A week in tech

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A round-up of all the latest tech news.

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• 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.

• 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.

• 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 ¥16 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 ¥2 billion ($16.8 million) with the figure projected to climb to ¥8 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.

• 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.

• 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 ¥300 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
• 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.
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