A week in tech, July 13 - July 20

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A round-up of all the latest tech news.

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Information Technology
• A U.N.-backed forum is set to bring together policymakers and IT experts to discussion how to best use technology to battle poverty and unemployment. The forum, which is called the Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies and Development, will look to involve governments, businesses, and civic groups to boost the use of information technology in reaching development targets. The meeting will include companies such as US-based network equipment maker Cisco and Nokia, the world’s largest maker of cell phones.


• A panel of the country’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications proposed that two major mobile phone carriers, NTT DoCoMo Inc and KDDI Corp, open their networks to newcomers to ensure fair competition. The panel also suggested that Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.'s next-generation telecommunications network should be opened to other carriers. According to the panel's proposals, NTT, DoCoMo and KDDI, each of which controls more than 25% of Japan's mobile phone market, should be obliged to lease their communications networks to other carriers if there are empty frequency bands available.

• NTT DoCoMo Inc. and Aquafairy Co. has announced a partnership for the joint development of a micro fuel cell for 3G FOMA handsets. This follows their joint development of a polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEFC) that has proven effective in a prototype recharger. The fuel cell is the smallest in the world with power output of 2 watts. The recharger combines DoCoMo’s recharger technology with Aquafairy’s thin-film, power-unit technology and ability to produce hydrogen from water. The simple hydrogen-producing mechanism and power units make the recharger less than one-fourth the size, but more than twice as powerful as the methanol fuel cell prototype. The easily portable recharger can charge a handset several times in approximately the same time as an AC adapter. Demands for power consumption have risen with new FOMA services and features. To meet these demands, DoCoMo has worked on increasing the capacity of lithium-ion batteries, the most common battery in handsets today, and has developed a direct methanol fuel cell recharger.

• NEC Corporation announced that it has succeeded in developing new magnetoresistive random access memory (MRAM) cell technology suitable for high speed memory macro embedded in next generation system LSIs (Latent Semantic Indexing). The new cell technology realises value added, non-volatile MRAM macros that can be substituted for SRAM (static random access memory) macros embedded in system LSIs.


• Daum Communications announced that its US subsidiary Lycos has signed a deal to sell its financial service and IT news business unit Wired.com to US-based CondeNet for US$250 million in order to focus on its core business, such as multimedia content services. Analysts said the move may lead to the streamlining of the Internet business in the US or a sale of Lycos. Daum said that it had completed the reshuffling of overseas business units when it sold Quote.com, but the Wired News sale came in less than six months. The company said that it would boost its efforts to provide multimedia services such as Internet telephony through Lycos. Last month, Lycos unveiled a test version of on-demand multimedia services through which subscribers can view TV programmes and movies. Lycos has nine service brands in the US including Tripod, Angel Fire, and Planet.

• KT Corporation, South Korea's largest fixed-line and broadband carrier, said it has called for the government to speed up introducing Internet Protocol Television (IPTV), claiming that a one-year delay would cost the nation about W1 trillion ($1 billion). Observers note that the country has been slow to adopt the cutting-edge services largely due to the protests and lobbying efforts from terrestrial TV and cable service providers, who fear their market share may decline and profits shrink. KT and other telecom operators with solid IP infrastructure want to use their facilities to expand their service coverage and broaden income bases. Korea is now expected to allow operators to launch IPTV as early as in 2007, and KT plans to invest W300 billion ($319 million) into IPTV infrastructure this year for a faster service launch.

• Korea will join the mobile auctions market with the launch of a mobile version of Internet Auction, the country’s top online auction platform. The site is a wholly-owned unit of eBay, which entered into a partnership with SK Telecom to offer the auction-on-the-move service. After proving the viability of mobile auctions with SK Telecom, Internet Auction disclosed it will seek to expand its business to other wireless operators. SK Telecom, with a pool of some 20 million customers, is the industry leader in the country’s wireless telephony market, ahead of players like KTF and LG Telecom. Experts project that the auction will work well on the mobile Internet because of the time-sensitive nature of the service.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
• A study made by San Francisco-based Pearl Research reveals that 79% of all South Korean households own a computer, and 12 million out of 15 million households utilise broadband. There are more than 20,000 Internet cafes in the country, the report said. The study predicts that the online PC games market will be valued at over $1.2 billion this year, driven by casual, easily accessible games that can be played in less than 10 minutes. The research firm says that more than 30% of the online games market is made up of casual games, which attract females above the age of 30. As for the console and handheld market, Pearl believes that online game play, “culturally relevant and localised software,” increased market investment and next generation consoles will drive the growth of this $160 million segment. The study indicated that, like in many other regions, mobile gaming is on the upswing in South Korea, where the market is expected to exceed $275 million this year. South Korea is home to some notable game companies, including NCsoft and Phantagram, with major players Nintendo and Activision recently setting up shop in the region.

• LG Telecom, the country’s No. 3 mobile carrier, is expected to lose its 3G license after a 20-member advisory panel at the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) asked the information ministry to rescind the license. The MIC plans to make a final judgment on the issue soon and it’s projected to be in accordance with the recommendations of the panel, which is composed of top telecom and law experts. The resolution came as LG Telecom had failed to comply with its commitment to start 3G services in the 2-gigahertz bandwidth by the end of last month. LG Telecom admitted that it was unable to fulfill its promise even as it announced its plans to upgrade its current 1.8GHz network. It cited the technological trends in the global wireless market as a reason for not investing in the 2GHz bandwidth. LG Telecom got the 3G license in 2001 for W1.1 trillion won ($1.1 billion), but has so far paid only W220 billion ($230 million).

• Samsung Electronics Co. posted an 11% decline in its second-quarter net profit, which it attributed to slack demand for its mobile phones. However, the company said its future earnings would be boosted by strong sales of its latest models. Samsung reported a profit of W1.5 trillion ($1.5 billion) on sales of W14.1 trillion ($14.7 billion) during the three months ended June 30. Sales were up 3.8% from a year earlier. It was the first time in three quarters that profits declined. Samsung, which ranks third worldwide in mobile phones, said handset sales declined 4% from the same quarter last year to W4 trillion ($4.1 billion) and fell 8% from the previous quarter. In a related development, Samsung announced that it’s working with Japan’s Sony Corp. on the expansion of LCD production in a joint venture in South Korea.

• LG.Philips LCD, the world's second-largest maker of LCDs, reported a record loss of W322 billion ($336.6 million), compared with a profit of W41 billion ($42.8 million) a year earlier. Sales, including subsidiaries overseas, climbed to W2.3 trillion ($2.4 billion), while its operating loss hit W372 billion ($389 million). LG.Philips said it plans to invest about W3 trillion ($3.1 billion) this year, which slashes its earlier budget of W4.2 trillion ($4.3 billion). The company has earlier announced it will reduce production at its two newest P6 and P7 factories, but predicts its third-quarter shipments will grow more than 25% from the second quarter. Firms had expected the World Cup to boost profit but analysts believe the impact from the mega tournament has been over-estimated.
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