A week in tech, June 2 - 9

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A round-up of all the latest tech news.

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• In a move that analysts see as a response to the KDDI-Google partnership, NTT DoCoMo disclosed that it may seek an alliance with online search engines. The move comes when more Japanese are going to the Internet via mobile phones. Given their alliances, DoCoMo and KDDI have to contend also with Softbank Corp, which has acquired the Japanese unit of Vodafone for $15 billion in May and is expected to go into auctions and stock trading using the mobile phone. Softbank’s capacity to provide competition to KDDI and DoCoMo is also enhanced by the fact that it controls Yahoo Japan. DoCoMo said it now offers mobile phones that function as credit cards and music players; a strategy that it claims will allow it to keep its 56-percent share of Japan’s 92 million subscribers. KDDI has about 28 percent of the market, with Vodafone holding about 17-percent market share.

• Hitachi disclosed that the company together with Toshiba and Renesas Technology will decide by the end of the month whether they will proceed with an earlier plan to jointly manufacture chips. The announcement is a response to an earlier release stating that the three companies are about to abandon a plan to jointly manufacture chips. The reason given was that future earnings from the project would be limited. The alliance among the three had Hitachi with 50.1-percent stake, Toshiba with 33.4-percent, and Renesas with 16.5-percent.


• With game portals being a relatively new business model in the North American market, leading South Korean game portals such as NHN, Nexon and CJ Internet are competing for a market share in the fast-growing market. Service providers are reportedly aiming for expansion into Europe and Latin America market. At the forefront of the market that is described as posting a 60-percent annual growth rate is NHN. The game portal said it has been in the U.S. for almost a year and it has invested on separate dates $2 million and another $10 million into the subsidiary. The company said there is another $10 million allocated for NHN USA, which aims at aggressively marketing card web board games and online first person shooting game "Special Force." Nexon disclosed it is set to launch game portal service in the U.S., with the company planning to unveil "Audition," a hit online dance game enjoying phenomenal success in Taiwan and China as well as in the home market. CJ Internet revealed it is also looking to an expansion into the North American market, propelled by success in the home market. Neowiz, meanwhile, reported its move to send an executive to the North American market to conduct research. It has already named one of the co-founders of company Lee Sang-gyu as head of Neowiz Japan.

• Investors in Gravity, one of Korea's largest online gaming companies, said they have taken the firm's management to court to force them to reveal financial documents. The minority shareholders have alleged that the new Japanese owners of the company may have licensed its most profitable game to a family-affiliated business at an unusually low price. Gravity operates the multiplayer online game Ragnarok Online, which claims millions of subscribers worldwide. The company was taken over by a consortium controlled by Japan's giant SoftBank Corporation last year. The issue reminds people of the time when Gravity founder and former chief executive Jung-Ryool Kim was accused to have siphoned off more than $9.1 million from the firm. The official resigned and sold his 49-percent stake in the company to the new owners for $380 million. The minority shareholders include the foreign-controlled Ramius Capital. There are more than 33 million Ragnarok accounts registered worldwide although it is not clear how many of these accounts are currently in use.

• Internet-game company YedangOnline said it has seen its shares surge this year, but many analysts say the stock price could rise much more if the company succeeds with plans to roll out several new games this year. Industry analysts say the stock of Yedang Online is undervalued compared with its South Korean peers. The game company said it is adding three games to its lineup: Pristontale 2, Laxe Lore and Shooro Online. The company claimed it already has had good results from Pristontale 1 and Audition, a popular dance game. Pristontale 2, the result of 10 billion won (US$10.5 million) in development spending, will have its official debut early next year, but YedangOnline said it expects to start receiving payments this year, which should prop up its second-half earnings. YedangOnline expects Prisontale 2 to garner 100,000 monthly concurrent users, a level that would bring in monthly sales of W3 billion ($3.1 million) to W4 billion.

