A week in tech

A round-up of all the latest tech news.

Japan

Hardware

- Canon Inc. plans to enter the TV business as soon as next year by manufacturing thin displays in a new joint venture with Toshiba Corp. marking the latest in a wave of entries into the blossoming market. Canon and Toshiba have been working together since 1999 to develop a next-generation display called SED, or surface-conduction electron-emitter displays, and plans to set up a joint venture in 2004 to mass-produce such displays.

Life Sciences

— Takara Bio Inc. has developed a research kit to detect the SARS virus in about one hour. The SARS corona virus can be detected by converting SARS' RNA into DNA by reverse transcription and then amplifying the DNA by using the company's isothermal gene-amplification method. RNA needs to be converted into DNA because genomes of the SARS virus consist of RNA viruses. The company will start selling the kits to research institutions in Japan, including government bodies, universities and companies, on Dec. 22 for 40,000 yen ($373.8) each.

Mobile / Wireless

- NTT DoCoMo has developed a test model of a cell phone that can communicate over its super-fast third-generation cellular service and Wi-Fi Internet networks. With the new handset, people would be able to use Wi-Fi networks to surf the web or to talk, using Internet phone technology known as voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP. The phone would run on NTT DoCoMo's more widespread wireless network when it was out of range of a Wi-Fi "hot spot." The test model is a folding handset that weighs four ounces and is 1.2 inches thick. No wireless companies have indicated that a combo Wi-Fi/cellphone is due in the U.S. any time soon.

- Mitsubishi Electric Corp. has developed technology that enables mobile phones and other wireless communications terminals to receive radio waves with better precision. The technology transmits radio waves carrying the same information from two antennas at a base station. The waves are converted to data in slightly different formats so as to not cancel each other out. Transmitting two waves with the same information increases the probability that at least one will reach the user, enabling smooth reception of information.

- Softbank Corp. has applied to the Ministry of Telecommunications to conduct testing of TD-CDMA, an IP (Internet Protocol) technology for 3G cellular phones. Softbank plans to offer cell phone service in addition to the ADSL and wireless LAN services it currently offers. It is expected to gain approval and begin testing soon. TD-CDMA has yet to be used commercially anywhere in the world, but is recognized by the International Telecommunication Union as a 3G format.

- Japanese net increase in cellular telephone subscribers in November fell to its lowest level since such statistics were first recorded in 1996, according to data released by Telecommunications Carriers Association. The net increase in the number of subscribers was 332,900 for the month. The association notes that the penetration rate of cell phones, including PHS (personal handy phone service), has reached about 66%, so going forward firms believe the majority of demand will likely be for replacements.

- NTT DoCoMo Inc. has decided to promote use of both Symbian Ltd.'s open-standard operating system and Linux for its own FOMA 3G (third generation) wireless handsets. Until now, most FOMA handsets have used either TRON or proprietary operating systems developed by handset makers. DoCoMo expects use of Symbian OS and Linux to help reduce production costs and encourage wider acceptance of FOMA handsets.

Software

- Microsoft Co. Japan will collaborate with Nihon Unisys Ltd. to construct banking systems based entirely on personal computer servers running the Windows operating system. The systems they build will be the first of their kind in the global banking industry, since proprietary software and the Unix operating system are more common choices and no banking system has ever been built entirely around Windows.

Telecommunications

- KDDI Corp. aims to sign up 3 million subscribers to its broadband services by the end of fiscal 2005. KDDI's ADSL service had 810,000 subscribers as of Oct. 31, giving it 8% domestic market share. The company plans to offer it at a discount to users of its cellular telephone service as early as the beginning of next year. KDDI's ADSL promotional expenses are also expected to more than double this fiscal year, bringing its subscriber base to more than 1 million in fiscal 2003.

Korea

Hardware

- LG Electronics Inc. expects to record a fourth-quarter charge of W380 billion ($317.7 million) stemming from a restructuring program at its unprofitable LG Philips Displays joint venture, which has struggled amid slack demand for its bulky monitors as consumers' preferences shift to thinner liquid-crystal displays.

- Korea's trade surplus in electronic goods has shrunk by as much as 47% in the first three quarters of the year compared to the same period in 2002, according to a report by the Korea Electronics Technology Institute. The cumulative trade surplus in the year to September reached $860 million compared to $1.6 billion in the first three quarters of 2002. The reason behind the declining surplus can be attributed to rising imports, with $19.2 billion worth of overseas goods entering the domestic market this year, compared to $16.1 billion last year. Exports increased as well, but did not keep pace with imports, with $20 billion worth of goods going to other world markets compared to $17.8 billion in the January-September period last year.

Internet

- Transactions through online shopping amounted to W601.7 billion ($505.4 million) last October, according to the National Statistical Office. Trading value of the online transactions jumped 2.3%, or W13.3 billion ($11.2 million), from a month earlier and 10.1%, or W55.2 billion ($46.4 million), compared with the same period last year. It was the first improvement for online trading for two months in a row since the start of this year.

