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IRG Technology, Media and Telecommunications Weekly Market Review (Week of 7 – 13 Feb 2011)

Mobile/ Wireless
         Domestic shipments of cellular phones and PHS (personal handyphone system) handsets in Japan grew 6.3 percent to 33.27 million units in 2010, the first uptick in three years. Shipments are still off 36 percent from the 2003 peak, according to Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association data released. But the downward trend in cell phone shipments, ongoing since 2008, has come to a halt. A key factor behind this is surging demand for smartphones. Yet shipments of conventional cell phones are sagging amid the popularity of smartphones. Japan's smartphone market is dominated by popular overseas models, such as Apple Inc.'s iPhone and Samsung Electronics Co.'s Galaxy S. Sharp Corp. and Fujitsu Toshiba Mobile Communications Ltd. aim to claw back lost ground with smartphones featuring e-money and other functions.
         Japan ended January with a total of 117.58 million mobile users, after the operators jointly added 523,100 new customers in the month. Softbank again led in subscriber additions as it gained 240,600 new customers, bringing its total customer base to 24.64 million, figures from the Telecommunications Carrier Association (TCA) show. NTT Docomo added 134,000 new customers in January to reach a total of 57.34 million and Emobile gained 81,500 new subscribers in the month to bring its total to 3 million subscribers. KDDI attracted 67,000 new customers and ended January with 32.59 million subscribers in total. Furthermore, UQ Communications gained 75,900 new customers in the month to bring its total to 600,300. Willcom shed 400 customers, which brings the company's total to 3.647 million.
         Softbank has recently raised its profit forecast by 20 percent on the back of iPhone demand. The company had surged ARPU to 4,310 yen (US$52) in the 9 months ending in December, due to increased data traffic from iPhone users. Softbank had added 925,700 mobile subscribers in the December quarter, a large surge over rival Docomo which gained 315,400 customers over the same period. Similarly, Korea Telecom had US$94.3 million in profit for Q4 last year, on the back of brisk iPhone sales. Softbank and Korea Telecom could be viewed as classic examples of how the iPhone has helped surge an operator’s bottom line.
         eAccess grew its consolidated nine-month revenues 109 percent to 131.87 billion yen (US$1.6 billion) driven by its mobile unit Emobile. The mobile business generated revenues of 105.32 billion yen (US$1.3 billion), the network business had revenues of 30.50 billion yen (US$365 million), and the device business generated revenues of 4.32 billion yen (US$52 million). The company had a net income of 4.77 billion yen (US$57 million) with EBITDA of 40.32 billion yen (US$483 million). Emobile had a net income of 640 million yen (US$7.7 million) versus a loss of 13.47 billion yen (US$161 million). The company ended the period with 4.95 million customers, comprising 2.02 million ADSL subscribers and 2.92 million mobile subscribers.
         NTT had flat operating revenues for the nine months ended 31 December 2010 while net income surged almost 10 percent. Operating revenues were 7.54 trillion yen (US$90 billion), up 0.2 percent. Operating income surged 12.4 percent to 1.07 trillion yen (US$13 billion) as operating expenses declined 1.5 percent in the period. NTT had a net income of JPY 458.3 billion yen (US$6 billion). For the full year, NTT generated revenues of 10.14 trillion yen (US$122 billion), an operating income of 1.18 trillion yen (US$14 billion), and a net income of 500 billion yen (US$6 billion). NTT added 484,000 customers for its fiber optic service called Flets Hikari in the three month-period, to bring its total to 14.72 million. The company also had 11.64 million Hikari Denwa customers, after it added 537,000 new customers in the quarter to the optical IP telephone service.
         Internet Initiative Japan (IIJ) saw its net income surge as revenues grew 18 percent in the nine months ended 31 December 2010. Revenues went up 18 percent to 56.80 billion yen (US$681 million), while operating income was 2.43 billion yen (US$29 million). Net income attributable to IIJ was 2 billion yen (US$24 million). Revenues are forecast to come in at 84.50 billion yen (US$1.01 Billion), operating income at 4.80 billion yen (US$58 million), and net income at 3 billion yen (US$36 million).
         KT Corp. reached a deal to acquire 20 percent of BC Card from Woori Bank as part of efforts to surge its telecom-finance convergence business. The deal includes an option allowing Woori Bank, a unit of Woori Finance Holdings Co., to buy back part of the 20 percent stake if KT ventures into the credit card business on its own in the future. KT is also in talks to acquire additional stakes in BC Card held by private equity fund Vogo Fund, Shinhan Card and Busan Bank. A Woori Bank spokesman also said the deal with KT is virtually done and the deal will likely be approved at its board meeting.
