A week in tech

A round-up of all the latest tech news.

ò Nifty, a major internet service provider, announced its plans to distribute highlights of World Cup soccer matches over the internet when the tournament kicks off in Germany this June. Nifty will offer the broadcasts free of charge to its subscribers, who can view them on their personal computers or mobile phones.

ò Rakuten Securities reported that its number of accounts surged 122 percent from a year earlier to 552,816 as of March 31, a figure that marked the sharpest gain of the five major online brokerages. The five firms had a combined 3.3 million accounts, after posting 87-percent growth from a year earlier.

ò Murata announced that it will acquire as early as this month, Sychip, a US telecommunications start-up specializing in wireless internet telephony and electronic components in a deal valued at Ñ16 billion ($134.7 million). The acquisition is seen as boosting Murata's efforts to incorporate internet telephone functionality into its mobile phone components. SyChip was established in 2000 by a former employee of Bell Laboratories, the R&D arm of Lucent Technologies. The firm develops and markets the IP (Internet Protocol) telephony modules and software for such devices as cellular phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). The company reported sales reaching nearly Ñ2 billion ($16.8 million) with the figure projected to climb to Ñ8 billion ($67.3 million) for 2007. Use of mobile IP phones is currently limited, but demand is expected to grow worldwide because the technology slashes communications costs. Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications is expected to authorize its use as early as next year.

ò Kyocera announced its plans to develop an inexpensive cellular phone for the Chinese market in an all-out effort to survive in the world's largest mobile phone market. To be developed by Kyocera's local production subsidiary, this device will be basic, with its extras limited largely to text messaging. It will have a price tag under Rmb400 ($50), compared to other lower-priced models that usually sell for around Rmb500 ($62). The phone is expected to go on sale by year-end. Kyocera now offers mainly feature-rich cell phones that include camera and music playback functionality. It sold roughly 500,000 cell phones in China in fiscal 2005, a share that does not even reach 1 percent of the market. Kyocera's global cell phone sales came to around 11.5 million units in fiscal 2005, a figure it aims to increase by 10 percent in fiscal 2006 through the launch of its low-priced model in China and including those models to be deployed in the Russian market.

ò Sony and Samsung Electronics announced a basic agreement to build a second plant in South Korea for their LCD panel joint venture S-LCD Corp. The companies said the new plant will be equipped with state-of-the-art eighth-generation facilities that can efficiently produce large LCD panels for flat-screen televisions. The new plant will be built near the first one, which started operating in April last year. It will cost an estimated Ñ300 billion ($2.5 billion), including expenses to develop the land. The two companies said they will sign an official agreement after deciding how the cost will be divided between Sony and Samsung and finalizing other details. With the new plant, Sony and Samsung are bracing themselves for an intensifying race in screen size with plasma TV makers, of whom Matsushita and Hitachi have already unveiled hefty investment plans.

Information Technology
ò East Japan Railway, known as JR East, announced that its plan to expand the uses of its Suica prepaid smart card to include paying for taxi rides. The company said it will partner with two leading taxi fleet operators in the greater Tokyo area that combined have more than 6,000 taxis on the road. Starting in 2007, these taxis will be fitted with terminals for the Suica card, allowing passengers to pay with the same card they use for train commutes and other JR East services. In another development, BitWallet Inc., which promotes the Edy e-cash card, disclosed that it aims to introduce Edy terminals in some 2,000 taxis in the greater Tokyo area beginning in May.

ò Samsung announced the signing of an agreement with Arialink, a local carrier in the State of Michigan for commercial mobile WiMax service in the US. Arialink said it will start test service in the first half of this year before the launch of commercial service in the city of Muskegon, Michigan next year. The regional service provider offers WiBro service including broadband internet and voice communication on 2.5GHz band. In a separate development, the US will reportedly join the 5 other countries such as Korea, Brazil, Venezuela, Croatia and Italy where WiBro commercial service is available. Samsung said it has concluded agreements with operators in 7 countries such as Japan (KDDI), the US (Sprint Nextel), Italy (TI), the UK (BT) and Brazil (TVA) for the delivery and commercial service of WiBro.

ò South Korea had 12.4 million broadband subscribers as of the end of February, up 317,000, or 2.6 percent, from a year earlier, according to data from the Ministry of Information and Communication. Powercomm signed up as many as 390,000 users in the past six months. Smaller cable-based carriers also registered 340,000 users in the past year. In contrast, Hanarotelecom lost 440,000 subscribers, if the users of Thrunet, a broadband carrier it had taken over, are excluded. The data shows the existing structure dominated by two heavyweights KT and Hanarotelecom is now being diminished, with Hanarotelecom expected to lose further subscribers because some existing subscribers may switch to regional operators. KT is also losing ground to the so-called "double play service", a service that pieces together high-speed internet access and cable TV channels, which is proving to be cheaper than the stand-alone package offered by KT and Hanarotelecom.

