Sunday, February 15, 2015

Digital divide and disruption in Korea

I just returned yesterday from visits to Stony Brook University in New York and Florida State University in Tallahassee.  Both involved very interesting opportunities to discuss mutual interests with administrators, faculty and students.   During the latter visit I delivered a lecture in the Broad International Lecture series on the topic of "Digital divide and disruption in Korea," and exchanged views with a most interesting audience of faculty, administrators and students.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Korea's ICT-led development at a crossroads?

Lee Jong-Wha, professor of economics and Director of the Asiatic Research Institute at Korea University contributed a thoughtful piece to the Gulf Times that outlines the challenge Korea faces to find new sources of economic growth.  It notes that Korea's GDP growth averaged 3.6% over the past ten years, a significant drop from the 8.1% annual growth rate from 1965-2005.
One problem is that South Korea's economic policies have made it excessively dependent upon exports for growth. Professor Lee notes that "Exports accounted for about 56% of South Korea’s gross national income in 2013, compared to 34% in 2002 and just 15% in 1970. As a result, South Korea’s economy has become highly vulnerable to changes in external demand – a fact that became starkly apparent during the 2008 global economic crisis."  Another is "...the wide imbalance between South Korea’s manufacturing and services sectors. Though services account for 76% of employment, its contribution to overall economic growth is small, owing to low productivity."
Professor Lee goes on to argue that South Korea" ...must also confront the huge, family-controlled chaebols – such as Hyundai, LG, and Samsung – that contributed significantly to rapid industrialisation and technological advancement but also block competition from start-ups and SMEs, stifling dynamism and innovation."

Friday, January 30, 2015

It's not Apple or Samsung, It's Google's modular phone....!!

I just ran across an excellent piece in Forbes, entitled "How Google's Modular Phone Threatens Apple and Samsung."   It is appropriate these days because of all the publicity focused on Apple's record-breaking quarterly profits, and Samsung's reduced share of the global smartphone market.  In fact, Google's modular phone, rather than the offerings of either Apple or Samsung, probably represents the big future direction of mobile communication.   See my earlier posts on this topic here.
I highly recommend the Forbes article and the short video it contains.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Unification: Korea's highways and information superhighways

The news reported today in The Korea Joongang Daily under the headline "South pushes plan to reconnect rails and roads," made me think of the relative role of high speed rail and expressway links on the Korean peninsula versus linkages of fiber optic cable and other networks for digital communication. (click on graphic to see a full size version)  As noted in the article, "The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said Tuesday it will push forward a project this year to restore severed sections of inter-Korean railroads and highways. The project was announced as part of the ministry’s 2015 agenda. It is also part of the Park Geun-hye administration’s ambitious proposal to operate trains from Seoul to cities in the North this summer in celebration of the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule - but only if Pyongyang goes along. Earlier this month, the Ministry of Unification unveiled a plan to restore the two Koreas’ western and eastern railways to operate trains this summer from Seoul to the North Korean cities of Rajin and Sinuiju. Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae has said the goal is to link the railways and have trains operating in time for the Aug. 15 Liberation Day."
The digital networks are arguably just as important in any plan for unification as the transportation networks, since the whole world seems to acknowledge their central role as infrastructure for the 21st century.  Furthermore, North Korea lacks both modern transportation and communication infrastructure which means that the process of national unification will inevitably involve a costly, long term effort to build these.  Consequently, one can envision a simultaneous effort to build both types of infrastructure, in which fiber optic cables are laid alongside railroad and expressway routes.  Whether that becomes politically possible is an open question, but I would argue that in today's hyperconnected era the digital network connections are of equal or greater importance for Korean unification than the ground transportation links.

Monday, January 19, 2015

South Korea: "the world's most advanced mobile economy"

A new report by the Boston Consulting Group confirms and quantifies what those of us living in South Korea have known for a long time.  This nation is the world's most advanced mobile economy. The report singles out three countries that are reaping the greatest rewards from the mobile economy:  South Korea, the U.S. and China.  It notes that "South Korea has quickly become the world’s most advanced mobile economy, having embraced 3G and 4G since their onset. Mobile represents 11 percent of the country’s GDP, valued at $143 billion. South Korea is a leading actor across all phases of the mobile value chain, particularly in its high-value segments such as design and production of devices and components. A strong focus on R&D and bold investments in nascent technologies, such as semiconductors in the 1980s and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) two decades later, helped South Korean players take the lead in design and manufacturing operations."
As shown in Exhibit 4 from the report (click to see a full size version of the graphic), the six countries analyzed have a combined mobile GDP (mGDP) of more than $1.2 trillion and those same countries account for 47 percent of global GDP.  In Korea, the mGDP accounts for 11 percent of the national GDP.  Also, as noted in the report and shown clearly in the graphic (light green shading on the bar for Korea) "For nations with high production relative to domestic consumption, such as South Korea, exports are a major, if not the main, driver of mGDP. Countries with the strongest mGDP also tend to have unique capabilities within the highest-value portions of the mobile industry—intellectual property (IP) innovators, device manufacturers, and component designers—enabling high net exports. South Korea’s high mGDP, for example, is due to its major role in producing and exporting essential mobile products and components."
There is much more in this report and I recommend it to you.