A week in tech

A round-up of all the latest tech news.
Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò Nippon Television Network, Japan Telecom and the East Japan Railway Co. group announced that they would start a joint experiment to air TV news inside trains. The experiment will take place on weekdays on JR East's Keihin Tohoku/Negishi lines, spanning from north to south from Saitama to Kanagawa prefectures through Tokyo. The news to be aired in the test, which will originally cover Nippon Television's news-only satellite and other broadcast programmes, will last about 90 seconds and air at 15-minute intervals. The service will include news flashes in the event of major news. Japan Telecom will transmit the news to monitors inside trains via wireless LAN (local area network) devices installed at JR East stations. The partners plan to begin commercial operations from around July this year.

ò The Tokyo Stock Exchange initiated the final steps toward delisting Livedoor and affiliate Livedoor Marketing in light of fresh charges that former executives of the internet services firm manipulated financial statements for fiscal 2004, with prosecutors serving notice former Livedoor President Takafumi Horie and three others with the new arrest warrants. They are believed to have misrepresented a 2004 acquisition of publisher Money Life in a bid to boost the share price of affiliate ValueClick Japan, now Livedoor Marketing. The TSE will officially delist the companies based on Livedoor's submission of a revised financial statement, the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission's criminal complaint, or the charges brought by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office.

ò Polatechno Co., a manufacturer of polarizers mainly for use in LCDs, plans to go public on the JASDAQ Securities Exchange. A polarizer is an ultra thin plastic film that makes displays easier to see by allowing light oriented only in a certain direction to pass through. The Niigata Prefecture-based company specializes in polarizers for 12-inch or smaller LCDs, holding a nearly 50 percent share of the market for small and medium-size film. It also supplies polarizers for projectors, controlling 70-80 percent of that market. It is currently moving forward with the production of LCD projector components and dyed polarizers, a new type of product that features high durability. In addition to domestic plants, it has manufacturing affiliates in the Netherlands, China, Taiwan and the US. The company expects consolidated pretax profit to increase 29 percent to 4.4 billion yen ($38 million) for the year through March, partly owing to robust sales of new projector components released in the second half of the current year. The company expects to raise some 4 billion yen ($34.4 million) and intends to use the fun in part to upgrade the output capacity of its Taiwanese joint venture and other plants. Nomura Securities is the lead manager for the IPO.

ò IDC Japan, a research firm, forecast that the market for fixed-line communication services, including voice, dedicated lines and data services, will diminish by 0.3 percent a year on average from 2006 through 2010. According to a survey, the market for non-wireless communication services grew 1.7 percent in 2005 to 6.4 trillion yen ($54.7 billion), but it is expected to go down to 6.2 trillion yen ($53 billion) by 2010. Of this, the data market is seen growing at a 9 percent average annual rate to 2.7 trillion yen ($23 billion) as firms increase capital spending to shift from dedicated lines to less expensive alternatives such as IP-VPN (Internet Protocol virtual private networks). However, the company's analysis reveals that the decline in voice and dedicated line services will slightly exceed growth on the data side as individual users opt for cellular phones while companies shift to IP telephony. As a result, these markets are projected to shrink 23 percent to a combined 3.1 trillion yen ($26.5 billion) in 2010.

ò An advisory panel formed to look into JapanÆs telecommunications industry said the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) group's business structure must be reviewed comprehensively to promote competition in the telecommunications industry. The private panel is now expected to look into NTT's obligation to provide universal service obligation, as well as the possibility of spinning off its R&D operations. These two issues are considered hindrances for the next round of the NTT group's reorganization. Under current law, NTT, as well as its regional phone carriers NTT East Corp. and NTT West Corp., are designated as special companies obliged to provide universal phone service and conduct basic research on telecommunications technologies. Panel members agreed that the universal phone service obligation needs to be reviewed because telecommunications are expected to be increasingly provided over broadband networks. A consensus was not reached, however, on the issue of whether the NTT group should be assessed a similar universal service obligation for fiber-optic and other next-generation telecommunications networks.

ò Samsung Electronics announced that it would provide TPS or Triple Play Service to Portus, Croatia's second largest fixed-line operator. TPS is the next generation fixed-line service combining telephony (VoIP), high-speed Internet TV (IP-TV) through a single broadband network. The technology is seen as having the biggest potential as the future profit maker. Under the deal, Samsung and Portus will offer high-speed TPS using ADSL2+ that will enable a transmission rate of 24 Mbps, 3 times higher than ADSL from the next year. To achieve this, Samsung said it will provide Portus with 60 billion won ($61.8 million) worth next-generation network facility for the next two years. The equipment and devices provided by Samsung include Softswitch, Trunk Gateway, IP-Settop box, broadcasting server and VoIP terminal.

