A week in tech

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



- Citizen Watch Co. has developed a device that facilitates the recording of data to two separate layers on one side of a DVD disc. The device corrects for spherical aberrations of light from the write laser, allowing for faithful switching between a pair of recording layers that are separated by a distance of only several microns. Because of problems with spherical aberration, present DVD recorders can only write data to a single layer. DVD discs can hold data on both sides, but users still need to flip the disk over. With double-layer recording, DVD discs will be able to store 8.5 gigabytes or more than three hours of video on a single side.

- The University of Texas has filed a damages suit against Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT) over NTT's patented battery technology, which it said was brought from the university. The university took the legal action in the United States in 2001, demanding an unspecified sum of damages and claiming a former NTT engineer took related technological information out when he studied at the university in 1993-1994. According to the NTT officials, the former engineer developed a technology to produce rechargeable batteries at a lower cost after returning to Japan from his study at the University of Texas. The technology, which uses an iron alloy called lithium iron phosphate, received a patent in Japan.

Information Technology

- Eastman Kodak Co. of the U.S. filed a suit against Sony Corp. and its two American units with the New York federal court for infringement on its patents related to digital camera technology. The world's top photo film manufacturer claimed that the Japanese electronic giant's unauthorized use of its patents has damaged the company, demanding a court order for Sony to stop using the technology in question as well as compensation for damage, the amount of which is unknown. According to Kodak's petition, Sony infringed on 10 patents mostly on technology to compress and preserve images for digital cameras and camcorders, which the U.S. company obtained between 1987 and 2003.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- A joint venture between Toshiba Corp. and am3 Inc. will begin distributing comics online to users of Nintendo Co.'s Game Boy Advance video-game consoles beginning this August. The deal is expected to be the largest ever involving the distribution of comics to portable handsets, since 50 million units of the Nintendo machine have been shipped worldwide. If the service catches on, it is expected to boost the electronic book business. Game Boy Advance users who wish to use the new service will have to purchase special data-recording cards developed jointly by Toshiba and am3. The cards use software developed by Tokyo software house Celsys Inc. Comics are downloaded onto the cards at kiosk terminals installed at game shops and other places, and can then be inserted into the consoles so that users can read the comics.

- Mobile Broadcasting Corp. launched a satellite in Florida, designed to broadcast television and radio programs to dedicated portable terminals. The firm, set up by Toshiba Corp., Toyota Motor Corp. and others, plans to commence in July a broadcasting service, if the launch succeeds. The terminals will be manufactured and sold by Toshiba and several other companies.


Mobile / Wireless

- LG Electronics Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. dominated the global code division multiple access handset market last year. LG topped the ranking by selling 21.3 million CDMA mobile phone units, or 21.6 percent share last year. The company overtook Samsung and U.S.-based Motorola to secure the world's largest CDMA phone provider status. Samsung, the world's third-largest handset maker, shipped 20.4 million units during the same period, accounting for a 20.7 percent share. The combined market share of LG and Samsung reached 42.3 percent, reflecting the solid position of Korean phone makers when it comes to the CDMA standard developed by U.S.-based wireless technology company Qualcomm Incorporated.


- Hynix Semiconductor has developed a new high-speed memory chip for high-end personal computers and game equipment. Volume production of the high-speed chips, 550MHz DDR SDRAMs (double data rate - synchronous dynamic random access memory), would be launched in April. Prices of the chips are expected to be about two times the price of existing 400MHz DDR SDRAM chips. Hynix said more than 30 percent of desktop PCs would adopt Intel's new chipset Grantsdale in the second half, which supported DDR and DDR2 SDRAM chips.


- Hanaro Telecom Inc. said it would increase marketing efforts to grab subscribers of rival KT Corp. who will be able to switch fixed-line telephone carriers without changing their number. Number portability allows subscribers to switch carriers without having to change their phone numbers, and the new policy was applied to the mobile sector on Jan. 1, prompting fierce marketing battles among SK Telecom Co., KTF Co. and LG Telecom Company.



- China's top internet firms believe multimedia messaging services (MMS) will become a gold mine sustaining their profit growth, and have earmarked large sums for aggressive development. Sohu.com, one of China's three large Nasdaq-listed portals, plans "huge investment" this year in a bid to outpace its two major rivals Sina.com and Netease.com in tapping the market. Unlike short messaging services (SMS), which allow transmissions of written text only, MMS enables users to send color pictures, animation, recorded sound and video. At the end of last year, eight million Chinese residents subscribed to MMS, and experts believed MMS for mobile subscribers would expand to an industry worth $22 billion by 2008. Sina has also said it would try to become a major player in the expanding MMS business, even though it currently only has "thousands" of MMS users.


