Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Speed Matters and Korea Leads

Readers of this blog will know that the speed of internet connections has been a recurrent theme of this blog over the years (for example, check out these posts).  Intuitively, most internet users understand that the speed of an internet connection is important and from the consumer standpoint, the faster the connection the better.  Google has done research with its search pages that empirically demonstrates this preference for faster loading pages.  In 2013 a survey of European internet users showed that 45% of them would be willing to upgrade or change their supplier for higher speed.
South Korea leads the world in internet connection speeds and is showing no signs of slowing down.  As shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full size version) published by Netmanias, KT declared its Gigatopia vision in 2014, and has already implemented both fixed and mobile services to achieve that vision.
Korean consumers, as shown in the second graphic, are adopting the newer, faster services at a rapid rate.  Speed matters, and this is something well understood in Korea by policymakers, corporate leaders and consumers.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Regulations limit smart health care in Korea

As reported today in The Korea Joongang Daily, regulations continue to hamper the development of smart health care, despite this nation's world-leading broadband networks. The article cited SK Telecom's exhibit at the 2012 Yeosu Exhibition and quoted a manager at SK Telecom who requested anonymity as saying that “Zero progress has been made on the smart health platform since we showcased it at the Yeosu Expo.There is nothing we, as an IT company, can do about it because the law prohibiting remote diagnosis and treatment of patients remains unchanged. What’s 100 percent certain, though, is that the health care field is a land of infinite opportunity for the IT industry.” The article also noted that "Under Article 34 of the Medical Act, doctors, dentists and Oriental medicine doctors are allowed to discuss with their patients and share treatment options with other doctors via phone or video, but they must diagnose and treat patients in person."
The article went on to observe that "The Ministry of Health and Welfare’s attempts to revise legislation to allow smart health care began in 2002, when the medical industry first saw the revolutionary - and lucrative - possibilities in applying information and communications technology to everything from treatment and prescriptions to surgery and aftercare. (click on the graphic below for a full size version)

But the efforts were immediately protested by the Korean Medical Association, an interest group representing doctors nationwide. Medical practitioners in Korea are notoriously protective of their turf and have worked to prevent non-doctors from gaining the ability to make even the simplest medical diagnoses. Every time the Health Ministry proposed revisions to the Medical Act over the last 14 years, doctors nationwide have gone on strike or threatened to do so, which has killed the efforts.
Within the association, different doctors cite different reasons for their opposition to smart health care depending on their own practice. The most frequently cited reason, though, is that senior citizens are at risk of mishandling medical equipment, which could lead to potentially severe accidents.
Some also point to privacy concerns raised by sharing medical information remotely.
“Health care via smartphones and connected devices wreaks havoc on the security of patients’ personal information - an extremely sensitive matter among Koreans,” the association said in a statement."

Thursday, January 28, 2016

E-commerce and "borderless buying" globally and in Korea

A new report by Nielsen highlights the fact that connected commerce is creating buyers without borders. The findings are based on an online study in 24 countries, including South Korea. The report notes that connected shoppers area also smart shoppers as measured by the number who looked up product information, checked and compared prices, searched for deals and promotions and so forth.  It also documents how online purchasing rates vary greatly around the world.  What may be surprising to some is that only 50 percent of online shoppers in Korea said they have purchased from an overseas retailer in the past six months, compared with much higher percentages in India, Australia, Thailand, the Phillippines, and China.   Only Japan, at 32 percent, showed a lower rate of overseas purchases than Korea, among the Asian countries surveyed.
However, as clearly shown in the accompanying graphic (click for a full-size version) Korea's domestic online commerce leads the world in terms of online purchasing rates across a variety of product categories, notably including all of the consumable categories in this study.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The "death of Internet Explorer" in Korea?

A week ago today I was interviewed by Chance Dorland, a reporter for TBS eFM 101.3 MHz, an English language station in Seoul. The topic was the "death of Internet Explorer" and its implications for South Korea, which continues to be heavily dependent on the browser despite the fact that Microsoft and most of the rest of the world are moving away from IE. (you may listen to the interview here with an mp3 player)  The interview prompted me to do a bit more research on the current status of Internet Explorer in South Korea.  Its hold, or perhaps one should say "iron grip" on the browser market here is one of the fascinating stories of ICT sector policies and growth here.
To place the matter in global context, the overall pattern of browser usage worldwide is shown in the graphic at left (click to see a full size version) which is based on statistics gathered by StatCounter and published by Wikimedia.  Note that StatCounter records data from 3 million or more websites and its statistics are based on page views.  It makes no adjustments and weightings and it is independent with no commercial support.  However, the data it reports can still be influenced by sample size and other factors.  For that reason, the accompanying graphic is mainly useful for showing several broad, long term trends over the seven year period represented.  First is the dramatic decline in usage of IE (blue line).  Second, there is an equally clear increase in use of Chrome (green).  Finally, the pink line shows a rapidly rising percentage of internet browsing is done on mobile devices rather than desktop computers.
The rapidly increasing usage of mobile devices is a major factor to keep in mind when interpreting the above line graph from StatCounter.  In fact, data from the 2015 Mobile Internet Usage Survey published by The Korea Internet and Security Agency (KISA) show, not surprisingly, that mobile internet usage in Korea is far higher than the global averages.  As shown in the second line graph based on data for only desktop internet usage, IE is still being used by more than 60 percent of Koreans to surf the web.  This is a much higher proportion than the global average.
So, as noted at the conclusion of the radio interview, IE is far from dead in Korea.   This raises a key question.  What are the costs to the Korean economy as a whole and individual consumers, both Korean and expat of this continued heavy reliance on an outdated Microsoft product?  

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The DMZ as a linguistic divide

I've posted frequently over the years on the role of Korea's demilitarized zone (DMZ) as a growing digital divide (read those posts here) and this post expands upon those musings to underscore the manner in which the DMZ today also functions as a cultural and linguistic divide between the two Koreas.  As reported by Public Radio International (PRI), preferred patterns of language usage in North versus South Korea have drifted apart over more than half a century of national division.
These days, South Korean researchers are trying to help recent arrivals from the North bridge the language gap "&...with a new smartphone app called Univoca, short for "unification vocabulary." It allows users to type in or snap a photo of an unknown word and get a North Korean translation. There’s also a section that gives practical language advice, like how to order a pizza — or an explanation of some dating terminology."
As reported by MailOnline, "Developed by Seoul's top advertising firm, Cheil Worldwide, the app offers translations of 3,600 key words culled from South Korean high school textbooks as well as everyday slang expressions.
Tapping in the Hangeul for "ice cream" brings up the word oh-reum-boseung-yi (literally "coated ice"), as ice cream is known in North Korea.
Created as a part of the company's social outreach programme, the free app has been downloaded more than 1,500 times since its launch in mid-March, said Choi Jae-Young, the Cheil manager in charge of the project.
"We were looking for ways to help socially marginalised people suffering from communication problems... and realised young North Korean defectors have this big language barrier when studying at school," Choi told AFP.
A group of North Korean defectors, including student volunteers and professionals like former school teachers, helped in the task of identifying -- and translating -- common South Korean words that may perplex the young refugees."