Week in tech

A round-up of tech news from around the region.

Japan

Hardware

- Sony Corp. is preparing to bring to the consumer market a new type of touch panel that creates tactile sensations. These sensations range from that of clicking a button to that of writing on a pad of paper with a pencil. Sony will position this pseudo-tactile panel as a next-generation input device that can replace a keyboard or a touch panel. The company plans to use the panel for PDAs (personal digital assistants) and digital appliances, releasing the first consumer products sporting the new panel as early as year-end. The panel creates tactile sensations by exploiting the piezo effect, applying voltage to make a quartz material vibrate. Piezo-effect vibrations normally require voltages of around 300 volts, which the batteries of a portable digital device cannot supply. However, Sony EMCS has developed a low-voltage drive mechanism that can operate on just 10 volts.

- The Association of Super-Advanced Electronics Technologies (ASET) has developed a light-bending optical connector that can help shrink the size of the huge servers used by communications companies and Internet service providers by about 99%. ASET is an R&D organization set up by the Japanese government and a group of 50 or so private firms, including NEC Corp. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. The new optical connector bends the light signal at a right angle so the fiber itself need not be curved and thereby can be better compacted. The connector is made of glass, and the wave-guides that serve as the paths for the light signals are formed using a femtosecond laser. A single connector can accommodate 24 fibers. The light signals from the fibers enter straight into the wave-guides and are then bent at right angles by mirrors built into the connector.

Internet

- NTT Corp. said it developed technology that can transmit data via fiber-optic networks 10 times as fast as current technology. The development reflects NTT's efforts to tap the growing domestic broadband market for new revenue sources amid dwindling revenue in its mainstay fixed-line phone operations. The new technology will increase fiber-optic communications speeds to one gigabit a second, from around 100 megabits a second, according to NTT. The faster communication speed would mean a two-hour-long piece of video footage could be sent or received in 30 seconds, rather than around seven minutes using the speed available now.

Mobile / Wireless

- Sony said it would invest about ¥9 billion (US$76.5 million) to make a next-generation display panel, which should facilitate smaller, lighter digital cameras and mobile phones. The Japanese technology giant will start mass production of a new type of organic light emitting diode (ELED) display panels from next spring, under its new Super Top Emission trademark.

- NTT Corp. has developed a wireless communications technology that enables ultra-high-speed data transmission almost equivalent to that of fiber-optic networks. The technology offers a transmission speed of 80 megabits per second, seven times faster than outdoor wireless LAN services used to connect notebook personal computers with the Internet at railroad stations and airports. Conventional wireless communications technologies are vulnerable to interference when it rains, but the new technology is virtually invulnerable even to heavy rainfall. NTT plans to market the technology as part of its broadband campaign called Flets, which is run through NTT's two regional phone carriers. The new technology allows much faster throughput, plus it is usable within a radius of 700m from an electric-wave relay station. As a result, it is expected to enjoy substantial demand for use in existing buildings and provincial areas, where it is difficult to install fiber-optic networks.

Semiconductors

- Toshiba Corp. and SanDisk Corp. have developed a high-density NAND-type flash memory cell structure, which will enable memory chips to double storage capacity. Toshiba and SanDisk plan to introduce 2-gigabit and 4-gigabit memory products employing the new 90-nanometer process technology in the first quarter of 2004. Flash Vision LLC, a 50:50 joint venture between Toshiba and SanDisk, will manufacture these chips at its Yokkaichi plant in central Japan. Demand for NAND-type flash memory chips has been brisk thanks to surging sales of such devices as digital still cameras and camera-equipped mobile phones.

Korea

Information Technology

- Korea's exports of information-technology products rose 16.3 percent in May from a year earlier to US$4.3 billion, marking a rise for the 15th straight month, on the back of brisk sales of personal computers, notebook computers, and mobile handsets, according to the Ministry of Information and Communication. Furthermore, in the year to May, IT exports totaled US$20.75 billion, a 18.6 percent rise from the same period a year earlier. Imports of IT-related goods amounted to US$3.18 billion, meaning that Korea realized an IT trade surplus worth US$1.12 billion.

Mobile / Wireless

- Samsung Electronics Co. unveiled a new mobile handset that allows its owners to watch TV broadcasts in real time. The new handset, which is priced at about 600,000 won (US$500), will enable mobile phone users to watch TV programs aired by local broadcasting companies including KBS, MBC, SBS and EBS, the company said.

- Korean researchers have developed a high-performance chip that makes it possible to display three-dimensional game graphics on mobile handsets. The chip, when embedded in mobile handsets or personal digital assistants, displays dynamic and vivid game graphics that used to be restricted to high-end game platforms such as personal computers, Sony's PlayStation2 and Microsoft's X-Box. The technology has been completed after a five-year collaboration between researchers from the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and local chipmakers including Hynix Semiconductor Inc. and Innosign Inc.

