- Hitachi ULSI Systems Co., which designs, produces and sells semiconductor system products, has entered the MEMS (Micro-electro-mechanical systems) business by investing in a MEMS start-up company based in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. The Tokyo-based subsidiary of Hitachi Ltd. acquired a 6.3% capital stake in MEMS Core in January. MEMS are made by combining computers with tiny mechanical devices, such as sensors and circuits, embedded in semiconductor chips.
- Olympus Corp. has developed a system to display, via computer graphics (CG), data related to an object photographed by a camera attached to personal digital assistants (PDAs) and notebook computers. The system can be useful in the maintenance/repair of factory facilities as well as in the care of artwork displayed at a museum. The company plans to commercialize the technology within one or two years. When the system is used in factory maintenance, all objects in the factory are first photographed by a notebook computer camera. Software in the system then calculates the photographer's location from how the object appears in the picture. The picture is then overlapped with an image of any part of the factory transmitted via wireless Internet or other communications and displayed through CG. If a photographed image of such an object is pre-registered in the system, the user will be able to obtain any picture within the factory via CG.
- Japanese shipments of consumer electronic equipment in January rose 4.1% from a year earlier to ¥122.9 billion ($1.1 million) for the second consecutive monthly increase. The Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association said the growth was led mainly by brisk shipments of flat-panel televisions, DVD recorders and car-navigation systems. Shipments of audiovisual equipment increased 3.5% to ¥68.1 billion, marking the seventh straight monthly gain. Liquid-crystal-display TVs saw shipments jump 54.1% to 106,000 units, while 11,000 plasma-display TVs were shipped in January, up 37.0% on year.
- Next-generation high-capacity optical disc equipment to succeed the current DVD devices will be marketed as early as 2005. An executive meeting of the DVD Forum -- consisting of some 220 Japanese, U.S. and European firms in the electronics, information, movie and other industries -- endorsed the HD DVD format, backed by Toshiba Corp. and NEC Corp., as the next-generation recording standard. The endorsement increases the likelihood that HD DVD will become the global standard, paving the way for companies to move forward with product development and mass production. The Forum has already endorsed a playback-only standard, and electronics and computer manufacturers will now be able to produce next-generation DVD recorders and DVD drives for personal computers. Toshiba and NEC plan to introduce HD DVD equipment in 2005, with other firms expected to follow suit.
- IBM Japan Ltd. has developed an ultra compact, lightweight personal computer that fits in the palm of one's hand. Measuring 16 x 8.2 x 2.2cm, the PC Core System contains only key components such as a TM5800 microprocessor from Transmeta Corp. and a hard-disk drive. As the PC market matures, IBM Japan plans to target corporate demand by offering a product with greater portability and ease of use than laptop computers. The unit weighs 300 grams, compared with about 2kg for the standard laptop machine. The PC is operated by plugging it into a cradle connected to a monitor, keyboard and power supply. The core unit can be removed and used at other locations equipped with the dedicated cradles, enabling frequently used software and stored data to be easily transported.
- Hitachi Ltd. has developed a way to display three-dimensional images that can be seen from any angle in real time. Without special glasses, users can see images in a transparent cylinder that look like they are floating in the air. The holographic technology can also transmit the images to remote places. A cylindrically shaped machine projects an image shot from 24 angles onto a mirrored surface on its cover, using an LCD projector incorporated in a base unit. The images are then reflected onto 24 rotating mirrors to create a three-dimensional image in the air. The equipment can project moving images as well as still ones. The company expects the system to be used in store displays, public signs and video games.
- The two different cases involving four men arrested for allegedly using personal data on about 4.6 million Yahoo! BB Internet service customers to extort money from Softbank Corp. and Softbank BB Corp. underscore the information security risks that companies continue to face. Those arrested allegedly recorded the personal data of Yahoo! BB customers on DVDs. A single disc is capable of storing personal information on several million people. Furthermore, using broadband connections allows such data to be immediately transmitted over the Internet.
