A week in tech

A round-up of all the latest tech news.

ò Mobikyo announced the launching of a Wireless-Watch Community, described as a dynamically updated website aggregating high-caliber news and commentary from mobile experts, industry watchers and publishers worldwide. The company said W-W.Com platform enables established and respected thought leaders to contribute their analysis and insight to a multi-market channel that is on track to become the most comprehensive resource of independent wireless related information on the Internet. W-W.Com is a unique platform that automatically aggregates news, articles, reports, blog posts, and other web content from community members into a 'portal of posts.' The W-W.Com site is the latest mobile-focused service from Mobikyo and joins its existing information and business promotion line-up which include managing Tokyo's Mobile Monday (MoMo) networking events, publishing the Wireless Watch Japan (WWJ) media site and operations guided Mobile Intelligence Japan (MIJ) missions to Tokyo. Based in Tokyo, Mobikyo K.K.'s core business is the production and dissemination of media content, market intelligence and business information aimed at those seeking to establish, expand or strengthen their partnerships and commercial relations with Japan's wireless and IT industries.

ò Softbank disclosed that it will return a license it acquired to enter the mobile phone operation business, a widely expected move that followed its acquisition of Vodafone Group Japan business. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications gave Softbank the license last November to launch mobile services this year. Softbank said it has adopted the more cost-effective measure of using the infrastructure set up by Vodafone K.K., Vodafone's Japan arm, rather than starting the business from scratch. The company said Vodafone intends to devise more competitive services and price scales in an effort to catch up with NTT DoCoMo and KDDI. The companyÆs top official said the company will discard the "Vodafone" brand name, with the new name to be finalized next month. The official said the company will start selling models under the new brand this fall, targeting November to begin the "portability service" that will allow subscribers to switch mobile phone operators without changing their phone numbers. The Softbank group also revealed its aims to strengthen Vodafone's online contents using Yahoo's know-how.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò Japan Broadcasting Corp (NHK) announced that it is considering using its digital terrestrial broadcasting system to encourage viewers into paying the public broadcaster's mandatory subscription fees. A top official said NHK will study a system that would put large message boxes on new TV screens that receive the terrestrial broadcasts requesting people to pay the fees. Such messages make viewing difficult, but are already in use for BS digital broadcasting programs. The digital terrestrial system, however, will cover all households nationwide from 2011. While details have yet to be worked out, it is expected the system will send a "reception confirmation message" asking viewers to contact an NHK affiliate. The messages would appear on new TV sets about a month after purchase. The message would remain until the owner contacts the affiliate, who will check to make sure the mandatory fees are being paid.

ò Sumco Corp announced its plans to spend more than Ñ100 billion ($888.2 million) by 2010 to construct another domestic factory for producing 300 millimeter-silicon wafers. The company said it will start building the plant in Saga in southern Japan as early as this summer, with operations expected to begin in March 2008. It said that Sumco plans to expand its monthly output capacity to 700,000 wafers by April 2008. The capacities at existing facilities will be raised to 600,000 units from the current level of 400,000, with the remaining wafers to be supplied by the new plant. The company report said it will gradually increase capacity as it installs more wafer-making equipment over the course of about three years through 2010. Sumco has a 50:50 joint venture between Sumitomo Metal Industries Ltd and Mitsubishi Materials Corp.


ò NCSoft Corp announced that it is going to appeal a court verdict that found it responsible for the theft of several players' personal information. Although the total damages awarded was small, the company sees the case as dangerous because it could provide encouragement for other claimants who are demanding millions of dollars in another, much larger, identity theft case, an analyst said. In the most recent court verdict, NCSoft was ordered to pay about $500 each to five players of the game Lineage II. Due to a programming error, tens of thousands of players' usernames and passwords were accessible to all users of the game for several days in May 2005. The Korean court ruled that NCSoft failed to take adequate care of players' personal information. The second, larger ID theft case, appears however to have started outside NCSoft. The company is seen making an operating profit of about $64 million this year, on sales of $260 million, according to forecasts from Korea Investment & Securities.