ò The number of Koreans reporting that their identity had been stolen for strangers to sign up with the online game Lineage surged from 1,200 on Monday to over 60,000. The game's operator, NCsoft Corp and the government came up with emergency measures to prevent any worsening of the cyberspace crisis, with the company saying it would adopt a new signup system that would require people to enter their mobile phone numbers along with resident identification numbers. The site will send "certification numbers" to mobile phones and users will be required to type the multi-digit number on the web site for user verification. The new system is seen as allocating only one account to one individual even as the company has yet no plans to change its policy of requiring players to sign up with their government ID numbers. Responding to the problem, the countryÆs Ministry of Information and Communication said it would form a task force this month to try to force internet firms to adopt one of several means of online identification that would replace the resident registration numbers.

ò KT announced that the launching next month of WiBro test service in four districts in Seoul, Shinchon, Gangnam, Seocho and Bundang, in a bid to attract young-generation users and tech firms. KT said it plans to provide some 3,000 units of devices used for the wireless internet service, including some 400 units of 12-inch sub notebook PCs, 1,600 units of PCMCI modem cards and 1,000 units of WiBro personal digital assistants. The company decided to provide the test service to some 200 employees and a group of WiBro supporters for the first month, with the aim of widening the range into consumers in April. The test service will consist of data service such as video-on-demand, music-on-demand and messaging plus multimedia content. KT plans to kick off commercial service including mobile internet banking in June this year after monitoring the test service and drawing up marketing and price plans. KT said it is considering to introduce a partial pay-as-you-use price, and providing a special price for users of household broadband Internet and Nespot service even as it makes the final touches on its wireless stations and billing systems. In a separate report, KT, announced that it had applied for patents for Internet protocol (IP) TV techniques, devised to help users find their favourite channels. The company said it has applied for a patent for an IP TV-associated business model providing layered services for the watchers of web-based TV. KT disclosed also its plans to embark on the commercial services of the IP TV later this year.

ò Nateon of SK Communications, a local messenger, took the top position as the nation's instant messenger as it posted 13.9 million users compared to 9.6 million users of MSN messenger. Observers are saying the competition of the two messengers is expected to be more exciting now that MSN messenger plans a huge service upgrade campaign in the first half of this year.

ò LG Electronics said it is looking to its mobile TV and HSDPA phones to grow in the European market this year. The company said it is aiming at sales of 12 million units in Europe, with the official from LGÆs Mobile Communications R&D Center of LG said stating its goal of releasing five mega pixel phones in foreign markets.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò The countryÆs Ministry of Information and Communication is promoting a special law this year to expand digital broadcasting services with the aim of switching all TV broadcasting to the digital mode by 2010. To achieve this, the ministry said it plans to organize a committee to facilitate the conversion process. The committee will include officials from the government, Korean Broadcasting Commission, broadcasters, TV manufacturers and civic groups. As part of the plan, local television makers will be asked to incorporate "digital tuners," or equipment for terrestrial digital reception, into their new products, in phases. Large sized DTVs will be the first to be subject to the new regulations, to be followed by small and medium sized DTVs. The transition to DTV is considered to be a crucial element in the government bodyÆs 2010 vision of a nationwide digital broadcast system. Currently, the country's DTV penetration rate stands at 17.8 percent, which is equivalent to 3.1 million units sold in total, as of late last year. The ministry said it will set up the process of abolishing the analogue broadcast system.

ò Samsung Electronics announced the launching of PictSync Consortium that saw Epson, HP, IDS, Olympus and portalplayer participating. The aim of the consortium is to provide the methodology and logo programs that that could bring about interoperability and compatibility between digital media products of participating companies, such as digital camera, camera phone, PMP and TV. Samsung said that PictSync has the specific objective of improving the sharing of digital images from digital camera or camera phones to consumer electronic storage or playback devices. It would enable consumers to transfer the images more conveniently to TV or PMP without having to process them on PC.

ò An official source from the SK Group disclosed that SK Telecom will open an office in India this month, with the company aiming to penetrate the Indian market through an equity investment in a local mobile operator. Other companies within the SK Group, such as SK Corp., SK C&C and SK Networks, are also planning to enter into India. The mobile market in India is forecast to register 140 million subscribers by 2008. In India, the main players in the market are Tata Group and Reliance Group. SK attempted to acquire Tata shares last year but decided against it as the share price had gone up too much.

