A week in tech

A round-up of all the latest tech news.
ò NTT DoCoMo, Renesas Technology, a chip manufacturer, Fujitsu, Mitsubishi Electric and Sharp announced their forming an alliance that will jointly develop a platform for next-generation cellular phones that can be used overseas. The group aims to deploy the platform in handsets to be released in October 2007 and afterward. By sharing cell phone components such as communications chips and operating systems, they hope to stall development costs, with the five firms expected to shell out a total of about Ñ15 billion ($127 million). Under the partnership, Renesas will be tasked with the development of the system chip for the platform while DoCoMo will provide telecommunications control technologies. The three other firms, all of which are handset manufacturers, will cooperate in other areas, including product evaluation. The group is looking to their new platform being adopted by domestic and foreign cell phone manufacturers.

ò Funai Electric announced its plans to produce more than 1.8 million LCD television sets in fiscal 2006, a figure that represents a rise of more than 200 percent from the projected output for fiscal 2005. Under the plans, Funai said it aims to buy more LCD panels from Taiwan's Chi Mei group, as well as form new long-term partnerships with other LCD panel makers in Taiwan and China. Funai purchases all LCD panels used in its products from other companies, mostly from the Chi Mei group. Observers are saying in fiscal 2005, the major Taiwanese LCD panel maker will likely supply some 600,000 LCD panels to Funai. For a continued stable supply amid the growing global demand for LCD panels, Funai revealed its plans to provide Chi Mei with a five-year loan valued at about $400. Chi Mei is expected to use the money to expand its LCD panel production facility. The firms are expected to sign a loan agreement soon. Funai has been selling lower-priced LCD TVs mostly in North America. With the announced increase, Funai said it intends to expand LCD TV sales in Europe and Japan.
ò Hitachi Global Storage Technologies announced its plans to ship four million hard disk drives from its new $500 million plant in Shenzhen this year. The facility is expected to contribute about 50 percent of the Japanese firmÆs disk drive output by 2008, which could be translated to annual production of 70 million. Hitachi said its Shenzhen facility has the capacity also of manufacturing smaller drives used in laptops, digital music players, video cameras and other consumer electronics devices. Hitachi already employs 5,500 workers in head and disk assembly production in Shenzhen. The decision to locate its factories near its mainland customers is seen as diminishing the lead times and creating supply chain efficiency.

ò Toshiba announced the development of a way to reduce the power consumption of DRAM memory on 65nm system chips. The redesigned DRAM consumes only one-eighth the normal amount of power in standby mode, a result that means longer battery life for products such as cell phones. These modifications bolster the chip's capacity to compensate for errors by a factor of 100, which then allows the refresh operation to be performed less often.

ò Daum Communications Corp. announced the opening of its global media centre on Jeju Island, the completion of which is seen as a major step in Daum's long term relocation project announced in March 2004. Daum said about 150 employees will be working at the new site, which will serve as the company's global headquarters as well as a research and development center to develop new media platforms. The global media centre is built on a 132,000 square metre lot. A company official, however, said Daum has yet to decide whether it will move its main office from Seoul to the new island location. In an earlier announcement, Daum has expressed some reservation about a complete relocation, preferring to leave marketing and advertising divisions in Seoul. The move of the company is said to be in tune with government initiatives to develop Jeju as an international trade and finance centre. In a separate report, Daum Communications Corp., South Korea's second-most-popular internet portal, reported for its fourth-quarter sales an increase of more than 20 percent from a year earlier. Sales totaled W58.2 billion ($60.1 million) in the October-December period, up 23.9 percent from a year earlier.

ò Citing Strategic Analytics, a market research firm, LG Electronics said it has gained the No. 1 place in the world CDMA market and the No. 2 in the North American handset market, including both CDMA and GSM. By selling 30.4 million CDMA handsets, the company became the worldÆs largest CDMA handset supplier, gaining in the process 21 percent of the market share. LG announced that it shipped 26.1 million cell phones, both GSM and CDMA, and posted 17.3 percent market share in North America, ranking second to Motorola. LG said it occupies the top slot by supplying 20.6 million units in the North American CDMA market. It is No. 4 in the regional GSM market by selling 5.5 million units through partnership with major operators such as Cingular.
ò SK Telecom Co., the country's largest mobile carrier, announced its signing of a development agreement with Germany-based Coding Technologies, a leading developer of audio compression for mobile, broadcasting and internet, in a bid to enhance its ring-back-tone service. Under the agreement, SK Telecom will customize and adapt Coding Technologies' aacPlus audio codec to its existing cellular ring-back-tone named "coloring." Coloring allows users to convert typical ring tones to their preferred tone sequences. The German company has the aacPlus, the technology that is said to be more efficient than MP3 in converting digital music files to fit them into mobile settings. The Korean firm has already employed the audio codec technology in its mobile music download service called "MelON".

ò According to Samsung Electronics, it must exert a lot of marketing effort to survive in a highly competitive environment. The company attracted a significant interest in the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona as it is one of only a few companies making HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access) phones or mobile TV-enabled handsets. The HDSPA services are to start yet in several countries this year. The company revealed that it aims to be the No. 1 in the HSDPA and mobile-TV handsets market, which has emerged as the hottest topic in the global mobile communication industry. Korea started offering satellite and terrestrial DMB services last year, and European countries and the US will commercialize their platforms this year. Nokia supports DVB-H and Qualcomm Media Flo.