ò Leading mobile phone companies such as Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics and Pantech are rushing to introduce strategic handsets, aiming to win a larger chunk of the first-half market. Samsung Electronics is poised to introduce the country's first 3.5G-handset (HSDPA), and LG Electronics and Pantech are also unveiling an upgrade of the Chocolate phone and the Sky super slim phone, respectively. Samsung Electronics said it aims to maintain its market-leading position by introducing Anycall HSDPA handset, which it sees as proving its technological prowess. The company is also working on a major brand marketing to counter rival LG's Chocolate phone. LG Electronics and Pantech are reportedly making fast moves to roll out strategic models and build new partnerships. LG Electronics plans to launch an upgrade of terrestrial DMB phone and Black Label Series, follow-up versions of hit Chocolate phones.


ò China remains to the biggest market for popular internet-based phone service, Skype, with the company registering some 13 million users in China. An eBay reports shows that the numbers of Chinese users are nearly as large as those from the US, Germany and the UK combined. The service has 6 million users in the US, 3 million in the UK and 5 million in Germany. Skype was acquired by eBay last year with $4 billion in cash and stock. It generates all of its sales from Skype Out, a service that lets Skype users make a regular phone call from a computer.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò Shanda Interactive Entertainment, the online entertainment media, announced the resignation of Li Shujun as the companyÆs CFO and senior vice president, effective the end of June, citing his aim to pursue other interests as the reason for quitting. Shanda said Daniel Zhang, the company's financial controller, will serve as CFO upon Li's departure. Li will remain as a member of the board of directors. Zhang joined Shanda in Sep. 2005 as a financial controller. Prior to joining Shanda, he spent over ten years in several major accounting firms, most recently as a senior manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers' Audit and Business Advisory Division in Shanghai, China from 2002 to 2005.

ò Hengxin Technology, a manufacturer of radio frequency coaxial cables, announced that it is offering 84 million new shares in an IPO on the Singapore Exchange Mainboard. The Jiangsu province-based company hopes to raise S$18.5 million ($11.7 million) from the IPO. Of the 84 million shares offered, 5 million shares are available to the public for subscription while the remaining 79 million shares are for placement. The companyÆs products are sold to 24 of the 30 China Unicom branches, and 20 out of the 31 China Mobile subsidiaries, as well as major equipment manufacturers and provincial cable television networks in China. Other clients include China Telecom, China Netcom, Huawei Technologies, ZTE, Lucent Technology (China), Siemens (China), Shanghai Bell Samsung Mobile and local 3G manufacturers, such as Shanghai Datang Mobile. Hengxin posted a net profit for fiscal year in 2004 of Rmb27.3 million ($3.4 million) and Rmb45.3 million ($5.6 million) for the quarters from January to September last year, up from the Rmb20.2 million ($2.5 million) during the same period in 2004. Hengxin said it intends to use the net proceeds of approximately S$8 million ($5 million) for expansion of its manufacturing capacity and capabilities and approximately S$4 million (2.5 million) to expand its sales and marketing network. The company said it will use the balance for general working capital requirements after putting aside approximately S$3 million ($2 million) for product development. Genesis Capital is the issue manager, while UOB Kay Hian Private Limited is the underwriter and placement agent for the IPO.

ò Analysys International revealed that China's laptop PC shipments were 1 million units in the first quarter of 2006, a figure that represents a 2.9-percent decline compared with the previous quarter. In a recently released report by China Laptop Market Quarterly Tracker Q1 2006, the research firm indicated that laptop market value reached 8.2 billion ($1 billion), down 2.4 percent quarter over quarter. According to the report, in the first quarter, Lenovo continued to lead the laptop market with a market share of 33.4 percent in Mainland China, followed by Hewlett-Packard and Dell. HP's market share was 10.8 percent with Dell's market share showing a 9.2-percent decline, as the cost-effective advantage of its products went down. The report added that the domestic market for laptop PCs is developing rapidly. In the first quarter of 2006, the market share of family users increased to 25.9 percent of the total laptop market in China.