ò The nationÆs three wireless carriers, SK Telecom, KTF and LG Telecom, announced that they have began integrating applications and drivers used for PC synch as part of networking convergence. Many of their offerings such as MelOn, Toshirak, GXG and G-pang are designed to download fixed-line content to mobile handsets. SK Telecom has developed an integrated USB driver and a PC synch application, and asked mobile phone makers to adopt the new technologies. Earlier, the company launched a mobile phone with an integrated driver, and now plans to adopt the new driver for Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics phones. KTF is seeking a solutions partner to develop a USB integrated driver and a PC synch application, and LG Telecom is considering adopting SK Telecom's integrated driver. The three wireless operators say that they intend to improve user convenience since different types of drivers have caused users to experience some errors during installation. They also point out that manufacturers do not have to pay royalties to multinational firms any more with a new integrated driver.

ò The South Korean government announced that it will set aside W46 billion ($48.3 million) over the next five years to create "special cell-phone districts", in a bid to help local cell phone operators test new products at cheaper prices. The districts will offer various frequencies to enable the testing of new handsets and other mobile devices produced by South Korean companies by 2010. Many domestic mobile companies are required to go to places such as Europe to test their new products, a process that takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money. The ministry said it will form a task force consisting of experts from government, industry and academia in the second half of this year and will determine the locations for the districts by the end of the year. The plan, dubbed "M-1," or Mobile One, is a follow-up on what the ministry unveiled earlier this year for its 2006 business blueprint, which was focused on boosting the ubiquitous environment. As part of its plans to boost the competitiveness of South Korean mobile companies, the ministry said it will step up efforts to increase the number of wireless broadband Internet users to 10 million by 2010.

ò KTF announced that it will buy back W153 billion ($159.1 million) in shares this year, with the company not clarifying when the buyback would take place. Earlier, KTF said that it would return 50 percent of 2005 net profit to investors. In March, the company paid out W120.7 billion ($125.5 million) in cash dividend. KTF said the remaining W153 billion would be in the form of a share buyback.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò TU Media said it made a proposal to the National Assembly of South Korea on the easing of restrictions for large companies to invest in satellite broadcasting operators. With the proposal, TU Media is suggesting that the investment in capital limit be raised to over 49 percent from the current 33 percent. TU Media emphasized the need for additional investment from large corporation as they expect huge losses on their satellite DMB business due to the ban on retransmission of terrestrial content, money spent on content development and gap filler installments, and the slowing growth rate of subscribers. Sources are saying that the countryÆs Culture & Tourism Committee is currently working on a revised bill that will deal with this issue. Already, a bill has been submitted to raise the limit from 33 percent to 49 percent for Sky Life only, while another bill is asking that the limit be raised to 49 percent for both Sky Life and TU Media. According to the current law, large corporation can invest up to 33 percent in broadcasting companies. An official at TU Media said that the current restrictions must be eased so that they can receive the funding they need from their parent company in the form of equity investment.

ò LG Philips declared an 85.4-percent decline in its first-quarter net profit from the pervious quarter, a result it ascribed to drop in demand and selling prices. For the three months to March, the Dutch-Korean LCD joint venture posted a net profit of W48 billion ($50 million), compared to a loss of W790 billion ($827 million) a year ago. The company said its sales went up by 19.7 percent year on year but posted a 17-percent quarter-on-quarter decline to W2.4 trillion ($ 2.5 billion), figures that are ascribed by the company to a drop decline in demand and a fall in the average selling price in notebook and monitor panels.

ò SK Telecom announced the deployment of a roaming autodial service that will allow users abroad to make phone calls by only dialing telephone numbers excluding access number and national code. The service automatically creates the access number and the national code as a roaming service user dials the phone number. The new service is now for 149 types of WIPI phone users and auto-roaming subscribers, but will extend to all types of handsets and subscribers to semi-automatic and rent phone-roaming service from June.

ò Nortel Networks, the Canadian telecom equipment giant, expressed its confidence in leading the launching of mobile WiMAX, also known as WiBro and HSDPA service, in South Korea. Nortel said that it would equip itself with WiMAX portfolios adoptable to wired and wireless telecom companies to expand its presence in the country. An official of the Mobility and Converged Core Networks said that the second half of the year would see changes of the dynamics in mobile WiMAX market that used to be led by Samsung. Nortel said that it would take up 50 percent of South Korea's WCDMA and 70 percent of HSDPA market once the services are available.

ò Among domestic firms in South Korea, Samsung Electronics topped the research and development spending rank in 2005, with the firm making a total investment of W5.4 trillion ($5.6 billion) in the area. Samsung was followed by LG Electronics, with W1.2 trillion ($1.2 billion), KT with W397.6 billion ($413.4 million) and Samsung SDI with W362.4 billion ($376.8 million). NCsoft topped the R&D spending in proportion to revenues with 19.9 percent.

