A week in tech

A round-up of the latest tech news.

Japan

e-Commerce

- Fifteen firms, including Sony Corp. and publisher Shinchosha Co., have jointly established an e-book publishing company that will start offering its services next spring. Sony has a 41% stake in the venture, Shinchosha holds 15%, while Dai Nippon Printing Co. and Toppan Printing Co. each have 10% stakes. The venture will offer e-book rentals to readers who pay monthly membership fees. The books, which will be distributed over the Internet, can be read for two months on a special Sony device under development or a personal computer. But after the two-month period elapses, the content will be erased and access to it will thus be prevented. The operations will employ Sony's e-book formats and copyright management methods.

Hardware

- Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd. has developed a promising new way to manufacture flat-panel displays exceeding 100 inches diagonally. The light-emitting structure on which the technology is based is also used for PDPs (plasma display panels), but it lends itself better to large displays because they are made from an array of glass tubes, each containing the phosphors and electrodes needed to drive a string of pixels.

- NTT Communications Corp. and Secom Co. are joining forces to launch a multifunction smart card system. The eLWISE card, which has been developed by NTT Communications and records up to 1MB of data, can be used to authorize access to buildings, personal computers, and corporate networks. The two firms will issue it to companies, organizations and government agencies. The system employs Secom's security system and Secom Trustnet Co.'s Internet security technology. Each smart card will be programmed to control access to buildings and PCs.

Information Technology

- Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) has developed new computer graphic technology, which can produce highly realistic three-dimensional images based on moving pictures of a subject taken by 19 cameras from various angles. The technology can reproduce even wrinkles in clothes accurately. Using a control device, viewers can instantly change the angle from which they see an image. NHK is considering using such images in explaining different batting or pitching techniques of professional baseball players during its live broadcasts of games.

Internet

- Softbank's net loss widened to ¥77.3 billion ($709.5 million) in the first half from ¥55.8 billion ($515 million) a year earlier after losses on its securities holdings. The recurring loss in the April-September period grew to ¥53.7 billion ($495 million) from ¥46 billion ($424.5 million) but sales rose 18% to ¥225.5 billion ($2.1 billion) from the same six-month period last year.

- Rakuten, Japan's biggest internet shopping mall operator, may buy an online brokerage joint venture between Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp (SMBC). Rakuten is purported to have agreed to acquire unlisted DLJdirect SFG Securities, the nation's third-biggest online brokerage, for more than ¥30 billion ($274.4 million). Rakuten runs internet shopping mall Rakuten Ichiba, whose turnover hit a record of nearly ¥30 billion ($276.9 million) in the April to June period.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Nintendo Co. reported a loss in the first half of the fiscal year -- its first-ever -- as a strengthening yen pummeled overseas earnings while sales of a key videogame console flagged. The firm posted a group net loss of ¥2.9 billion ($26.6 million) for the six months ended Sept. 30, compared with a net profit of ¥19 billion ($175.3 million) the year before. Nintendo blamed the loss on slow sales of its GameCube videogame console and a ¥40.3 billion ($371.9 million) decline in the value of its overseas assets -- largely cash and accounts receivables -- as the yen appreciated against the dollar. Overseas sales accounted for 74% of Nintendo's total revenue during the period.

- Sony Music plans to introduce new CD technology that prevents users from copying songs to file-sharing sites, but allows them to make copies for their personal use. The record industry blames its recent sales slump on file-sharing services like KaZaa, which it says are havens for piracy. Last year, major labels issued "copy-protected" CDs that prevent them from being played on computers. The copy-protected discs faced a backlash from customers and music fans, and several lawsuits emerged from some customers that complained these CDs caused their computers and other devices to malfunction.

- Sega Corp. reported its fiscal first-half net profit rose nearly six fold, on strong sales of arcade-game machines and packaged videogame-software titles overseas. The company booked a group net profit of ¥5.9 billion ($54.5 million) for the six months ended Sept. 30, up from ¥1.0 billion ($9.3 million) a year earlier. Operating profit, revenue less the cost of goods sold and administrative expenses, jumped 64% to ¥7.6 billion ($69.9 million) from ¥4.6 billion ($42.5 million).

Software

- A group of Japanese electronics and information communications companies are teaming up to establish an organization to promote the commercial use of the Linux. This organization -- to be anchored by Hitachi Ltd., Fujitsu Ltd., NEC Corp., NTT Data Corp., IBM Japan Ltd. and Argo21 Corp. -- will work to make improvements in Linux itself and development of related software. In addition, separate panels will be formed in the new group to tackle security issues, software development and other topics. The organizations are set to work in their areas of expertise to make modifications to the operating system and then share their findings and know-how in order to promote its use.