ò KT disclosed that it is strengthening its real estate business, with the aim of making up for the recent losses the company experienced in its communication services business. The company said it is looking to develop idle lands in the country. Shortly after his appointment last year, the companyÆs new chief executive was observed as demonstrating keenly his intentions in the real estate business. Since entering the real estate development business in March 2003, KT has built apartments on idle land while renting vacant offices. This realty business generated almost W70 billion ($72 million) in revenue in 2004 and W90 billion ($92.1 million) in 2005. This year the company hopes to make W150 billion ($154 million) from real estate, partly by selling three "intelligent" apartment complexes in the greater Seoul area by incorporating its advanced technologies for home automation, remote medical treatment and home banking.

ò ChinaÆs online advertising market hit Rmb3.1 billion ($385.1 million), which is a growth of 77.1 percent last year compared with that of the previous year, according to iResearch. The report said Sina's online ads income was Rmb680 million ($84.4 million) last year, grabbing 21.7 percent of market share, leaving Sohu with 15 percent, NetEase 8 percent, QQ 3.8 per cent, and TOM online 2.2 percent. SamsungÆs spending on online ads, totaling Rmb60.3 million ($7.4 million), placed it at No. 1, followed by China Mobile and NetEase.
ò PeopleÆs Daily Online announced the launching of Quianqquo, recognized as the first blog offered by a news website in China. From Qiangguo Blog come more than ten channels at the homepage, enabling users to post texts and images on the blog. The site also offers templates that will allow users to make personalized pages. The blog has some 2,000 registered users. It has published more than 6,000 articles and 2,000 images.

ò China Mobile (Hong Kong) said it expects its strong growth in subscription in China to continue even as it looks to opportunities overseas. According to its top official, China MobileÆs number of subscribers went up 42 million during 2005, with the last quarter of 2005 accounting for 3.9 million of the increase. The company said it is aiming to manufacture cheaper 3G handsets, hoping to tap the countryÆs base of around 250 million subscribers in China together with the steady and strong trend in the increase in its number of subscription.
ò China SMS, a leading short message service (SMS) provider, is expected to go public in Hong Kong in the first half of the year. According to an official of the Hong Kong-listed Sino Katalytics Investment Corp., the listing of China SMS is part of Sino Katalytics Investment's strategy of streamlining its assets. Sino Katalytics Investment has invested HK$5 million ($625,000) in a 10 percent stake in China SMS a year ago. China SMS derives its earnings by providing services mainly to corporate customers.

ò United Microelectronics Corp (UMC), the world's second-largest contract chip manufacturer, received a fine of NT$5 million from the Taiwanese government for assisting a mainland firm without approval from the countryÆs authorities. The countryÆs economic ministry stated that UMC did not get any permission before the chipmaker assisted in the formation of HeJian Technology in 2001. With the assistance, the Taiwanese authorities said Hejian offered a 15 percent stake in the company, estimated at about $110 million, a move that is seen as violating the laws on ties between Taiwan and Mainland China. UMC disclosed that before it files its appeal it will wait for a formal notice from authorities.

Hong Kong
ò With Hutchison Telecom increasing its 3G service price plans for new subscribers to between HK$128 ($16) and HK$538 ($70) from between HK$123 and $533, observers are saying that operators of 3G mobile services in Hong Kong will tend to switch their focus from price to content and services. Hutchison Telecom forecasts its 3G users to go beyond 500,000 later this month. Currently, subscriptions to its services number at 485,000 users. The firm said it intends to follow up on what it calls the successful reception of its music content bundling with the latest 3G handset. In a move that is seen as a response to the price hike made by Hutchison, Hong Kong CSL, the second-largest mobile operator in Hong Kong, announced the unveiling of its new 3G mobile television service. The offering will allow users to view nine television channels such as news and music videos through their 3G video phone. CSL said it had about 50,000 3G subscribers, a figure almost equal to what rival SmarTone-Vodafone has.
ò Hutchison Whampoa announced it will delay the long-awaited IPO of its Italian 3G mobile unit, citing weak market conditions for European telecom stocks. Canning Fok, Hutchison Group managing director and 3 Italia's chairman, said they think a valuation of Ç7 billion ($8.4 billion) for the IPO of 3 Italia is "too low" and to push through the listing would be a disservice to shareholders.
ò Under what it dubbed the ô3G Trialö promotional plan, PCCW disclosed more than 45,000 users were registered and received their handsets connected to PCCW's 3G mobile service. The move is part of PCCWÆs plan to attract customers from 3G networks of CSL, Hutchison Telecommunications and SmarTone-Vodafone. PCCWÆs offering composed of voice services, high-speed downloads and mobile entertainment, was coursed through its subsidiary, Sunday Communications. The plan had PCCW offering free use of a 3G handset for six months complete with up to 10,000 free voice minutes per month as well as unlimited text and multimedia messaging with other PCCW mobile users. The firm is promising to deploy more bundled offers, in phases, in a bid to boost its 3G offering.

Information Technology
ò Dell said it has initiated the operations of its call centre in the Philippines. The call centre provides customer and technical support to Dell computer users abroad. Dell plans to increase its staff to 700 shortly, it added. Dell explained its choice of the Philippines for the location of its call center given the countryÆs strong language and communications skills coupled by what Dell described as its strong telecommunications structure. The Philippines has lately emerged as an important site for call centers and business process outsourcing, a sector estimated to generate revenues of $1.1 billion.

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