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Japan

Hardware

  • Konica Minolta Holdings Inc. would start output at its new factory in Japan that makes high-tech film used in LCD panels by autumn 2010 due to a strong recovery in panel and TV demand. Konica Minolta had planned to begin production at the new plant in autumn 2009, but the company late last year decided to delay the start-up as the global downturn forced panel makers to cut output. Konica Minolta dominates the global market for triacetyl cellulose (TAC) film, which protects the polarisation plates used in LCD panels, with bigger rival Fujifilm Holdings Corp. Konica Minolta, which also competes with Canon and Ricoh in producing copiers and printers, plans to spend 18 billion yen (US$194 million) to build the new factory, which will be capable of making 50 million square metres of TAC film a year.

Telecommunications

  • NTT DoCoMo (DCM) president Ryuji Yamada said the Japanese operator is on track for launching its new Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile network in 2010, reports the Financial Times. The adoption of LTE will see DoCoMo's handsets become compatible with other operators' 3G networks for the first time since the 2001 launch of its FOMA service, which used a WCDMA standard that was slightly different to the one rolled out by the majority of the rest of the world. DoCoMo has learned a hard lesson from being the first operator in the world to launch 3G services. DoCoMo plans to launch LTE handsets in 2011 that are also compatible with its current 3G network, so customers can still access services if they're outside an LTE coverage area. DoCoMo will use its high-speed LTE network to offer mobile content services in a bid to drive new revenue in the saturated Japanese market.
  • Softbank Corp. (OTCPK:SFTBF), Japan’s third biggest mobile telecommunications provider, raised 30 billion yen (US$320 million) from the first BBB rated bonds sold to institutions in Japan by a non-utility borrower since Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s collapse in September. The Tokyo-based company, priced three-year, 4.72 percent notes to yield 4 percentage points more than the yen swap rate, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Softbank, rated the second-lowest investment grade of BBB by Japan Credit Rating Agency, becomes the first non-utility company with that rating to sell bonds to institutional investors in Japan for 10 months. Softbank will use money raised from the securities to repay debt, it said in a filing with Japan’s finance ministry today. The company sold 60 billion yen in 5.1 percent fixed-rate bonds to individual investors in May, Bloomberg data show.
  • Softbank casts its eyes on the Greater China Region and inked a strategic cooperation agreement with Shanghai Media Group (SMG) on June 29, 2009. Softbank Founder Masayoshi Son and SMG President Li Ruigang signed on the agreement. The two parties will jointly to develop new media digital content business. Softbank is reported to cooperate with Far Eastone Telecommunications Co., Ltd. in August to launch mobile phone cartoon services. Far Eastone is in talks with Softbank subsidiaries in an attempt to introduce Japan's well-known cartoon works into Taiwan as soon as possible.

Semiconductor

  • Japan's Ushio Inc. announced its subsidiary Ushio America Inc. has acquired a 49 percent stake in U.S. firm Necsel Intellectual Property Inc. Necsel has technology for low-cost mass production of visible-laser light sources, and Ushio plans to leverage this to boost its own competitiveness in the markets for light sources for data projectors and digital cinema display systems. Using the technology, Ushio will be able to broaden its lineup of light sources to include semiconductor lasers across the complete spectrum of visible wavelengths. The company plans to purchase the remaining 51 percent of Necsel over the next five years and turn the unit into a wholly owned subsidiary

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

  • Square Enix Holdings Co. (OTCPK:SQNXF) has shipped three million units of its "Dragon Quest IX" video game software in Japan since its release. In total, global shipments of the "Dragon Quest" series have surpassed 50 million units since the popular franchise debuted in 1986. Sales of the highly anticipated latest installment are going strong, too, with some 2.5 million units flying off the shelves in its first three days on the market -- beating the roughly 2.4 million of "Dragon Quest VIII," which was released in 2004. For the first time in the series, "Dragon Quest IX" runs on the Nintendo DS hand-held system. And through Wi-Fi wireless technology, up to four nearby gamers can play together.

Korea

Telecommunications

  • SK Telecom Co. (SKM) is considering bidding for Kazakhstan's Mobile Telecom-Service, as part of its recent efforts to seek business opportunities overseas. Kazakhtelecom, Kazakhstan's incumbent telecommunications operator, said in late June that it plans to sell its 51 percent stake in Mobile Telecom-Service and that it would accept letters of intent from potential bidders by and final bids by Aug. 31. Mobile Telecom-Service, Kazakhstan's smallest GSM operator, was launched in 2007 and provides services under the brand Neo with 920,000 subscribers.