Information Technology
ò Sources indicate that China has become the destination for Indian IT businesses. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) disclosed its intention to set up another IT services facility in a joint venture with Microsoft and Chinese companies to be implemented in the next quarter. The company said preparations are being done now, with a deal that would see TCS holding 65 percent of the entity to be formed. The entity will cater to multinational companies in China and the region, including Korea and Japan. The new facility in Beijing's Zhongguancun Software Park will employ 1,000 engineers. The total workforce will be increased to 3,000 and 5,000 by 2010 when plans of a third development center materialize. Another company, Satyam Computers said it wants to increase its development centers in China from two to three, with its headcount rising from 300 to 5,000 in five years. Satyam said it has already hired engineers, most of them Chinese, for its facilities in Shanghai and Dalian. Infosys, another major Indian firm, announced its plans to invest US$65 million on two new software development centers, raising headcount from a mere 250 to 6,000 in five years. There are estimated to be 250,000 Chinese IT workers, many of whom are underemployed, compared with India's overworked 850,000.

ò According to statistics from Taiwan's Venture Capital Association, Taiwanese venture capital firms invested almost 28 per cent of their funds in the semiconductor industry in 2004, more than any other country in the world.

ò Yahoo Taiwan announced the launching of a music service that provides its only legitimate music download outlet. The launching follows the opening of its Yahoo Taiwan Music streaming service. With both streaming and downloads, Taiwan becomes Yahoo's third market worldwide for both services and the first non-English market. Yahoo Taiwan said it has some 320,000 songs in its download library, with the number expected to grow in the coming months. Downloadable songs will be priced at NT$30 ($0.9) with selected songs being priced at NT$25 ($0.7) for subscribers to the streaming service, depending on deals with music labels that own the rights to each song. By getting more users to download, install the player and sign up for its music service, Yahoo Taiwan said it hopes to convert registered members into paying customers. Because of licensing terms, Yahoo Taiwan's music service is not available outside of Taiwan, although using the services overseas was technically possible. Under licensing terms, the company is required to use IP blocking and other ways to prevent overseas users from accessing their service. The report mentioned that Yahoo Hong Kong has yet to launch a music service, but one similar to the Taiwan service could be launched in a year.

ò Motorola Corp. announced that it will end in-house production of IP STB (Internet-protocol set-top boxes) and will outsource production to contractors in Taiwan beginning next July. The outsourcing move is expected to bring in orders worth approximately NT$10 billion ($312.5 million) to domestic contract manufacturers such as Hon Hai Precision Industry, Zyxel Communications Corp., Zinwell Corp., and NuVision technology Inc. The company also said Motorola's Asia Wideband Research and Development Centre in Hsintien, Taipei County, northern Taiwan, will conduct research on FTTB (fiber to the building) equipment in cooperation with the government-funded Industrial Technology Research Institute. The Motorola centre currently procures FTTB modules from domestic IC design houses, including Mediatek Inc., Novatek Microelectronics Corp., and VIA Technologies Inc. Taiwan shipped $118 million worth of IP STBs in 2005. Motorola said it has seen annual sales reach $1 billion for wideband networking equipment such as IP STBs, cable modems, and FTTBs for the past several years.

