a turnaround in light of volatile foreign and domestic factors. The prospect of a war between the United States and Iraq, a deepening conflict over North Korea's nuclear ambitions and uncertainties clouding the high-tech sector are likely to put negative pressure on the SI sector in Korea - at least for a while.

A week in China tech

Telecommunications

- This year will be a bumpy one for China's telecommunications sector with serious regulatory risks, intensifying competition and slower growth expected. Analysts are expecting the introduction of universal service obligation (USO), enactment of the long-awaited telecom law and the restructuring of the Ministry of Information Industry (MII) this year.

- Fixed-line giant China Telecom has halted its controversial call-forwarding service just 10 days after its launch. State-owned Guangzhou Television reported on Monday that the fixed-line giant had stopped providing the call-forwarding service in Guangzhou following strong opposition from the mainland's two cellular operators, China Mobile and China Unicom.

Mobile / Wireless

- Sina to acquire Chinese mobile service provider MeMeStar, also known as Xunlong, for $20.8 million in cash and Sina shares. Sina said it expects the acquisition to double its wireless revenue with the addition of MeMeStar's two million paying subscribers, and expects to triple its nationwide sales force with MeMeStar's 160 employees. Sina expects to close the purchase in the first quarter.

Software

- Motorola is seeking growth opportunities in China outside of the handset market where it maintains a dominant position. Motorola President and COO Mike Zafirovski said the company was also planning to widen its operations in China beyond a manufacturing base into areas such as R&D. Motorola, its partners, and its suppliers plan to bring investment in China to $10 billion by 2006.

Internet

- Sina.com to achieve profitability for the first time ever, as it announced two new deals to expand high-growth mobile and online gaming services. Sina would join the ranks of Nasdaq-listed Chinese portals NetEase.com and Sohu.com, which have already posted profits in 2002 helped by expanded mobile services ranging from downloaded ring-tones and games to jokes and short messages.

A week in Taiwan tech

Semiconductors

- UMC Chairman Robert Tsao defends use of stock bonuses in order to attract talent from the US. Some investors are concerned that US and other overseas regulators will force the companies to count stock bonuses as costs, eroding profit. The US Securities and Exchange Commission previously decided not to deem as a cost stock options, which are used by American technology companies such as Intel.

Hardware

- Motherboard makers are looking to mini PCs, a new form of desktop computer that measures about a quarter the size of a traditional computer, to boost their profit margins this year, analysts suggested yesterday. An official at Gigabyte, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that the company did have a mini PC, but it was not in mass production yet.

A week in Singapore / Malaysia tech

Hardware

- Sanmina-SCI sets up its regional headquarters in Singapore. Singapore has now attracted the world's top five electronics manufacturing services firms: Sanmina-SCI, Flextronics, Solectron, Celestica and Jabil Circuits. EDB managing director Ko Kheng Hwa said Singapore's success in attracting top-tier EMS providers was underpinned by its infrastructure and supply-chain management capabilities.

A week in Hong Kong tech

Telecommunications

- PCCW shareholders approved a five-for-one share consolidation plan aimed at boosting the stock price of the telecommunications company. More than 99% of shareholders supported the reverse stock split - the first such exercise since chairman Richard Li Tzar-kai took over former telephone monopoly Cable & Wireless HKT in 2000.

Mobile / Wireless

- SmarTone Telecommunications may buy a smaller rival and pay more dividends after BT Group sells out of Hong Kong's No 3 mobile phone company, chief executive Douglas Li said. The former British monopoly agreed last week to sell its 21% stake to Sun Hung Kai Properties, giving the developer control of a company that returned to profit after two years of losses.

Internet

- Hutchison Whampoa and the Wharf Group to announce the formation of OnePort, the $32 million online trade portal designed to manage the flow of cargo and vessels at the main terminals at Kwai Chung. Management will also announce a partnership with Tradelink, the government's minority-owned trade portal for regulatory documentation, which will take a 20 per cent stake in OnePort.

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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