A week in tech

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



- A research group at the University of Tokyo has developed a basic technology for displaying objects in relief on a screen. The method involves an array of pins that are controlled by springs attached to pieces of a shape memory alloy. The pins are positioned behind the screen and protrude forward when the image is projected onto the front of the screen. The university team has already conducted proof-of-concept experiments with a display built from an array of around 10 pins. The idea is to design displays that project images more realistically; the viewer can touch the screen and feel the variations in surface level. To further enhance the experience, the researchers are also working to develop a way to covey the hardness and softness of objects being shown.

- Sony Corp. and Toshiba Corp. will join forces to develop 45-nanometer processing and design technologies for next-generation system chips by the end of 2005. The two Japanese electronics makers plan to spend a total of ¥20 billion ($186 million) on the joint project. About 150 engineers combined are expected to work on the project. The two firms have already developed 65-nanometer processing and design technologies. Sony and Toshiba said they aim to be the first to develop 45-nanometer process technology, as well as to market such next-generation system chips. The finer processing technology is significant because it allows a system chip, or a system large-scale integrated circuit, to perform faster and consume less power, in addition to allowing for more chips to be installed on a single system LSI.


- Softbank Corp.'s third-quarter group net loss narrowed from a year earlier as the company continued to attract customers to its high-speed Internet access service and was able to limit cost increases. The firm posted a group net loss of ¥16.3 billion ($155.1 million) in the three months ended December 31 due to hefty expenditure related to efforts to boost the number of subscribers to its "Yahoo! BB" asymmetric digital subscriber line, or ADSL, broadband Internet service. The loss was better than a group net loss of ¥42.6 billion ($405.3 million) in the previous quarter and a ¥34.7 billion ($330.2 million) loss in the quarter ended June. The company posted group revenue of ¥136.7 billion ($1.3 billion) in the quarter ended December, larger than the ¥121.6 billion ($1.2 billion) it generated in the previous quarter and the ¥103.9 billion ($988.6 million) in the quarter ended June.

Mobile / Wireless

- Bandai Networks Co., a cellular phone content provider, has developed a technology that enables two still images taken with a cell phone camera to look like a moving image. The technology uses software that automatically generates about 10 composite photos on the handset. If two photos of a moving object are taken, the software automatically generates images showing the transition from the first photo to the second, providing the viewer with an effect similar to video.



Information Technology

- Hwang Kiu-seon, a veteran of Korea's technology industry, has been named the new president of the Information Technology Professionals Association of Korea. Hwang is currently president and CEO of business solutions provider Online Pass, will serve as the association's head until December 2005. The 58-year-old says he will continue to strengthen the association's network and cooperation between members, and thereby further promote the exchange of information and advancement of the local IT industry.


- The number of Koreans who use the Internet approached 30 million as of last December, according to the Ministry of Information and Communication. The ministry announced the results of an annual survey of 20,962 residents from 7,685 households which revealed that 29.2 million Koreans aged six or older, or 65.5 percent of the population, use the Internet at least once a month. The figure is a 6.1-percent rise year-on-year. Internet user numbers increased for all age groups, although teens and those in their 20s are still the predominant users at 94 percent. This compares with 80.7 percent for those in their 30s and 51.6 percent for those in their 40s.


- KTF Co., Korea's leading telecommunications provider, plans to move to the main bourse in the first half of 2004. KTF will finalize plans for the Korea Stock Exchange listing at its general shareholders' meeting next month. The company lowered its debt ratio to 142 in December to satisfy the main exchange's requirements. KTF had 10.8 million subscribers, or a 31.8 percent of the market at the end of January.

- Hanaro Telecom's net loss widened 34 percent to W165.3 billion ($142 million) last year. Hanaro attributed its loss to the disposal of non-performing assets and other costs associated with its takeover by a US consortium led by American International Group. Operating profit, however, rose 1,133 percent to W75.2 billion ($64.6 million) in 2003, with sales up 9.7 percent at W1.4 trillion ($11.9 billion), benefiting from an agreement made by broadband service providers to avoid excessive competition. For 2004, Hanaro aims to see its first net profit with its sales target set at W1.5 trillion ($12.9 billion).



- Yahoo! China has ended its relationship with the mainland's Internet regulator, opting instead to tie up with a privately owned search engine to boost market share. On January 16, Yahoo! China stopped providing a hyper-link to the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) from its Chinese website despite the two parties signing a one-year advertising deal believed to be worth $950,000 in August last year.


- Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. is about to launch an initial public offering valued at as much as $1.5 billion, raising the stakes in its battle with the Taiwan companies that dominate the made-to-order contract-chip business. SMIC is expected to raise no less than US$1 billion ahead of a dual listing on the Hong Kong and New York stock exchanges by selling 20% to 25% of its enlarged capital. Semiconductor Manufacturing International has won IPO approval from stock-exchange regulators and is expected to begin marketing for the offering.


