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NCI in set-top deal with NEC

Network Computer clinches another customer for its software for Internet set-top boxes, this time with the NEC-owned Big Globe service in Japan.

Network Computer Incorporated clinched another customer for its software for Internet set-top box devices, and, again, the deal takes place overseas.

Network Computer (NCI) inked a deal with NEC's Big Globe Internet service to supply software for devices that display Web pages on TV's.

Big Globe, an internet service owned by the Japanese conglomerate NEC, has about three million customers, NCI said, making it one of the highest-profile deals NCI has struck yet.

Like previous deals for NCI, Japanese consumers are the focus. Earlier this year, NCI snared four other Japanese telecommunication companies with a combined customer base of approximately 13 million Japanese households. NCI's hardware partnerships are also based largely in Japan.

The company continues to seek a deal in the U.S. that will validate the company's strategy.

Sources previously told CNET News.com that a deal is in the works with America Online to provide the online giant with technology for a new Internet set-top box.

AOL will use the technology to expand its services to television users through the launch of AOL TV, a service that would rival Microsoft's WebTV. A deal has yet to be formally announced, though, and NCI executives declined to comment on the subject.

Attempts to date to sell set-top boxes powered by NCI software in the U.S. have largely fallen flat. NCI, for its part, remains confident that its approach to selling software to companies is working. Competitor WebTV so far leads the domestic market in providing software that allows users to surf the Internet via a TV set-top box.

"[NEC Big Globe] is the No. 1 provider of ISP services in Japan, so for them to adopt [our technology] speaks well to the business model we've been going after in the last year," said David Limp, vice president of marketing for NCI. The company does claim NEC as an investor, along with Oracle and 3Com.

NEC will deploy the new service in 1999. NCI said that 20,000 units with its software have already shipped in Japan through previously announced partners. The set-top boxes will be supplied by Acer and Soltec and distributed through NEC to customers.