Mobile/Wireless

  • Ericsson (ERIC) plans to invest US$1.5 billion in South Korea over the next five years. The company would set up a research centre in the Asian nation to develop environmentally friendly and fourth-generation wireless technologies. Ericsson also planned to increase the number of employees at its Korean unit to 1,000 from 80. The Korean government was determined to provide a level playing field for foreign businesses to compete with domestic rivals. The investment was expected to help boost Korea's competitiveness in the market for long-term evolution, or LTE, high-speed wireless technology, backed by Ericsson. AT&T and Verizon Communications are also choosing the standard. Verizon Wireless, the biggest U.S. mobile-telephone company, aims to begin offering a high-speed network in all U.S. regions by 2015 using LTE, which is scheduled to reach 30 markets by next year. LG Electronics, Asia's second-largest mobile-telephone maker, in December said it developed a faster wireless chip used in mobile telephones based on the technology.

Biotechnology

  • Samsung Electronics plans to invest about 500 billion won (US$389 million) in the biotech medicine business. Korea’s economy minister Lee Youn-ho said that Samsung, the world's top maker of memory chips and flat-screen TVs, would spend the amount over the next five years on the biosimilar business. Biosimilars are versions of biopharmaceuticals whose patents have expired. Samsung declined to confirm the size of the investment but said biosimilars presented a new growth opportunity for the technology giant. Lee signed a letter of intent with several domestic firms, including Samsung Electronics and LG Life Science, on their investment in a government biosimilar industry development initiative, with Korea Development Bank and a state-led fund already committed to providing financial support.

China

Internet

  • China's Ministry of Commerce (MOC) has not ruled against the proposed merger between Sina (SINA) and Focus Media (FMCN); documents for the merger have not yet been put on MOC records. Focus Media CEO Jason Jiang is "quite anxious" about the merger, and said recently that the MOC has continuously asked for more documentation. The companies first submitted an application for their merger in late December 2008.
  • As of the end of 2008, China saw a netizen base of 298 million, and an Internet penetration rate of 22.6 percent, outracing the global average level of 21.9 percent.

Mobile/Wireless

  • A total of 13.21 million mobile phones were sold in China in May 2009, up 9.6 percent from the previous month. The number of GSM mobile phones sold in May increased by 12.5 percent month-on-month to 11.06 million units, while only 2.15 million CDMA handsets, which included 39,800 3G CDMA 1xEVDO handsets, were sold in May, down 3.4 percent from April. The dip in CDMA mobile phone sales is the result of China Telecom's shift in focus from 2G to 3G. In addition, both China Mobile and China Unicom implemented subsidies within their 3G service plans in 2009 to attract more users. Five foreign brands, Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and LG, accounted for a 65.6 percent share of China's mobile phone market in May. Nokia had the largest market share of 31.9 percent last month. Domestic mobile phone manufacturer ZTE was the sixth-largest brand in May with a 3.8 percent market share.
  • Z-Obee Holdings, which provides design services for mobile-telephone manufacturers on the mainland, has launched its own handset brand to meet the country's growing demand for stylish wireless devices. The Singapore-listed company's new "Vim" brand for the mainland mobile-telephone market will cater to price-conscious consumers keen on using fashionable, easy-to-operate handsets. The firm's production road map includes launching a new model every 45 days, which would enable it to introduce at least eight models in Hong Kong and on the mainland each year. The initial batch of Vim handsets being introduced on the mainland includes a his and hers model designed for couples that has a text message authentication function. This allows text correspondence between the pair to be decoded with a specific password for privacy. Each Vim handset has a voice diary function, allowing users to record appointments on the phone and be automatically reminded by the device at the designated time.

Telecommunications

  • China Mobile Ltd. (CHL) will invest 70 billion yuan (US$10.2 billion) in building and upgrading its telecommunications networks, and promoting the use of its 3G services in the country's vast rural areas over the next three years. The ministry will help it promote the adoption of 3G-enabled applications in rural areas.
  • China's three telecoms carriers, China Mobile, China Unicom (CHU) and China Telecom (CHA), injected more than 100 million yuan (US$14.6 million) in online advertising for two consecutive months of May and June. Their online ads expenses amounted to 198 billion yuan in May, when it welcomed the World Telecommunications Day on May 17, and China Unicom started trial operation of WCDMA. China Unicom's online ads input reached 78.79 million yuan on that month. In the same period, the carriers paid large amount of money in TV advertising as well, shouldering into prime time of CCTV, China's leading television station. Their expenses on online advertising fell, but still stayed above 100 million yuan to 115 million.
  • ZTE Corp. (OTCPK:ZTCOF) has captured 34 percent of the latest 8.6 billion yuan (US$1.3 billion) 3G network expansion tender by China Mobile Communications Corp. Huawei Technologies won 22 percent while partner Nokia Siemens Networks claimed 7 percent. Datang Mobile Communications Equipment and domestic partner FibreHome Technologies ranked third with a 21 percent share. The rest went to China Putian, New Postcom and Ericsson, each winning five to six percent. ZTE and Huawei were helped by their offers of a free upgrade in China Mobile's existing TD-SCDMA equipment, which was installed in the previous two phases of network construction. Industry watchers said China Mobile's preference for supporting domestic vendors and homegrown technologies also enabled ZTE, Huawei and Datang to take a bigger share. As a result, foreign vendors' share was shrinking. The latest tender was the third by China Mobile for a network covering 200 cities or 70 percent of the areas on the mainland. The original contract size was about 8.6 billion yuan for the installation of 39,000 base stations.
  • China Unicom aims to go up against market leader China Mobile for high-end users as early as October, thanks to its exclusive sales agreement for the popular Apple (AAPL) iPhone handset. Unicom and Apple are expected to announce a schedule for the iPhone's introduction soon. Meanwhile, industry sources have confirmed that Apple has already submitted the device to a Ministry of Industry and Information Technology laboratory for official approval. Unicom and Apple could not be reached for comment on the deal, but telecommunications sources said Unicom would launch the handset in the fourth quarter when its 3G mobile network will cover 284 cities across the country, up from 55 cities at the end of last month. The full commercial launch of its 3G network plus the exclusive deal with iPhone is expected to put pressure on China Mobile to defend its high-end users.