Media, Entertainment and Gaming
- Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. will release TV broadcasting equipment globally that will use SD (Secure Digital) Memory Cards as storage media. The SD Memory Card is a type of semiconductor memory that is seeing more and more use in such devices as digital cameras. The equipment to be released include cameras, decks to play and process video, as well as equipment to connect to a computer for editing. Video will be recorded on P2 cards, which combine four SD Memory Cards in a single unit. A P2 card with a capacity of 4GB can store about 16 minutes of standard-quality video. Unlike conventional machinery that uses tapes and discs to record information, the new devices do not require motors or precision components to load and eject media, so production costs can be reduced. Matsushita says that the equipment could be up to 50% cheaper than conventional models.
Mobile / Wireless
- Japanese manufacturers of mobile phone handsets are seeking to grab larger shares of the European market as Vodafone and other major mobile phone carriers in the region are finally ready to offer long-awaited third-generation telecom services. In Europe, Japanese mobile phone makers have been lagging behind Nokia Corp. of Finland and South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. But unlike current second-generation telecommunications services in Europe, the new 3-G services will adopt the same format -- W-CDMA -- as in Japan, making it much easier for Japanese handset manufacturers to develop products for the European market.
- The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) raided Microsoft Corp.'s Japan headquarters on suspicion that the firm violated the Antimonopoly Law in connection with software licensing deals with Japanese personal computer (PC) makers. Sources close to the action said Microsoft has allegedly forced Japanese PC makers to accept a contractual clause stipulating that they will not bring a case to court even if the software giant's technologies are very similar to those developed by Japanese firms. The FTC suspects Microsoft capitalized on its dominant position in the PC operating software market and demanded a clause which would puts Japanese PC makers at a disadvantage. The anti-monopoly watchdog intends to issue an order requiring Microsoft to get rid of the clause if its probes confirm the company's conduct is violating the Antimonopoly Law.
- LG Electronics Inc. has developed a new digital television chip that could draw royalty payments of up to $100 million per year starting in 2005. The company said the fifth-generation digital television chip has improved reception quality a notch and its features are designed to target the North American digital broadcast standard, covering the United States, Canada and Korea. The integrated chip allows viewers to enjoy both terrestrial and cable digital broadcasts. LG is eyeing the U.S. market where 70 percent of 16,000 broadcast stations rely on cable networks. In addition, the top regulator Federal Communications Commission makes it obligatory for television manufacturers to install digital chips. Citing field test results by local broadcast stations, LG said the new chip recorded a success rate of 94 percent. It invested W8 billion ($6.8 million) over the past two years, with about 60 engineers working on development of the integrated chip.
- Korea's mobile carriers are joining forces with major Internet portals to stage joint marketing in a bid to retain tech-savvy young customers. SK Telecom, the country's largest mobile services provider, offers up to 100 free short messages to users of Nate.com, an Internet portal operated by its affiliate SK Communications. Users can send the free short messaging service, or SMS, through the Nate.com instant-message program, making it easy to communicate with their friends and colleagues via the mobile network.
- Government regulators have imposed a record W33.3 billion ($28.2 million) in fines on the nation's three telecom operators for giving out illegal marketing subsidies. While SK Telecom, the dominant mobile carrier, received the biggest fine, W21.7 billion ($18.4 million), the regulators' action posed a greater threat to the marketing strategy of KTF Co. and with LG Telecom. KTF was fined W7.5 billion ($6.4 million) and its parent, KT Corp., received a W4.1 billion ($3.5 million) penalty. KT also received a stern warning about its subsidies and its use of non-sales personnel to help attract new customers to KTF, its mobile unit.