Hong Kong

ò Hutchison Telecommunications International Ltd (HTIL) announced its plans to apply for a 3G-mobile license in Macau. The company said it is also aiming to begin a 3G-CDMA business in Vietnam this year. HTIL has nine emerging-markets mobile businesses, but only its operations in Israel and Hong Kong offer 3G services. The addition of Macau and Vietnam would expand its 3G markets to five, with Indonesia also launching the service by the second half. HTILÆs migration to 3G is seen as enhancing the Hutchison group's global 3G-presence, with HTIL's parent Hutchison Whampoa already running the business in eight countries. The Macau Special Administration Region has opened tendering for up to three 3G licenses in the first phase of the programme. Of the three, one would be based on the WCDMA standard and another on CDMA2000 1X EV-DO. The body said it plans to issue the licenses in October, with a fourth license to be issued within two years. In a separate development, SmarTone said it would also submit an application for a Macau license, with the company having conducted on-site trials with mainland equipment vendors such as Huawei and ZTE. The two firms already operate 2G-GSM services in Macau.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
ò The Broadcasting Authority said it gave the permission to TVB's pay-television operation, TVB Pay Vision, to deliver its service through PCCW's broadband network. TVB before ascribed its failure to draw in new users to insufficient network coverage. Now, it is looking to the alliance with PCCW as a way to bringing an audience of more than 500,000 Now Broadband TV subscribers. Analysts say this will serve as a real test of the attractiveness of its content. In return, PCCW will have a pay-off in the form of the HK$50 ($6) monthly service charge for each TVB package subscriber using its network. This means that if 100,000 users sign up for the platform, PCCW will earn revenue of HK$60 million ($7.7 million) a year. PCCW will also strengthen its content offering with exclusive TVB channels such as news and Canto-pop, helping it to close the gap with i-Cable, which is strong in sports and local news content. The new service is expected to be ready for launch by the middle of this month.
ò Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) announced that its year to March net profit posted a 27.4 percent rise to S$4.1 billion ($2.6 billion) compared with S$3.2 billion ($2 billion) the year before. The company ascribed this growth to strong contributions from most of its overseas operations. A top official also indicated that its regional mobile associates are the groupÆs growth engines, with their contributions rising by 32 percent to S$1.6 billion ($1 billion). SingTel said it expects those earnings to continue growing at double-digit rates. In a separate report, SingTel announced that its Asia-Pacific mobile customer base had gone beyond the 85-million mark by the end of March. Attributing the increase to a growth in India and Indonesia, SingTel said the figure indicated a 31-percent rise from March last year. SingTel said that Bharti, its Indian associate, posted a 78-percent rise in its mobile subscriber growth, with IndonesiaÆs Telkomsel registering a 51-percent rise in subscription. SingTel's wholly owned Australian subsidiary SingTel Optus reported a gain of 189,000 customers, a figure that boosted its mobile subscriber base to 6.4 million, representing a 10-percent rise from a year ago. With associate companies in Bangladesh, the Philippines and Thailand, SingTel said it has retained its dominant position in the Singapore market, with subscribers registering a 5.7 percent growth to 1.6 million, of which around 130,000 are users of 3G-mobile technology.

ò Telecom Asia said it has selected Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) as the "best emerging market carrier" for the third straight year. The award was given during the recent 2006 Telecom Asia Awards. The Philippine telco won in the emerging market category based on its financial performance, market leadership, innovation and corporate governance. Telecom Asia cited PLDT for the sharp turnaround of its business over the past three years and the significant growth in its profits and cash flow. PLDT was also nominated for best telecom carrier in Asia and its subsidiary Smart Communications Inc. was nominated for best mobile carrier in the region. Telecom Asia explained that the winners were chosen on their combined financial, market and technology strengths based on financial analysis and assessments of an 18-member judging panel.

ò Globe Telecom of the Philippines announced that it added a net 793,000 subscribers in the first quarter, as the company launched promotions aimed at expanding its market share. Globe saw first quarter results of 13.2 million mobile-phone subscribers, up from 12.4 million at the end of 2005, according to data from a statement issued by Singapore Telecommunications on its performance in the fiscal year ended March 31. A SingTel affiliate, GlobeÆs first-quarter subscriber growth marks the company's strongest performance in five quarters, and comes in at the same level as the net addition recorded in the fourth quarter of 2004.

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