NEC goes with Network Computer for set-top Internet service

The Oracle-affiliated Network Computer (NCI)might not have done much to brag about at home in the US, but Japan is a different matter. Electronics company NEC - owner of Big Globe, one of Japan's biggest ISPs - was expected to announce overnight that it plans to use software from NCI to offer a television-based Internet access service in Japan. PCs have achieved relatively low penetration in Japan, and companies like NEC hope to attract new users by offering services via smartcard-enabled set-top boxes, which connect to standard television sets.

The Oracle-affiliated Network Computer Inc. (NCI)might not have done much to brag about at home in the US, but Japan is a different matter. Japan's NEC was expected to announce overnight that it plans to use software from NCI to offer a television-based Internet access service in Japan.

NEC's Big Globe is one of Japan's largest ISPs, and will become the latest service provider in Japan to use NCI software. The Japanese firm plans to launch the television-based service in 1999, according to NCI.

PCs have achieved relatively low penetration rates in Japan, and companies like NEC hope to attract new users by offering services via set-top boxes, which connect to standard television sets and allow users to search the Web, check e-mail and use other Internet services like home banking.

"Offering alternative devices to the majority of non-PC users in Japan represents a tremendous opportunity for NEC," Mitchell Kertzman, NCI's recently appointed president and CEO, said in a statement. Kertzman was previously co-chief executive officer and chairman of database and tools company Sybase Inc.

It was not immediately clear who will manufacture the set-top boxes nor how they will be distributed.

NEC will use smart cards to help it forge relationships with content providers, by setting the smart card to a given home page when the user logs on to the network. Customers will also be able to roam to other set-top boxes within an existing service provider's network to access their personal information and applications, NCI said.

NCI's TV Navigator is an Internet-based platform that allows televisions and other so-called "information appliances" to receive Internet services like news and e-mail. NCI Connect allows service providers to manage and administer information appliances in the network.

Other service providers and cable companies in Japan that have already licensed NCI's technology include telecommunications firm DDI; DTI, an Internet service provider and subsidiary of Mitsubishi Electric Corp.; ICC, an interactive cable company and an affiliate of Marubeni Corp.; and Crossbeam, an interactive cable company and an affiliate of Sumitomo Corp.

NEC, based in Tokyo, can be reached at +81-3-3798-6511 or http://www.nec.co.jp/. NCI is based in Redwood Shores, California, and can be reached at +1-650-631-4600 or on the World Wide Web at http://www.nc.com/.

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