A week in tech

A round up of the latest tech news.

Japan

- Fujitsu Ltd. has developed an all-silicon optical chip that can send and receive optical signals at a speed of 50 gigabits per second. Most optical semiconductors are now made using indium-phosphorus and other compound semiconductor materials. These chips already achieve speeds of 40-50 Gbps, but an all-silicon device is easier to integrate with arithmetic processors and memory as single-chip solutions for optical communications systems. Fujitsu's new all-silicon optical chip is 30% faster than similar chips made in the past. The company achieved this by shortening the length of the gate electrode to 45nm. Fujitsu expects the device to find use in 40 Gbps optical communications systems. The Japanese government designated seven priority areas it believes are likely to support domestic demand-led growth. The seven areas are fuel cells, robots, information appliances, software content, health and welfare equipment-related services, environmental equipment-related services and business support services. The Ministry of Technology (METI) will forge a complete strategy to implement the proposal in early May, including promoting research and development by the public and private sectors and taking necessary deregulatory measures.

Semiconductors

- Fujitsu Ltd. won a chip manufacturing orders from Lattice Semiconductor Corp., and received between $100 million to $200 million in funding from the U.S. maker of programmable chips. The move follows the Japanese electronics giant's announcement last week that it will spend about 160 billion ($1.5 billion) to build an advanced semiconductor plant in Mie, Japan, which will use 300-millimeter wafers to produce faster, low power-consuming microchips from April 2005. Lattice has become one of Fujitsu's four partner companies expected to contribute about 30 billion ($283.2 million) of about 160 billion ($1.5 billion) in funding for the new plant. The arrangement will secure Lattice delivery of advanced chip products from Fujitsu, production capacity at the Mie plant and access to Fujitsu's semiconductor technologies that are crucial for the further development and production of field-programmable gate array, or FPGA, programmable chips that allow computer users to tailor microprocessors to meet their specific needs.

Korea

Hardware

- LG Electronics Inc. is moving to strengthen its presence in the local MP3 player market in an apparent countermove against industry leader Samsung Electronics. LG Electronics plans to launch its own production line of MP3 players by the end of June. This is a notable change in strategy for the company, which is currently supplying its line of MP3 players from other manufacturers. Earlier this year, Samsung announced that it would enhance investment into the MP3 player business this year to claim back the No. 1 position from ReignCom Ltd. in the global MP3 player market. Samsung, which sold around 1 million MP3 players internationally last year, aims to double its global sales while gaining more than 40 percent of the Korean market to unseat ReignCom.

Mobile / Wireless

- KT Corp. will work with Intel Korea and other companies to develop a wireless internet for corporate clients. According to the report, KT agreed to work with Intel Korea, Air Broadband Communications, Sybase and others in the wireless networking sector to develop their new "WN4 BIZ" services designed for use at companies, hospitals and public facilities. The launch date has not been set. KT will provide the basic facilities and installation to build the wireless networks, while Intel will offer their receiver technology for laptop computers. U.S.-based software companies Air Broadband Communications and Sybase will provide technologies for wireless roaming and middleware, respectively.

- KTF Corp. and LG Telecom Co. have asked the government to suspend operations at industry rival SK Telecom Co., accusing the country's top mobile carrier of obstructing competition through illegal market practices. In a joint statement released, the two wireless carriers asked the Ministry of Information and Communication to bar SK Telecom from signing up new subscribers for nine months, citing as grounds a series of antitrust violations. The companies also called for regulatory measures that could cut SK Telecom's market share to below 50 percent. Currently, SK Telecom controls more than 53 percent of Korea's 34 million cellular phone market.

- SK Telecom finished the development of a cellular phone that works on the WIPI 1.2 platform. According the report, the new phone adjusts the technical flaws of handsets equipped with WIPI's older 1.0 and 1.1 versions, which could function only under SK Telecom's mobile Internet system named WITOP. SK Telecom plans to discontinue tand install WIPI 1.2 functions in all their handsets released after July. Wireless Internet platform for interoperability, middleware that allows cellular phone users to access the Internet and download data, was designated as Korea's standard wirelesn response, the government had launched a nationwide check on all Internet cafes to keep minors out.

Mobile / Wireless

- Mobile-phone subscribers in China rose 2% in February, according to data issued by the Ministry of Information Industry. China had 282.3 million mobile-phone subscribers in February, 5.5 million more than a month earlier. The number of fixed-line subscribers in China rose by 5.6 million to 274.5 million. There have been fewer fixed-line users than mobile-phone users since October 2003. In the first two months of the year, revenue from postal and telecommunication services reached Rmb91 billion ($11 billion), a rise of 14% compared with a year earlier. Telecommunications contributed the bulk of the revenue at Rmb81.9 billion ($9.9 billion), up 15% on the year. Postal services revenue rose 6.3% to Rmb9.1 billion ($1.1 billion).

Singapore / Malaysia / Philippines / Indonesia

Semiconductors

- Singapore chipmaker Chartered Semiconductor will spend up to $1.2 billion on its newest wafer fabrication plant this year and next. Charter Semiconductor said $400 million would be spent this year and between $700 and $800 in 2005 for the company's Fab 7, which would start pilot-production of 12-inch (300-millimetre) wafers in the third quarter. Chartered Semiconductor expects the plant to break even by the end of next year if production reaches 9,000-10,000 wafers per month. The company started moving in equipment for the plant, which has a capacity to produce up to 30,000 12-inch wafers a month.

Hong Kong

Mobile / Wireless

- China Unicom has become a dark horse in the bidding race for a new third-generation license in Hong Kong after confirming its interest in rolling out its CDMA 2000 network in the territory. China Unicom had been in talks with fixed-line operators Wharf T&T and City Telecom about a possible joint bid for the license. The company would examine the issue more closely. It is the first time a Chinese telecommunications operator has expressed interest in running a network in Hong Kong, a market traditionally dominated by local property tycoons. China Unicom's CDMA expertise would be likely to improve the new licensee's prospects in the mobile data market.

Telecommunications

- The Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA) has rejected criticism that it is creating too much competition in the local third-generation (3G) telecommunications market, saying its job is to "protect competition and not competitors". Noting that Hong Kong was trailing its Asian counterparts in the high-speed mobile data segment, OFTAs proposal to issue a new 3G mobile license was intended to attract investment. OFTA proposed last week vacating two existing mobile licenses held by CSL and Hutchison Telecom and using the frequency spectra for a new 3G-compatible CDMA-2000 network. Both CSL and Hutchison objected to the move, saying OFTA was issuing too many new licenses.

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