ò According to the countryÆs Ministry of Information Industry, there are over 400 million mobile phone users in China now. The number of subscribers in China went up by 5.4 million in January to 398 million. The Ministry said that with further growth this month, the total number has hit 400 million. It should be noted that the country set up its first mobile phone network in 1987 and took a decade to reach 10 million customers.

ò China Telecom, China Mobile and China Netcom said they will work jointly with equipment sellers and handset makers to expand trial networks to cities in Hebei, Fujian and Shandong provinces. This is aimed at promoting the commercial readiness of TD-SCDMA, which is a homegrown TD-SCDMA standard. The latest trials will be on the performance of 3G new handsets.

ò Ctrip, a Shanghai-based firm that provides travel booking services, reported a net income of $7.8 million for the fourth quarter, a figure that represents 50 percent growth year on year. Ctrip said its air ticket booking revenue more than doubled to $6.4 million.

ò NetEase.com, an online game provider, said net profit for the fourth quarter of 2005 posted a 7 percent growth from the previous quarter to Rmb276.7 million yuan ($34.4 million).

ò ShanghaiÆs software industry generated 45.5 billion yuan ($5.6 billion) in sales revenue in 2005, according to the Shanghai Municipal Government. The number accounts for 15.2 percent of the overall sales revenue in the countryÆs software industry this year. There are now seven software companies in Shanghai that are recognized for having acquired top international certifications for software companies, representing about 5 percent of such companies around the world.

ò Lenovo Group announced its new offering in the form of its first Lenovo-branded computers that are going to be marketed outside China. The move is Lenovo's first attempt to introduce its product brand in the US and other countries since the completion of its acquisition of IBM's PC business. Lenovo announced two lines of desktop computers, starting at $349 along with a laptop line that starts at $599. The products are available immediately from Lenovo's website and through its business partners. In the fourth quarter of 2005, Lenovo had a 7.2 percent market share, compared with Dell's 17.2 percent and HP's 15.7 percent, according to IDC.

ò With the aim of attracting overseas investment, Taiwan authorities disclosed that they could up the ceiling on direct foreign ownership in Chunghwa Telecom. The firm is one of the TaiwanÆs leading telecom operators. At present, foreign investors own a combined stake in Chunghwa Telecom that is approaching very closely the 40 percent limit set by the government. A related development came up with Taiwan Mobile announcing its plan to unload a stake in Chunghwa Telecom through an American depositary receipt (ADR) sale, with the amount of shares to be sold and the timetable for the ADR not yet finalized. The government has set a separate ceiling of 49 percent on foreign ownership for other telecom operators, including Taiwan Mobile and Far EasTone Telecommunications. Currently, the Taiwanese government has 47 percent stake in Chunghwa Telecom.

Hong Kong
ò The Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks (HKSTP) disclosed that it will boost its marketing strategy in a bid to attract new tenants, as well as develop key industries as it works to get the confidence of the public. HKTSP said it aims to focus on more local hi-tech business development that will tap the practical utilization of government assets. A top official of the Science Park said that they will focus on integrated circuit design, biotechnology, precision engineering, wireless communications for logistics and nanotechnology. The Science Park facilities are divided into four industry clusters: electronics, biotechnology, precision engineering, and information technology and telecommunications. The body was formed from a merger of the Hong Kong Industrial Estates Corporation, Hong Kong Industrial Technology Centre Corporation, and the Provisional Hong Kong Science Park Company Limited. The corporation includes the Science Park in Tai Po, the Inno Centre in Kowloon Tong, the Tai Po Industrial Estate, Yuen Long Industrial Estate and Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate.

ò SmarTone-Vodafone is looking to the declining price of handsets as a factor that could push the hastening up of the migration of its customers to 3G. According to a top official, the cost of 3G handsets posted an average of 30 percent decline since its launching. Macquarie Research forecasts for SmarTone-Vodafone a net profit of HK$132 million ($17 million), a figure that is a 10.9 percent rise from the HK$119 million ($15.3 million) it posted in 2005. The competition brought about by the soft-launching of PCCW MobileÆs 3G has pushed the analysts to downgrade SmarToneÆs ratings.

ò The Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) Group announced profits amounting close to $614 million in 2005, as its wireless units continue to dominate the lucrative mobile-phone service business. Smart and Piltel, which ended the year 2005 with 20.4 million subscribers, captured 62 percent of the cellular-phone service market. Rival Globe Telecom and unit Touch Mobile, which reported 12.4 million cellular subscribers as of end-2005, cornered 37 percent of the market. Sun Cellular of the Gokongwei group has the remaining 1 percent. Aside from cellular business, PLDT is banking on the prospects of new technology to generate more revenue. These projects include Next Generation Network services in which the company will be investing $100 million this year to expand the reach and capacity of its existing services.

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