- Google is reaching out to China's growing audience for Internet advertisements. The company is expanding its AdWords search listings to include Chinese interfaces and new currency payment options. Advertisers on Google can now buy and manage their AdWords campaigns in traditional Chinese (used in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) and simplified Chinese (used on the mainland and in Singapore). AdWords allows advertisers to bid for ad placements on pages linked to keyword queries. The adverts appear automatically within Google results. Google believes this will open doors to new customers in fast-growing Asian markets. It will also enable the search engine to attract advertisers eager to reach consumers in these markets.
Media, Entertainment and Gaming
- China, Universal Music Group and Shanghai Media Group are expected to announce the formation of a company that will adopt a new business model designed to be less vulnerable to piracy. Instead of just publishing music, the new company, called Sum Entertainment, will develop and manage new artists for music-related entertainment events, such as television programming, sponsorships and distribution over new media such as mobile phones. SMG, a Chinese media conglomerate of TV stations, newspapers, radio and Web sites, with total assets of more than $1.3 billion, will control 51% of the venture, with 49% controlled by Universal. The two companies will invest a combined $12 million in the venture, which will be based in Shanghai.
Mobile / Wireless
- Chinese sent some 15.6 billion short messages through their mobile phones during January, a rise of 91 per cent over the same period last year. The astounding figure was in part due the 2003 New Year and the Lunar New Year celebrations as more than 270 million cell phone users tapped out short text holiday wishes. Short messages were popular in China because of their low cost and efficiency, with subscribers paying on average about Rmb0.1 ($0.01) for each message.
- China Netcom Group is looking international instead of sticking to domestic growth, the company is trying to expand into international markets ahead of planned stock listings in Hong Kong and New York this year. Together with partners Newbridge Capital Inc. and Softbank Asia Infrastructure Fund, China Netcom paid just $80 million for Global Crossing's fiber-optics network, which only two years earlier had a book valuation of $1.2 billion. This month, China Netcom, acting through a subsidiary, announced it had bought out its partners to become sole owner of the fiber-optic network, renamed Asia Netcom Ltd.
Singapore / Malaysia / Philippines / Indonesia
Mobile / Wireless
- Australia's Telstra had an opportunity to buy a stake of up to 35 per cent in Indonesian cellular phone operator Excelcomindo Pratama. Telstra could acquire a 23.1 percent stake from US-based Verizon and the rest from controlling shareholder Telekomindo Primabakti. Excelcomindo confirmed recently that the Australian telecommunications giant might be seeking a stake in the company, Indonesia's third- largest cellular operator. Telekomindo owns 60 per cent of Excelcomindo. Verizon has 23.1 per cent, the Asian Infrastructure Fund 12.7 per cent and Mitsui 4.2 per cent. Excelcomindo has said Verizon wants to sell its stake following its decision to pull out of Indonesia and some other regional countries. Excelcomindo has a market share of 16 per cent, significantly behind its two major competitors, Telkomsel with 53 per cent and Indosat with 30 per cent.
- A large proportion of the proceeds from Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp's (SMIC) initial public offering will go to institutional shareholders and directors, despite the firm's massive capital expenditure requirements. While insiders and substantial shareholders are planning to unload during the IPO, SMIC will probably return to the market later and ask investors to buy more shares. The mainland's largest contract chipmaker needs US$3.3 billion over the next two years to pay for capacity expansion and proceeds from the offer will not be enough. In all, 4.54 billion shares will be sold in the issue.
Mobile / Wireless
- Hutchison Whampoa has burned an estimated HK$30 million ($3.8 million) per day since launching third-generation (3G) mobile phone services last March. Hong Kong analysts estimate worldwide operating losses for the advanced services were between HK$8 billion ($1 billion) and HK$10 billion ($1.3billion) last year. But this could climb to between HK$12 billion ($1.5 billion) and HK$18 billion ($2.3 billion) this year as Hutchison takes its high-speed data services to the mass market. As of early December, Hutchison had 660,000 3G subscribers, or about one-third of what it hopes to achieve in its two main European markets.
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