Japanese firms create multimedia system for cars

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TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp., Toshiba Corp. and Fujitsu Ltd. are developing a satellite broadcasting service for moving vehicles that will allow users to receive video programming, sound and data in their cars.

The automaker plans to set up the service with 30 channels of television programming by 2000, and can boost the system to accommodate 80 channels, the three said in a statement. The companies are aiming to enlist two million subscribers by 2003 and 10 million by 2010.

The three will form a satellite broadcasting company called Nihon Mobile Broadcasting Corp., which will be incorporated in May 1998 with an initial capital of $3.8 million. The capital is projected to rise to $305 million in 2002.

In Japan, most new cars come with an optional LCD monitor and navigation system. The monitors can receive normal terrestrial broadcasts when the car is stopped. Front-seat passengers cannot watch TV while the car is moving for safety reasons, but rear-seat monitors allow viewers to watch TV as they please.

The satellite broadcasting system will give Toyota a leg up on its rivals in the Japanese auto market because the service offers more channels, better reception and the signal will not fade out as the vehicle is in motion. The service will also allow viewers to access the Internet while in motion.

Vehicles only need an antenna the size of a pen to pick up the signal, and weather will not affect reception.

Toyota is already involved in the telecommunications business and holds a major share in mobile telephone company Nippon Idou Tsushin Co. and long distance carrier Teleway Japan Corp.

Copyright April 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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