- China Netcom Corp. International has bought out partners Newbridge Capital LLC and Softbank Asia Infrastructure Fund for an undisclosed sum to become sole owner of Asia Netcom Ltd., the company founded out of bankrupt fiber-optic cable company Asia Global Crossing, according people familiar with the deal. The consortium bought the network, once valued at over $1 billion, for $80 million in 2002, with CNC retaining the majority stake.



- Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) reported a 45.9 percent year-on-year jump in its January sales on the back of higher wafer shipments. The company's January sales reached NT$19.2 billion ($575.4 million), up 1 percent from the previous month. It expects sales in February to decline slightly from January due to fewer working days. The company said it retained its first-quarter guidance made at the quarterly briefing for investors late last month. At an investor conference on January 29, TSMC said it expected to register low single-digit (1 percent to 5 percent) sequential growth in wafer shipments in the current quarter to March, against a slight decline in its average selling price (ASP) from the previous quarter.

- Taiwan's United Microelectronics Corp reported a 53.4 percent rise year-on-year in its January sales on the back of higher utilization. But January's NT$8.3 billion ($250 million) in sales marked a decrease from December's NT$8.4 billion ($278.6 million). UMC reported wafers shipments in the first quarter to March were flat from the previous quarter, while capacity utilization is expected to rise to 100 percent from 96 percent after factoring in maintenance.

Singapore / Malaysia / Philippines / Indonesia

Mobile / Wireless

- StarHub, the Singapore mobile phone, cable television and internet group, has revived plans for a listing that could raise about S$700m (US$413.8m) and enable BT of the UK and Japan's NTT DoCoMo to sell their stakes. The state-controlled company, which scrapped plans for an initial public offering last year, is believed to have invited a small number of investment banks to pitch for an advisory role on the IPO at the end of the month. StarHub was unavailable for comment but people close to the deal said the timing of the listing would depend on market conditions and investor appetite for telecommunications stocks.


- ST Assembly Test Services Ltd., or Stats, agreed to acquire U.S.-based ChipPac Inc. in a $1.6 billion all-stock deal that will create a chip-testing and packaging company with US$1 billion in annual revenue. The merger is the Singapore government-linked company's boldest attempt to grow its business, after expanding into Taiwan and the U.S. in recent years.

Hong Kong


- Tom Online Inc. has registered for an initial public offering of up to $160 million. Details about the number of shares offered and estimated price range for the deal was not disclosed in the filing. The ordinary shares will be offered in the form of American depositary shares. Tom Online intends to use the proceeds for enhancing and expanding its content and applications for wireless value-added services, research and development of new technologies and future upgrading of its existing technologies and infrastructure, and for sales and marketing activities. The company will also use the money to fund acquisitions and strategic alliances in the wireless services, content and Internet industries in China, and for general corporate purposes.

Mobile / Wireless

- Hutchison Whampoa has slashed the price of its only available third-generation (3G) handset model by more than 20 percent to attract corporate clients. Hutchison is selling the NEC c616 handset for HK$3,380 ($433.3) to companies that buy at least five and sign up for one-year contracts with minimum monthly spending of HK$383 ($49.1) per user. The price is on par with the retail price of the slower Sharp GX22 phone sold by SmarTone Telecommunications. Hutchison, whose 3G services cover 10 countries and was introduced to Hong Kong just last month, is betting users who spend more time on phones charged to corporate accounts will drive demand for services that allow faster access to the Internet to watch videos and play games.

- CSL is scaling back its expectations for third-generation (3G) phone services, saying traditional voice services are expected to remain an industry mainstay for some time to come. CSL expected 3G operators in Hong Kong to pay just the minimum required in license fees in the coming years, implying low revenue expectations from such services. Operators must give 5 percent of their 3G revenue to the government from 2007 or a license fee of HK$60 million ($7.7 million), whichever is higher. The license fee will climb about HK$10 million ($1.3 million) every year thereafter until the license contract expires. If operators paid the minimum in 3G license fees, it would amount to less than HK$1 billion ($128.2 million) in annual 3G revenue per carrier by 2006 and less than HK$1.5 billion ($192.3 million) by 2016.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Chinadotcom corporation announced that a subsidiary of its mobile and portal unit had signed a definitive agreement to make a strategic investment in a profitable online games company named Beijing 17game Network Technology Co. Ltd ("17game"). The transaction is contemplated to enable hongkong.com to acquire a controlling position in 17game over time on an earn-out basis over the next two years, based on a single digit earnings multiple. 17game has a track record in launching and distributing successful online games in the Chinese market. Currently, 17game operates an online game which is considered to be one of the top 10 online games in the China and with plans to add additional online game to its portfolio. 17game also has a well-established distribution network across China for the games it licenses, including Internet cafes, software distributors, bookstores and department stores.

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