- NHN Corp. kicked off a community website (www.entoi.com) in September but the new service has had lackluster performance to date. NHN operates Naver.com, one of the country's largest portals and search engines, and HanGame, an online game service site. NHN launched Entoi to round out its product offerings and expects the new site to generate sizable revenue from the first half of 2004. Entoi members currently number 450,000 and daily visitors are estimated at 300,000, adding that the figures have already met the company's internal targets.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- The dispute over digital TV standards has intensified as the Korea Broadcasting Commission delayed its schedule for issuing licenses in a move that irked the Ministry of Information and Communication. The KBC, the top broadcast regulator, surprised the ministry with its move to delay the start of the licensing period by seven months. The Information Ministry remarked the move by the KBC could disrupt the country's digital broadcasting schedule, as they could not afford to wait for seven months to grant licenses to local broadcasting stations. The KBC's decision has bought time for those who favor adoption of the European standard for digital broadcasting to promote their cause. However, Information Ministry officials remain adamant about maintaining the US standard.

China

Hardware

- Hewlett-Packard Co., tapping rising demand for computers among China's burgeoning middle class, said personal-computer shipments have surged there in recent months -- though the U.S. company remains far behind China's leader, Legend Group Ltd. and others in market share. Indeed, HP is seeing big growth partly because it is coming from behind in China. The company basically is re-entering the Chinese consumer-PC market after de-emphasizing it earlier, particularly following its merger with the former Compaq Computer Corp. more than 18 months ago. In June, HP refocused its strategy and launched models of consumer PCs in China.

Internet

- Reporters Without Borders has called on the heads of 14 international companies supplying computer and internet equipment to China to protest the Chinese government's actions against Internet users. The organization claims some of the firms are selling products and services that will directly help the Chinese government spy on people using the Internet, while others are turning a blind eye to the government's activities. Reporters Without Borders cited Cisco Systems Inc., which is selling online spying systems to the country, and Yahoo! Inc., which agreed to change its search engine to facilitate censorship.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- China's largest online gaming firm, Shanda Networking, plans to seek a Nasdaq listing worth at least $300 million next year to tap demand for fantasy role playing games in the world's most populous nation. The Shanghai-based firm, which had an estimated value of more than $1 billion, would sell between 20 and 25% of its share capital.

Mobile / Wireless

- The number of xiaolingtong subscribers on the mainland is expected to double next year to more than 70 million, according UTStarcom, a key supplier of equipment for the limited, city-wide mobile-phone service. The subscriber base for this year is expected to reach 35 million surpassing UTStarcom’s own forecast that xiaolingtong subscribers would number 30 million. UTStarcom, which supplies about 60 percent of xiaolingtong network equipment and 70 percent of handsets in China, has raised its subscriber projections at least three times this year due to faster than expected growth.

Semiconductors

- Comlent Technology, a Shanghai start-up, hopes to become one of the mainland's biggest chip design companies by focusing on a niche its peers have ignored: radio frequency chips for xiaolingtong handsets. Comlent Technology is targeting revenue of more than $50 million annually by 2006 - in a market where the top five mainland chip designers collected no more than $25 million last year.

Taiwan

Semiconductors

- Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing announced its board of directors had approved capital spending of $1.43 billion for capacity expansion. The company did not specify the timetable for the new investment. The funds will focus mainly on production capacity of the company's 0.13-micron and 90-nanometer copper processes at its Fab 12 (Phase I) and Fab 14 (Phase I) 12-inch-wafer production facilities. In addition, some money will be spent on increasing the company's 0.18-micron and 0.15-micron process capacity at some of its eight-inch fabs.

Singapore / Malaysia / Philippines / Indonesia

Software

- Malaysia's brazen software pirates are hawking the next version of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system years before it is supposed to be on sale. Underscoring the scale of U.S. companies' copyright problems in Asia, CDs containing software Microsoft has code named "Longhorn" are on sale for six ringgit, or about $1.58, in southern Malaysia. By comparison, Microsoft's current version of Windows, XP, sells for upwards of US$100 in the United States.

Telecommunications

- Singapore Technologies (ST) Telemedia is to inject another $200 million into Global Crossing, raising its total investment in the bankrupt US telecommunications firm to $450 million. The extra investments will be used by Global Crossing to pay off loans owed to its creditors who had been originally due to get payments in the form of senior secured notes when ST Telemedia received US regulatory approval to buy a majority stake in the fiber optic cable firm. In October, ST Telemedia finally received approval from the US Federal Communications Commission to buy a 61.5% stake in Global Crossing for $250 million, ending a drawn-out affair after US security and intelligence services opposed the deal.

Hong Kong

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- The Applied Science and Technology Research Institute (ASTRI) has created a technology that it calls MPEG-4 Turbo, a software technology for video compression and decompression that can be put on a single chip and could lead to better video transmission over the Internet. The firm claims this was the first successful implementation of the latest video compression standards on a single chip. This means that DVD-quality video can be transmitted using only 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth. It would be possible then to create a DVD-quality video and put it on a normal CD-Rom.

Mobile / Wireless

- Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. reported delays in the delivery of handsets mean it must either raise up to $2.4 billion in additional funding or put back the break-even date for its third-generation wireless operations. Delays in 3G handsets could force Hutchison to raise a further $2.4 billion on top of the $6.2 billion it already needs for its 3G operations up to 2006.

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