         South Korea has been named the top country by government planning on broadband development in a new comparison of 16 nations' approaches. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has published its first-ever Government Broadband Index, which aims rank 16 countries based on government approaches to broadband, not penetration or speed. Each country was ranked based on their respective plans' target speeds, rollout timeframes and associated cost and regulatory initiatives. South Korea achieved the highest score with 4.4 percent, followed closely behind by Japan and Singapore. Australia, despite having the most high-profile broadband plan in its NBN project, ranks only 9th on the list, just above neighboring New Zealand. The report says Australia was given this ranking because its plan will see the government spend 7.6 percent of annual government budgets on the rollout. South Korea will spend less than 1 percent of its budgets on its own plan, and intends to fill the gap by encouraging private sector investments.
         According to the Bank of Korea, the use of Internet banking in South Korea surged 27 percent last year from a year earlier as more people conducted financial transactions online for convenience. Online banking transactions reached 33.7 million per day on average in 2010. The data is based on users checking financial records, transferring funds or taking out loans via the Internet. The total value of Internet banking transactions came to 29.7 trillion won (US$26.9 billion) per day, up 16.6 percent from the previous year, it added. The number of Internet banking subscribers registered with 19 local financial firms climbed 12.6 percent on-year to 66.7 million as of the end of last year. The majority of transactions were conducted via computers, but the weight of mobile banking, or banking services accessed via wireless handsets, has been on the surge. Transactions based on mobile banking accounted for 8.4 percent out of the use of Internet banking, up from 6.5 percent in 2009.
         Enswers Inc. will acquire a Silicon Valley-based online company, Soompi Media LLC, to create a U.S.-based Web portal for Korean pop culture and news. Enswers will introduce this month a revamped service of powered by its own video search technology in a bid to bring Korean dramas, music, movies and news to audiences outside the country. Soompi is among the largest online Korean pop culture communities in English that gained ground on the back of "Hallyu," or the Korean Wave, drawing about 5 million monthly visitors from some 150 countries around the world. The Korean Wave was fueled by the huge popularity of Korean soap operas, pop music and movies in Asian countries, but local online companies' efforts to deliver content to global audiences were hamstrung by South Korea's Internet regulations that required visitors to identify their real name and residential numbers.
         China's mobile phone user base grew to 859 million in 2010, adding by 111.79 million since 2009, while its fixed-line users decreased 19.35 million annually to 294.38 million, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said. The country’s broadband users hit 126.34 million by the end of 2010, up by 22.36 million since last year. The country's telecommunications revenues reached 958.05 billion yuan (US$145.3 billion) in 2010, up 7.65 percent year-on-year.
         ZTE Corp. will surge its investment in hedging products such as forwards this year to counter pressures from a rising yuan and fluctuations in other currencies' exchange rates, ZTE Chief Financial Officer Wei Zaisheng said. The remarks come as Chinese exporters face increasing margin pressures from a rising yuan and as economists see the Chinese currency to continue appreciating. China's focus on tamping down inflation could lead to a faster yuan surge, which will place pressure on ZTE's prices overseas. ZTE's hedging last year totaled 40 percent of its non-yuan revenue and this year it will expand that proportion slightly. Revenue in foreign currencies accounted for roughly half of ZTE's total revenue last year, and that proportion is likely to stay about the same or surge this year. ZTE estimates its 2010 operating revenue surged 17 percent to CNY70.33 billion (US$10.7 billion). The company will issue audited figures in March.
Media, Entertainment and Gaming
·          A former Tencent Interactive Entertainment top executive has joined The9, the latter company's Vice President Shen Guoding said. Qian Geng will serve as The9's Vice GM of mobile internet application planning and development. Prior to the appointment, The9 recruited several senior executives with mobile internet-related experience from companies including Tencent and NetEase, Shen said. The9 said that it is developing a new MMORPG using 3D game engine provider Trinigy's Vision Game engine.
      Lenovo has seen its mobile app store clock up 3.3 million downloads since the store opened in September last year. The app store averages 25,000 download a day. The downloads have been surged by Lenovo's smartphone, LePhone. Lenovo currently offers 1,852 apps for download.