Hardware

  • Greater China is expected to see an almost fourfold increase in demand this year for mini-notebooks, commonly known as netbooks, as computer makers aggressively market the low-cost devices amid the economic downturn. That growth spurt is likely to boost sales for the market's leading notebook personal computer suppliers - including mainland Lenovo Group (OTCPK:LNVGY), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Dell (DELL), Toshiba (OTCPK:TOSBF), Acer and AsusTek Computer (OTC:AKCPF) and operators of high-speed 3G mobile networks. Netbook shipments on the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan are forecast to hit 3.9 million units, up nearly 260 percent from 1.1 million units last year. The market research firm said total industry shipments would reach nearly 33 million units, up from its earlier estimate of 27 million units. That would result in a global netbook penetration of about 20 percent and flat year-on-year demand for pricier, full-featured laptops. Many buyers were adjusting their discretionary spending and were buying netbooks as lower-priced alternatives to traditional laptops. Netbooks are smaller than typical laptops, carry few software applications and are mainly used for wireless internet access.
  • Lenovo Group plans to expand its sales network coverage from more than 100 Indian cities to more than 300 within 2009. The company is currently restructuring to divide its global business into mature and emerging markets. Lenovo previously will open 30 retail locations in India to bring its store total to 150 and expand its service centers from 130 to 250.
  • Shenzhen-based Coship Electronics Co., Ltd. has won an order worth US$21 million from EMB, an old customer in South America to supply digital TV set-top boxes. The order from EMB represents about 6.79 percent of Coship's total operating revenue in the entire 2008 and is the first overseas contract that Coship makes public this year. In November 2008, Coship got a set-top box order valued at US$12.21 million from the South American company. Coship had sold set-top boxes worth 120 million yuan (US$17.5 million) to EMB as of June 30, 2009, eight months after it secured the first order from the latter. The Shenzhen company, engaged in the production and sales of digital TV equipment and electronics, saw its digital TV set-top box software and hardware sales revenue account for 93.94 percent, 96.83 percent, and 95.94 percent of its revenue from major business in 2003, 2004, and 2005, respectively.
  • TCL Corp. said that its net profit may plunge 80 percent from a year earlier to 85 million yuan (US$12.4 million) during the first half of this year. TCL Communication Technology Holdings Ltd, one of TCL's subsidiaries, saw sales of handsets and accessories slide 12.32 percent year on year to 1.02 million units last month, while its first-half sales declined 24.69 percent from a year earlier to 5.06 million units. TCL Multimedia Technology Holdings Ltd, another subsidiary of TCL Corp, sold 616,898 LCD TVs in June, up 60.3 percent from a year earlier, and 342,353 CRT TVs, down 56.1 percent year on year. TCL sold more than 2.31 million LCD TVs in the first five months of this year, representing a year-on-year increase of 103.7 percent. The sales volume of LCD TVs in the first five months accounts for nearly 60 percent of the company's sales in 2008.

Alternative Energy

  • Suntech Power Holdings (STP) plans to invest 30 billion yuan (US$4.4 billion) in the four projects with a combined capacity of 1.8GW that it signed up to in recent weeks. The money represents just the initial investment. China's long term plan for the PV industry is 70 percent of projects will be on-grid and 25 percent building integrated PV.
  • LDK Solar Co. (LDK) has purchased a 70 percent stake in Italian systems integrator Solar Green Technology for an undisclosed sum. The move is expected to enhance LDK Solar's presence in the Italian photovoltaic sector. In addition, the deal will help Solar Green Technology grow further through its partnership with LDK Solar for several projects in Italy and Europe.
  • ReneSola Ltd. (SOL) has successfully commenced trial production on the first batch of polysilicon from Phase 1 of its two-phase, 3,000 metric ton annualized capacity polysilicon manufacturing facility located in China's Sichuan province. ReneSola's two-phase, 3,000 MT annualized capacity polysilicon manufacturing facility utilizes the Siemens process and a closed loop system to produce polysilicon. Phase 2 of the facility, representing approximately 1,500 MT annualized capacity, is scheduled to reach mechanical completion in September 2009.
Source: Asian Tech Stock Weekly Summary (July 13 - 19)