Korea

Information Technology

- Ahnlab Inc., a major information-security solutions developer, posted W6.1 billion ($5.2 million) in sales in the third quarter, up 8.5% from the previous quarter. Its net profit stood at W1.3 billion ($1.1 million) in the three months ended Sept. 30, up 647% from the second quarter.

Mobile / Wireless

- LG Telecom Co., the smallest of Korea's three mobile carriers, has agreed with Kookmin Bank to extend their partnership for two months in selling mobile finance services. LG Telecom and Kookmin Bank, the nation's largest lender, have been in collaboration to sell mobile commerce applications designed to allow users to conduct banking transactions via mobile phones.

- Samsung Electronics Co. has signed a contract to launch trial operations of a wired-home service with Telstra Corp. Samsung Electronics would supply Telstra with a range of equipment and applications for unified messaging, security, videoconferencing and other functions for wired homes as well as offices. Residents in the new homes and offices will be able to control their appliances from any room with handheld wireless devices.

Telecommunications

- LG Group has revamped telecommunications strategy in the wake of it failed take over of Hanaro Telecom Inc. and moves to sell its entire stake in the broadband carrier. LG Corp. will sell its 4% stake in Hanaro, worth W44.9 billion ($36.3 million) at current market prices, but it did not reveal the exact timing of the sale.

- KT Corp. is rushing to diversify its business items into video games, broadcasting and real estate in a bid to bolster profitability and seek new growth engines amid growing worries over its tepid earnings from its flagship broadband service. In a bold step that set off alarms at local video game distributors, KT will invest up to W100 billion ($85.2 million) in the gaming industry. To that end, it recently signed contracts with major Korean game developers and is also in talks with foreign game distributors.

- Hanaro Telecom Inc. reduced the number of executive-level officials from 49 to 27 through restructuring and early-retirement packages. The company accepted resignation letters from all executives and offered early-retirement packages last week as part of efforts to slim down its organization and reorganize its management lineup.

China

Internet

- China had 9.4 million broadband subscribers at the end of September, nearly three times as many as a year earlier. The figure compares with 3.4 million broadband users at the end of September 2002, according to CCID Consulting, a Beijing-based agency. Growth was particularly rapid in the third quarter of this year, when 2.3 million more Chinese started subscribing to broadband services. According to a forecast from Beijing-based Norson Telecom Consulting, 21 million Chinese would have high-speed Internet access by 2005.

Mobile / Wireless

- Makers of cellular phones and network equipment are adjusting plans for third-generation products in China as signs grow that regulators in the world's largest wireless market will wait until late next year to set standards and issue licenses for upgraded services. The Chinese Ministry of Information Industry has not publicly set a deadline for deciding a wide range of issues concerning how to implement so-called 3G technology. But many manufacturers had been operating on the assumption that decisions would be made this year. They have intensely lobbied the ministry, known as MII, because the decisions not only will set the course for China's wireless industry for the rest of the decade but also shape who pays and who collects royalties on advanced technology.

Semiconductors

- Mainland chipmaker Shanghai Belling will proceed with a Rmb383 million yuan ($45.6 million) plan to make eight-inch silicon wafers despite failing to secure a strategic foreign partner in the joint venture. The firm had sealed a partnership with Shanghai Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park Development, which will provide free land use for the plant in exchange for a 7.5% stake in the venture. Shanghai Belling will own the remainder of the venture, which will invest Rmb414 million ($49.9 million).

Taiwan

Semiconductors

- Philips Electronics NV sold a 2.5% stake in Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. The stake consists of 500 million shares, which Philips sold in the form of 100 million American depositary receipts at a price of $10.77 per ADR. Through the ADR sale, Philips cut its stake in the world's largest maker of made-to-order chips to 19.1% from 21.6%. Through the sale, the firm raised $1.1 billion.

Singapore

Internet

- Singapore's Parliament has given the government sweeping powers to monitor all computer activity in the city-state and act against anyone it believes could use computers to threaten national security. The government will use pre-emptive scanning of electronic networks to detect possible threats. A new amendment to the Computer Misuse Act says any person or organization can be ordered to take measures to prevent computer attacks, as these could jeopardize the city-state's defense, essential services or foreign relations.

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