ò China Southern said it has sold more than 16 million e-tickets, a figure that accounts for over $1.2 billion in online sales, since it launched the service six years ago. The Guangzhou-based carrier said it is selling an average of 570,000 electronic tickets each month, accounting for at least 20 percent of its total sales. The firm said it has sold some 600,000 e-tickets in March, accounting for over $41 million in sales. Online ticket sales for the airline reached 400,000 in February, while some 500,000 tickets were sold in January, which brought in $31 million and $50 million respectively. China Southern was the first Chinese airline to sell airline tickets online in the year 2000.

ò Sina announced the signing of a deal with the Association of Independent Music (AIM) to offer music and video clips from music companies in the UK via a UK Music area of the largest portal in China. The deal is seen helping develop a potential market for live performances, downloads and ring tones featuring music from the UK. Currently, Sina has about 180 million registered users, which are expected to help spread music of AIM members in China. The deal is supported by government agency UK Trade and Investment and was brokered by AIM's consultants in China.

ò Huawei Technologies, a telecoms provider of next generation networks, announced the signing of a contract for the construction of a UMTS network with Vodafone in the Czech Republic. Under the deal, Huawei will provide a UTRAN system based on the new generation Node B technologies for Vodafone's operations in the Czech Republic. The signing of the contract marks the beginning of cooperation between these two companies after Huawei was chosen as one of Vodafone's preferred suppliers in November 2005. A top official also said the Czech project is the first step in the cooperation between Huawei and Vodafone in 3G network construction. Vodafone, providing mobile services in 26 countries, and working jointly with its partners to provide mobile services in another 31 countries, is considered the largest mobile operator in the world.

ò ChinaÆs revenues from wireless music are expected to hit Rmb13.5 billion ($1.6 billion) by 2008, according to Analysys International. The report said wireless music subscribers will reach 114 million in 2008, a figure that would make up 20 percent of total mobile phone subscribers in China by that period.

ò China Wireless Technologies revealed its plans to launch the world's first dual-mode 3G smartphone by August; an offering that will enable users to connect to a GSM network and a local 3G network and to receive two calls at once. The company noted that even as some firms like Motorola, LG and Samsung have devices that connect to China's 3G standard TD-SCDMA, there is no handset yet that allows simultaneous connectivity to GSM. China Wireless designs smartphones and back-end systems supporting its handsets based on its proprietary operating system tailor-made for various industries.

ò Founder Technology Group, a Chinese computer maker, announced the signing of an agreement with Microsoft as part of an overall effort to crack down on widespread software piracy in China. A top official of Founder Technology indicated that the company would be purchasing licenses for a Chinese version of Windows valued at some $250 million over the next three years. The two companies said they also agreed to work jointly in the promotion of the use of genuine versions of Windows. Piracy is always reported to be rampant in China, a condition that has been seen as blocking efforts of Microsoft to post profit in the huge Chinese market. Earlier, PC manufacturer Tsinghua Tongfang signed an agreement to purchase $120 million worth of Windows licenses over the next three years for the Chinese market, a move that is seen as part of a concerted effort in the Mainland to boost the use of legitimate Windows versions.

ò ChinaÆs export of colour TVs increased by 64 percent to 5.8 million in January, with the total value increasing by 68 percent to $610 million, according to statistics from the General Administration of Customs of China (GAC), compared with that in the same period last year. The markets for ChinaÆs export of colour TVs were mainly the EU and the US. In that month, with the export to the EU reaching 1.4 million sets, a growth of 70 percent year on year while colour TVs exported to the U.S. reached 1 million sets, a rise of 55.2 percent year on year.

ò Applied Materials Inc., a firm that supplies manufacturing systems and related services to the global semiconductor industry, announced its construction of a global R&D center in Xian, capital city of Shaanxi province. The company disclosed that total investment for the project amounts to $255 million. Upon completion of the center, Xian will become Applied MaterialÆs other global technical center besides its American headquarters and will be ChinaÆs fourth-largest semiconductor production site, following the Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta and Bohai Bay locations.


ò ASUSTeK Computer Inc., a Taiwan-based laptop maker, reported a 42.3 percent increase in its 2005 sales revenue to NT$355.8 billion ($11 billion) from a year ago. The company said its net income posted a 14.4-percent increase to NT$17.2 billion ($529.6 million) over the previous year. In another development, ASUSTek indicated its plans to transfer most of its laptop production capacity from Taiwan to Shanghai, stating that it will invest $50 million in a factory in Shanghai by the end of this year.

ò Chunghwa Telecom, TaiwanÆs leading telecom operator, reported a 14-percent year-on-year decline in its net profit in the first quarter March to NT$10 billion ($308 million). The operator attributed this drop to pension payments it made for early retirement and compensation for layoffs. Chunghwa Telecom said its sales in the first three months went up to NT$44.6 billion ($1.3 billion). The company said its sales for March registered a rise of 2.7 percent to NT$14.2 billion.
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