• Hanbitsoft announced its decision to export the online game developed by Flagship Studio, ‘Hellgate: London’ to eight countries in the Southeast Asia region for a total of $10 million. The game will be distributed by Singapore's Infocomm Asia Holdings (IAH) in eight Southeast Asian countries excluding Taiwan. Hanbitsoft expects to receive a running royalty of 30 percent during the first three years of commercial service. Hanbitsoft also disclosed it is exporting its popular golf game, Pangya, to 32 European countries through France Telecom.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
• True Digital Entertainment, digital content subsidiary of Thailand-based True Corp, said it has linked up with Dragonfly of South Korea to introduce the South Korean developed “Special Force” game to the Thai market. Special Force has 12 million subscribers worldwide. The Thai firm said it expects to attract at least 5,000 subscribers for the game in Thailand per month with $1 million in monthly revenue.

• Samsung and LG are competing in the Indian mobile market, with Samsung Electronics having rolled out India's first wide screen CDMA phone, Wideo, after LG Electronics launched its new GSM phone in India. Samsung, in its release of Wideo, said it is valuing its association with Tata Indicom and looks to boosting Tata Indicom's handset portfolio. LG Electronics launched its feature packed GSM phone in India. The device is fitted with features that include a pre-installed English-to-English dictionary and a password-protected folder application called "data bank," which enables consumers to safely store confidential information on their phones.

• Pantech announced that it has supplied camera phones to Cingular Wireless, the largest wireless carrier in the US. The companies said the C300 model would be sold at retail shops in the US soon. The device is the Pantech-branded phone based on a Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) technology, the world's most-used wireless standard. Under the deal, Pantech will ship hundreds of thousands of its brand handsets annually. Pantech&Curitel unveiled a plan to provide 9 million units to the major market this year. Pantech expects shipments to the North American market to increase by more than 20 percent this year, as it taps into similar GSM deals in the region. In an earlier development, Pantech signed a CDMA deal to Helio and Disney Mobile of U.S. in May this year, with the company targeting to boost shipments directly to wireless operators to 70 percent of the total this year. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

• Nexon announced the launching of a “Web-to-Phone’’ service, which enables gamers to download mobile games directly from its game portal site. Under the offering, once a user chooses a mobile game on the web site, a text message is sent to the user’s mobile phone. Without undergoing complex process, the gamer can then download a game. The users have a choice of some 200 games, including Street Fighter II.

• Gameloft, a global mobile game company, announced its initiation of the service of ‘Brothers in Arms’ through SK Telecom. The game is a mobile release that Gameloft changed from a PC-only action arcade game that Ubisoft based on the popular mini-series drama 'Band of Brothers'. Whenever a mission finishes, users are rewarded a medal depending on the playing time and ability of executing military operations. The game also allows users to change operations with a variety of arms. Gameloft said it plans to break into the domestic 3D mobile game market with a 3D game 'Real Baseball 3D' following 'Real Soccer 2006 3D' and 'Brothers in Arms 3D'.

• SK Telecom, in its company report revealed that it is considering launching a new service to tap the fixed-line communications market. The report specifically mentioned the possibility of launching a discount mobile phone service aimed at fixed-line service users. If the plan does push through, the move of SKT would come after LG Telecom unveiled its "Gibun Zone" service in April, which allows people to use their mobile phones at home on the same rate as the existing fixed-line service provided by KT. As of April, South Korea had nearly 40 million mobile phone users, among which, KT said it has asked the Korea Communication Commission to ban Gibun Zone. SK Telecom holds 19.7 million subscribers, according to government sources.

• KT, South Korea’s largest telecom carrier and Internet service provider announced the launching of three solution units specialising in video, IDC, enterprise solutions, care, learning and space solutions. The company said the new business divisions are aimed at creating new moneymaking models by leveraging the company's network infrastructure. Video solutions target display services including TV installed in stores, outdoor advertising boards and advertising screens installed in subway stations. The company is also betting big on the new business model, which it expects to allow consumers to see menus or watch news and sport games at restaurants. For the IDC business, KT said it has added "utility" system hosting to the existing server and solution hosting service. The company’s existing "KT-MOS" security service has also expanded into the space solution business including building automation, fire fighting, and enterprise applications. The learning business unit has been transferred from the content to the solution business division. KT is reshuffling "Biz Mecca Platform" for a series of new services. KT said it is aiming for sales of W320 billion ($340 million) in the solution area this year.
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