Friday, April 18, 2014

Design your own phone: the next big development in smart devices?

Back in January I posted (read it here) on the challenge facing Samsung Electronics and Korea's other smartphone manufacturers because of technology changes and China's manufacturing prowess.  Now that Google's Project Ara is up and running, I personally think that modular, "design your own" smartphones possibly represent the next big change in smart devices.
The new phones are certainly going to be price competitive.  As reported by The Chosun Ilbo, the basic kit developed under Project Ara will cost only about U.S. $50.  The basic idea behind Project Ara is that users will first select an endoskeleton frame, provided by Google, and can then choose their own modules for screen, memory, camera and the other components of the phone. (click on the accompanying graphic to see a full size version)  With the rapid spread of 3-d printers, it is not at all far fetched to assume that consumers will soon be printing some of the components themselves from downloaded software instructions for the printer.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Smart mobile devices everywhere: the implications

Smartphones and tablets already dominate the mobile scene in South Korea, and their use is also spreading rapidly in developing nations, including two of the largest, China and India. What are the implications of this rapid spread?
For South Korea, as shown in the first accompanying graphic (click to see a full size version), it means a saturated market at home and increasing competition from smartphone manufacturers in other countries, including China. As shown by the grey shaded area of the graphic, over half of Korea's mobile-related exports near the end of 2013 consisted of smartphones and only 2 percent were the feature phones that dominated the late 1990s through the first decade of the new millenium.
As shown in the second graphic, from a post on the Telecom Circle blog, by later this year 85 percent of total mobile units shipped in China will be smartphones, and India is expected to follow that trend within a very few years.
Clearly smart devices are spreading around the world, including its developing countries, faster than anyone anticipated.  However, this leads to some difficult questions about what the impact of this spread will be.  What impact will it have on the digital divide, within countries and among nations?  How will network designers and operators handle the flood of data generated in part by these devices?  And the list goes on.  We live in interesting times.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Games and broadband development in China and Korea

A fascinating report yesterday out of China indicating that "China's fast growing online gaming industry outpaces internet bandwidth provisions."  As a quick review of earlier posts on this blog shows, the historical comparison with South Korea's experience is unavoidable.  Starting in 1998, the introduction of broadband internet in Korea was accelerated by the popularity of the online game Starcraft among middle and high school students at the time, many of whom stayed out late at night playing the game at a growing number of internet cafes (PC Bangs).  When Hanaro started providing broadband internet service in competition with Thrunet, it targeted advertising at parents with the appeal that their children, with its broadband service, could stay at home and still enjoy the new multiplayer online games.
The relationship of the online game industry to broadband networks and services is an interesting topic. As indicated in the reports from China, gaming activity accounts for a significant portion of the growing data traffic on broadband networks, both fixed and mobile.  A recent study by Ericsson, "New Ways to Play Games," also showed there is a rising interest in games not only for the traditional younger generation but across all age demographics.   Furthermore, as the researchers in Beijing noted, "Gaming is also seen as a growing mode of social interaction, transforming society and becoming a mainstream element in local culture. Gaming is now being accepted as a mode of socialization in various cultures across the world."

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The "Future" Ministry and ICT R&D in South Korea

Just over a year ago the Park Geun-hye administration took office and, despite some political opposition, created a powerful new "super" ministry that Koreans and the media here refer to simply as the "Future Ministry," (미래부). The full English title is Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, for which the acronym MSIP is frequently used.
As discussed in numerous earlier posts, the Future Ministry plays a key role in implementation of the Park Geun-hye administration's signature "creative economy" initiative.  With the formation of this new ministry, it assumed responsibility for all of the nation's ICT sector research and development.   In that regard, I've recently been reading a Korean language report published by the ministry in February. (2014년 정보통신·방송 기술진흥 시행계획) (2014 Telecommunications and Broadcasting Technology Implementation Plan).  That report contains a diagram that helps to explain how the ICT R&D system was reorganized into ten sectors within the Future Ministry, consolidating functions that had been dispersed under the previous Lee Myung-bak administration to the Korea Communications Commission, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Ministry of Knowledge Economy. The English translations from the Korean are my own.  (click on the diagram to see a full size version). I found this diagram of particular interest because of my recent research with Professor Park Jaemin of Konkuk University that focused on government reorganizations affecting the ICT sector from 1980 to the present.  Our article was finally published by Telecommunications Policy this month.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A sign of the times: telecoms try saving landlines

An interesting report in The Korea Joongang Daily this morning, with the headline "Telecoms try saving landlines."  It notes that "As more households give up landline telephones, fixed-line operators are offering free home phones included in packages to keep up their wired services. They’re offering free Internet phones, too, which seemed to be replacing landlines a few years ago. But their subscribers are decreasing as consumers choose to do everything on mobile devices." My main thought about this is that the telecommunications service providers in Korea, as in the rest of the world, are fighting a losing battle to keep customers using landlines. The reason is simply that, all other things equal, people prefer a mobile and cordless device, even when communicating inside their homes. The mobility revolution is real.