- The Korean government has postponed its plan to allow local mobile carriers to launch a common wireless Internet platform called WIPI, or wireless Internet platform for interoperability, until next month so that appropriate countermeasures against spam can be enacted.

- KDDI Corp. has teamed up with Alps Electric Co., Kyocera Corp. and other firms to jointly develop a multi-use module that will enable digital cameras and other devices to exchange data wirelessly via its communications services. Sewon Telecom Co. and M2M Japan, which also develops such devices, are involved in the project as well. Sales of the module are to begin late this month. The partners anticipate various uses for the module. For example, when embedded in a game machine, it will enable users to play against each other.

China

Hardware

- Huawei Technologies and 3Com have asked an American judge to rule that products resulting from a joint venture between the two firms are not covered by a copyright infringement case brought against Huawei by Cisco Systems. Huawei also filed an amended motion asking for a ruling that its new products not be part of Cisco's lawsuit.

Semiconductors

- Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company signed contracts with Shanghai authorities to kick-start its US$898 million investment in China. The project involves the construction of a 200-millimetre wafer plant in Shanghai's Songjiang Science Park with a monthly capacity of 35,000 wafers using 0.25-micron technology.

Telecommunications

- China Netcom Group has taken a big step forward in its integration plans by acquiring Jitong Network Communications, a data and voice communications services provider. China Netcom said it would pay 481.9 million yuan (US$57.9 million) to acquire all of Jitong's state-owned shares. The purchase marks a key breakthrough in a long-delayed plan to integrate China Netcom Group, Jitong and China Netcom Corp laid down by the State Council more than a year ago. The move, which comes shortly after the Ministry of Information Industry (MII) ordered China Netcom to replace its former general manager with a vice-minister of the MII, takes the carrier a step closer to a listing. China Netcom is the only one of the mainland's four leading telecom operators yet to sell shares to the public.

Taiwan

Semiconductors

- Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company will become the first Asian company to join the Philadelphia Semiconductor Index on June 23rd. The Philadelphia index includes shares of 17 United States companies including Intel, the world's biggest chipmaker. TSMC's inclusion will prompt fund managers who track the index to lift holdings in shares of the company.

- A major shareholder of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company planned to issue American Depository Receipts to dispose of up to 445.5 million shares of the company's common shares. The Development Fund was TSMC's second-largest shareholder with an 8.9 per cent stake and the 445.5 million shares accounted for about a quarter of its total holding. The fund also disposed of some 260 million TSMC shares in the form of ADRs in February 2002.

Singapore / Malaysia / Indonesia

Telecommunications

- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rejected PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia's 2002 financial statements due to problems with the auditing process, which may result in the SEC delisting Telkom's shares in the U.S.  PT Telekomunikasi said it is unlikely to be able to resubmit the financial report by the SEC's mid-July deadline.

Hong Kong

Telecommunications

- Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. is suing KPN NV because the Dutch telecommunications company did not pay its share of a loan requested by the company's 3G mobile venture in Britain. In March, Hutchison 3G U.K., Hutchison Whampoa's 65%-owned British telecom unit, requested £1 billion (US$1.65 billion) in added financing from its shareholders, in a move designed to persuade banks to alter a key loan. Hutchison said it would provide £650 million (US$1,084.3 million), and Japan's NTT DoCoMo Inc., which owns 20% of the U.K. venture, agreed to advance £200 million (US$333.6 million). However KPN, which owns 15% of Hutchison 3G U.K., would not provide the £150 million (US$ 250.2 million) in funding sought by Hutchison 3G.

- PCCW Ltd. said Richard Li no longer controls the company. Three years ago Richard Li used PCCW to take over Hong Kong's telephone monopoly in what is still the biggest-ever takeover in Asia outside Japan. Li's 75%-owned Pacific Century Regional Developments Ltd. (PCRD) said it downgraded PCCW from unit to associated company, a move PCCW described as a step toward greater corporate accountability. When PCRD's stake in PCCW fell below a majority in the August 2000 takeover, it maintained control over PCCW by dominating the board. Under Hong Kong stock-exchange rules, control of the board amounts to control of the company, no matter what size the shareholding. However, in January the board decided to retire one-third of its 14 directors every year and make them stand for re-election. Then in May it established a three-party nominating committee to choose board members. Two of its members are non-executive directors and Mr. Li is the third. As a result of these moves, PCRD no longer controls PCCW's board, said PCCW spokeswoman Joan Wagner.

Mobile / Wireless

The Body Shop Hong Kong has implemented what is believed to be the city's first wireless cashiering system. It uses personal digital assistants from Hewlett-Packard and custom software developed by a local start-up. Shop assistants are equipped with Hewlett-Packard iPaq H3850 Pocket PCs fitted with bar ode scanners. Receipts are issued via a wireless connection to the nearest printer. The system accepts only cash payments. The Body Shop is working towards using the mobile system for payments by EPS or credit card.

A week in tech is brought to you by FinanceAsia, and IRG, Asia's boutique investment bank to the telecoms, media and tech sectors. More can be found at:

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