A week in tech, June 23 - 29

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A round-up of all the latest tech news.

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• Sanyo and Nokia said they have dropped talks to work together on a mobile joint venture, just four months after they announced the plan. After negotiations, Nokia Corp. and Sanyo Electric Co. stated that they have decided it would be better to pursue other options, the companies said in a joint statement. Japanese electronics maker Sanyo Electric said it would invest more than $350 million in its solar cell business over five years, aiming to cash in on the growing demand for renewable energy. Sanyo, the world's fourth-largest maker of solar cells behind Sharp, Germany's Q-Cells and Kyocera, aim to more than triple sales from the business to ¥180 billion ($1.6 billion) by the year to March 2011. Solar energy is one of the few promising units for Sanyo, which lost over ¥350 billion ($3 billion) over the past two years as it was unable to keep up with rivals in the consumer electronics market and suffered from earthquake damage to a chip plant in 2004. Japan's third-largest consumer electronics maker said it would invest ¥40 billion ($343.2 million) or more in its solar business by the financial year through March 2011, starting with an investment of ¥10 billion ($85.8 million) in 2007-2008.

• Softbank Corp. disclosed that new cell phones offered by the company's mobile arm would offer direct connections to the internet via a Yahoo portal site. The company said the move is based on their perception that users will not be happy with the small content of DoCoMo, I-more, or au Ezweb services coming from Softbank’s rival. For the company, mobile phones are no longer just for voice communication even as it revealed that the company would not yet expand to offer optical fiber services. Softbank said it is targeting to increase its sales of Vodafone's Japanese arm to about ¥2.5 trillion ($21.4 billion) and raise its number of subscribers to about 26 million by the end of this fiscal year.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming
• According to the country’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the value of Japan’s market for information and entertainment content, including newspapers, television programmes and video game software, exceeded ¥11 trillion ($94.3 billion) in 2005 for the first time ever. The report ascribed the growth to a 28.6 percent rise in the market for online content, even though it only accounted for 6.2 percent of the overall content market. In particular, the online video game software market posted a 56.6 percent growth to ¥91 billion ($781 million); with music software downloads, including those for mobile phones, also seeing a sharp rise of 21 percent to ¥186.8 billion ($1.6 billion). The source said that the market for online content will continue to expand, with free Internet based content distribution services having grown rapidly since 2005. The report indicated that at the end of March the country housed 23.3 million broadband users, including 5.5 million fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) users, 14.5 million xDSL subscribers, 3.4 million cable modem customers and 16,000 fixed-wireless access (FWA) connections.

• Game maker Konami Digital Entertainment, a top-tier mobile content provider, announced that the company has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Blue Label Interactive (BLI). Konami and BLI together plan to enter additional mobile entertainment ventures beyond gaming. Blue Label Interactive is a mobile application developer specialising in the creation and deployment of mobile software for the entertainment industry. Konami Corporation is a leading developer, publisher and manufacturer of digital entertainment properties, specializing in the home video game market. Konami Corporation is a publicly traded company based in Tokyo, Japan with subsidiary offices, Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc. in the US and Konami Digital Entertainment GmbH, Germany, and Konami Digital Entertainment Limited in Hong Kong, China.

• Matsushita Electric Industrial said it would launch its first digital SLR camera in Japan next month, a move that is expected to heighten the competition in the high-end segment of the camera market now dominated by Canon . Digital single lens reflex (SLR) cameras use interchangeable lenses and are generally more expensive and offer better performance than simple point-and-shoot compact models. Industry analysts say that electronic makers are keen to get into the SLR market because demand is growing rapidly and such cameras yield fatter profit margins than compact models, which are much easier to produce but whose prices are falling due to an influx of low-cost makers. Matsushita, the world's largest consumer electronics maker known for its Panasonic brand, said it would start selling its first digital SLR in Japan in July, after rival electronics maker Sony Corp. introduces its first SLR. Matsushita expects its digital SLR camera kit, which includes the body of the camera and a lens to sell for about ¥250,000 ($2,000), roughly double the price of Sony's product.


• Internet portals reported massive profits made through World Cup-related clip and banner ads. Daum Communications, Yahoo Korea, NHN and Naver reportedly earned a combined W10 billion ($10.4 million) in profits, at a minimum by selling ads just before the World Cup. Daum Communications said it has sold five ad packages – each worth W500 million ($522,000), and two related packages – each priced at W1.5 billion ($1.5 million). To go by this figure, Daum earned some W5.5 billion ($5.7 million) in total ad profits so far. The company has a licensing agreement with Infront Sports and Media AG, the official agency that relays World Cup events, and thus has a foothold into local online and mobile broadcast rights for all World Cup matches. Industry sources said Yahoo Korea also has earned several billion won in profits by selling ad packages priced between W50 million ($52,000) and W60 million ($62,000). Naver has only sold banner ads, allowing them to pop up on its World Cup-exclusive website.

· VSST, a mobile solution company, said that the company co-signed with Sponge Entertainment an agreement to start the mobile image service of South Korean popular stars in China. Both companies plan to provide the real-time mobile service of the daily life of South Korean Singer Jang, Woo-huk popular in China using real-time mobile streaming solution of VSST to China. VSST, possessing the solutions of real-time mobile streaming and gateway technology related to ubiquitous sensor network plans to launch into the domestic and overseas mobile service market with 'VR-110A' solution that can send MPEG4 movie and JPEG images at the same time.

· Industry observers say the intense competition for super slim mobile phones has rendered specifications of battery chargers used for mobile phones almost useless. Mobile phone manufacturers are now asking the government to change its policy, while the Telecommunications and Technology Association (TTA) is urging manufacturers to stop producing non-compliant products. Earlier, three wireless operators, SK Telecom, KTF and LG Telecom, and leading mobile phone companies like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics agreed to standardise terminals of battery chargers for a 24-pin type in April 2002. With technologies and designs evolving fast, however, handsets adopting other than the standard 24-pin type have hit the market. A wide range of MP3 players, DMB handsets and digital cameras has also spurred noncompliance. TTA has been issuing certificates for chargers adopting 24-pin terminals as a part of standardization drive.

· SK Telecom announced that it has a set up a strategic alliance with China Unicom, a move that industry observers say facilitates its entry into the Chinese market considered to be an excellent one in terms of quantity and quality. Under the deal, SK Telecom said it would buy convertible bonds worth about US$1 billion from China Unicom. SK Telecom said the move of the company was part of its plan to strengthen its competitive edge in the global marketplace. China Unicom said it would harness the deal to boost its 3G CDMA offerings. The Chinese company has some 34.2 million subscribers to its CDMA service compared to 99.7 million for GSM. The Korean company said it would add more investment in China if the Company gets a 3G-service license.
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