- Intel Corp. may stop selling certain chips in China by June because of a Chinese government rule regarding wireless technology. The new rule sets a June 1 deadline for wireless-data products to use a unique security standard developed by Beijing. Intel does not expect to comply by that date because of concerns over how computers with its chips would perform using the standard, among other factors. As a result, the world's largest maker of microprocessors expects to stop selling -- at least temporarily -- communication chips for laptops in the world's second-largest computer market. The rule is part of a push by China to set its own technical standards to boost domestic technologies and help Chinese companies in patent negotiations with manufacturers from other countries. Some foreign companies, eager to crack the fast-growing market, have faced increasing pressure from the government to share technology with Chinese companies or set up manufacturing operations in the country.


Mobile / Wireless

- Top Japanese mobile phone operator NTT DoCoMo has agreed to help Far EasTone set up third-generation (3G) phone services this year. The deal involves the wideband-code division multiple access (W-CDMA) network used by DoCoMo, which hopes to expand its use and help the spread of its own world-first 3G network around the globe. DoCoMo has invested ¥68 billion ($613 million) since November 2000 for a 21.4 percent in Taiwan's KG Telecommunications, but DoCoMo would own 5 percent of Far EasTone when it merges with KGT by the end of April.


- Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. delivered the first 90-nanometer chips to U.S.-based Qualcomm Inc. TSMC, the world's largest foundry chip maker, said the 90-nanometer manufacturing technology, the latest and most expensive technology in chip production, "greatly reduces" power consumption, improves processor performance and enables more features to be added to a single chip. That means the chips save battery life and run better. High-end manufacturing technology such as the 90-nanometer process command higher profit margins, which is significant as the foundry business model matures and margins narrow. Nanometers describe the measurement of a chip's transistor parts and the spaces between them. The smaller the transistors are and the more closely they can be packed together, the more powerful the chip.

- United Microelectronics Corp (UMC), the world's second-largest contract chipmaker saw a 47.6 percent year-on-year jump in its February sales. However, February sales at NT$8 billion ($241 million) were down 3.1 percent from NT$8.3 billion ($248.1 million) dollars in January. Sales for the first two months of the year rose to NT$16.3 billion ($488.3 million) from NT$10.8 billion ($324.4 million) previously.

Singapore / Malaysia / Philippines / Indonesia


- The Singapore government is considering making internet spam messages illegal in a bid to curb the nuisance of unwanted e-mails flooding in-boxes. As a preparatory step, three local internet service providers (ISPs) - SingNet, StarHub and Pacific Internet - are brainstorming with industry watchdogs to think of viable measures against spammers and the results of the discussions would be shared with the public within the next few months.


- Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing raised its first-quarter sales and net-income outlook after recording stronger-than-expected sales, especially to the communications industry, so far in the period. In a news release, the wafer-fabrication company forecast a loss of between $3 million and $11 million on total revenue of $279 million to $285 million. Previously, the Singapore-based company had predicted a loss of between $3.6 million and $13.6 million on total revenue of $276 million to $284 million.

Hong Kong


- Tom Online Inc.'s shares finished flat in the US, an unusually weak US debut for a Chinese-based technology company, and fell 6.7% in Hong Kong. Tom Online sold 11.25 million American depositary receipts at the high end filing range of $13.6 to $15.6 per ADR. Each ADR represents 80 ordinary shares, which will trade on the Hong Kong Growth and Enterprise Market. In Hong Kong, the shares declined or 6.7% from their offer price of HK$1.5 ($0.2).

Mobile / Wireless

- Earnings at SmarTone Telecommunications Holdings grew just 5.4 percent in the six months to December, as a price war that has hurt players across the industry undermined profitability. The firm reported interim earnings of HK$235.1 million ($30.1 million). Turnover grew 6.5 percent to HK$1.5 billion ($197.4 million). SmarTone added a recovery in roaming revenue following the SARS epidemic helped turnover growth. Roaming revenue accounted for about 25 percent of the company's turnover. The price war's impact on SmarTone was less than expected, but this was up 6 percent from the first six months of last year. In the six months to December, SmarTone's customer base grew 9.5 percent to 1 million users.

- i-CABLE communication Ltd. announce 2003 final results. The firm reported before tax profits doubled to HK$234 million ($30 million) from last years HK$117 million ($15 million) and net profit rose to HK$220 million ($28.2 million), from previous years HK$117 million ($15 million) after a one-off tax charge. The number of subscribers grew by 8% to 656,000 from 606,000 in 2002.

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