A week in tech, June 16 - 22

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A round-up of all the latest tech news.

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• Intel disclosed that it is working with Microsoft and Tokyo-based BitWallet in a bid to boost use of Sony's FeliCa contactless IC card technology for internet transactions. BitWallet provides the EDY contactless payment system. The aim of the alliance is to increase up to three times the number of PCs fitted with FeliCa-reading functions and double the number of internet services compatible with the technology. The companies said they also are targeting doubling the number of online payments made using the technology within a year. Earlier, Intel said it had invested some ¥5 billion ($43.4 million) in BitWallet and indicated that it would jointly work with the Japanese firm on boosting use of the EDY electronic money system for Internet payments, which allows customers to pay for purchases by waving the card over a reader at the point of sale as well as by way of the Internet. Some 17 million EDY cards are in use, with the e-money service available at more than 31,000 retail shops and 1,400 e-commerce sites in Japan. In fiscal 2005, 110 million transactions were settled via the EDY services.

• Hitachi, Mizuho Corporate Bank, University of Tokyo and other Japanese business and academic institutions announced the setting up of an agreement to set up a consortium in July to develop a next-generation internet search engine. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry stated that it would support research and development for the project. The consortium is looking to commercialise an advanced Japanese-made search tool in three to five years. At present, thirty-eight companies and universities have declared their participation in the consortium--including Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., Sony Corp., Dentsu Inc. and Itochu Corp. Under the agreement, the consortium will focus on developing advanced search and analysis technologies to develop a search engine that can compete with US leaders Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc.

• NTT DoCoMo, Inc. (DoCoMo) and Research In Motion announced that DoCoMo will start marketing RIM's BlackBerry handheld devices to its corporate customers in autumn of 2006. Under the agreement, DoCoMo will provide the devices to further meet corporate users' needs for mobile business solutions. The BlackBerry handheld devices to be sold in Japan will operate on both W-CDMA (UMTS) and GSM/GPRS networks and will be functioning around the world for voice and packet (data) communications. The devices will have QWERTY keyboards, similar to those of PCs, for fast and easy thumb typing. In a separate development, NTT DoCoMo is facing a dilemma in finding a partner in its planned rollout of 3G in China, because the Ministry of Information Industry of China has not granted 3G licenses yet, a company official was quoted as having said. DoCoMo said it could decide only on the kind of strategic alliances it can set up with Chinese partners after it gets an idea of the kind of 3G technology standard the Chinese mobile telecom carriers will adopt. Industry observers said China Mobile, the largest mobile telecom carrier in China, would be the ideal partner of NTT DoCoMo.

• Hitachi announced its plans to launch full-scale wireless tag operations, aiming to cover about 16 percent share of the domestic market in the next four years. The market is valued at $3.5 billion. Hitachi said it is seeking to raise sales in its "traceability" business, including radio frequency identification (RFID) and IC tags, to ¥80 billion ($695 million) in the year to March 2011, against an estimated ¥5 billion ($43.4 million) in 2006-2007. To achieve this target, Hitachi will be deploying 125 different systems targeting specific industries and purposes. Hitachi said it looks to ¥9.7 trillion ($84.2 billion) in consolidated sales in the year to March 2007.

• US-based Spansion announced its plans to spend $1.2 billion to build a new flash memory production line in Japan, a move that will allow it to compete with larger rivals such as Samsung Electronics Co. The line, to be located in northern Japan, is expected to start commercial output of microchips with a circuitry width of 45-nanometers by mid-2008. Spansion said it may also make 65-nanometer chips at the new facility. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. Most of the world's advanced semiconductor factories currently produce chips with a circuitry width of 90 nanometers. Finer circuitry means the chip can be smaller while data can be processed faster, with the process able to cut production costs.

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