Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Some Year-end Thoughts on the "Information Superhighway"

As far as I can determine from my own research, it was U.S. Vice President Al Gore who gave a speech at UCLA in 1994 that popularized the term "information superhighway."  In that speech, he outlined the Clinton/Gore administration's vision of a national information infrastructure and their proposals for creating it.  He said, in part. "We have become an information-rich society. Almost 100% of households have radio and television, and about 94% have telephone service. Three-quarters of all households have a VCR, about 60% now have cable, and roughly 30% of households have personal computers. As the information infrastructure expands in breadth and depth, so too will our understanding of the services that are deemed essential. This is not a matter of guaranteeing the right to play video-games. It is a matter of guaranteeing access to essential services. We cannot tolerate -- nor in the long run can this nation afford -- a society in which some children become fully educated and others do not; nor can we tolerate a society in which some adults have access to training and lifetime education, and others do not. Nor can we permit geographic location to determine whether the information highway passes by your door." Elsewhere in his speech, Vice President Gore alluded to the fact that he had coined the "information superhighway" term fifteen years earlier! Having lived in Korea for the past 12 years, I have enjoyed the benefits of a government-led effort that actually built the "information superhighway."  Yes it did.  The Korean government took its cue from Gore's speech and in 1995 implemented a plan to build the Korea Information Infrastructure (KII).  The government plans unabashedly used the "information superhighway" term in referring to Korea's goal. So, the idea for the "information superhighway" seems to originally have come from Al Gore. However, the important point seems to be that the highway has been built and is being expanded in South Korea, while it is still a matter for debate in the U.S.  The major current expansion of the "information superhighway" network in Korea is via WiBro, which adds an interesting new mobile dimension to accessibility.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

World Media Take Notice of North Korea's New Mobile Network

Now that the Chairman of Orascom has visited North Korea and that country has formally initiated its new mobile communications service, the media around the world are taking notice. According to BBC News , the system has now been launched in the capital, Pyongyang, by Orascom's billionaire chief executive Naguib Sawiris. "The prospect of this company is to build a network that will accommodate the 22 million people in North Korea," he said.
The BBC report goes on to note that "The new network will be able to provide fast internet connections and handle large quantities of information. However, that is a commodity the North Korean authorities have been extremely anxious to restrict. Radios and televisions sold there have their tuning controls fixed to official stations and making phone calls out of North Korea is impossible for ordinary citizens."
The North Korean leadership is caught on the horns of a dilemma.  It now has a modern, CDMA-based mobile network that could be expanded throughout the country and used to help bring it up to parity with its highly networked neighbor to the south.  Such a move would help it immensely in economic terms and would help move toward reunification.  However, it would also undercut, in one fell swoop, efforts by North Korea's leadership to control the information its citizens receive.  
A very interesting aspect of all this is that North Korea has installed a CDMA network.  Is this an indication that they may be looking ahead toward unification with South Korea, which has the most extensive and sophisticated CDMA-based mobile networks in the world?  Just how long will people in North Korea be able to resist the various attractions of the information age that is transforming so much of the world?

More WiBro Export Success--an Auspicious Start

With the news that Samsung Electronics has signed deals to export Korea's WiBro technology to Taiwan and Kuwait, it is beginning to appear that this technology will be another big export success story. As reported in the Digital Chosun Ilbo Samsung Electronics is now involved in commercial or pilot projects with 23 firms in 19 countries, including the United States, Japan, Russia, Lithuania, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Venezuela.>
U.S. technology market researcher ABI Research forecast that the WiBro market will grow from US$3.5 billion in 2008 to $59.6 billion in 2012, with the number of subscribers increasing from 12 million to 280 million.
I had a chance to personally test WiBRO at a recent conference in Seoul dealing with Ultra Broadband issues.  Korea Telecom put all of the conference participants on a bus and we each had a notebook computer equipped with a very compact WiBro modem.  I enjoyed the demonstration and had no trouble viewing video on CNN while the bus was cruising along the Han River at more than 100 kilometers per hour.  The "law of mobility"  or "McGuire's" law states that the value of a product increases with mobility.  A simple measure of mobility is the percent of time the product is available for your use.
I predict great success for WiBRO in Korea and in markets around the world.   The reason is that it draws on the power of the law of mobility by making the internet itself more mobile!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Korea Opens the Mobile Market

The press here in Korea have widely announced the opening of the mobile communications market.  This is very important news, given the importance of mobile communications in the future information society in Korea and around the globe.  The Korea Communications Commission has eliminated WIPI, a local software standard, and thereby opened up the mobile communications market.  This means that the Apple I-Phone, along with the Blackberry and other phones from around the world will be entering this market next year.
This is a welcome development and one that I am sure will invigorate not only the Korean market, but its role in the international marketplace for mobile communication.  As mentioned in an earlier post, I eagerly look forward to seeing what Samsung and LG will offer as their first Android phones.  If all the capabilities of Korea's handset makers are brought to bear on the Android project, it could make the Apple I-phone and the Blackberry look like "drops in the bucket" as it were!  This should be interesting.  I hereby volunteer to test any one of these new devices.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Koreans Complete Human Genome Map

Earlier this year I happened to be watching television when BBC World aired the 2007 Richard Dimbleby Lecture, given about a year ago by Dr. Craig Venter, whose institute was first in the world to map the human genome.  Today, I awoke to read the news in all the local papers.  A Korean team has become the fourth in the world to map the human genome.
What I learned from Dr. Venter's Dimbleby lecture was that his project was made possible only through the contemporary advances in computing power that we all experience.  In other words, information technology is a fundamental component or pre-requisite to mapping the human genome and for further advances in genomics.
The Korea Times report today underscores this important reality. It notes, in part that "The individual genome sequence of American biologist Craig Venter was published in 2007, followed by those of DNA pioneer James Watson in April. Chinese scientist Yang Huanming became the first Asian last month to have his genome sequenced. The seven months of research to complete the genome sequence cost about 1.05 billion won ($716,000) including 800 million won for the computer system used for the decoding. In comparison, Venter's genome sequencing took four years and about 100 billion won ― Watson's project took about four months and 1.5 billion won, Kim said. Scientists believe that the cost could drop to around $1,000 in two to three years, which would allow the market to ``explode.'' "  
As important as this magnificent accomplishment is for Korean medical science, it is fundamentally a demonstration of the breadth and power of the information revolution here.  Congratulations!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Another Breakthrough by Google! Book Search Class Action Settlement

In its own understated way, Google has announced another breakthrough on its Google Book Search service.  The line on the Google Book Search page reads simply
"Google has reached a groundbreaking agreement with authors and publishers."
As the author of several books and monographs, I heartily agree.  I am hoping that there are no delays in the final court approval of this class action settlement, and I look forward to having all of my books available electronically and searchable via Google's new service.  Watch this space for notification of when you'll be able to read and search Television's Window on the World , Global Television and the Politics of the Seoul Olympics , The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea  and others of my publications.  By the way, Google has reportedly digitized more than seven million books!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Android Phones in South Korea: A Breakthrough?

The Economist has a thought-provoking article in its current edition entitled "The battle for the smart-phone's seoul."  It expresses many of the thought's I've had about the mobile phone market in Korea.  I am among the many who can't wait to get their hands on an Android variation of Apple's i-Phone, so that we can carry all of the "killer applications" of the internet around in our pocket or on a belt clip. 
Rather than opening up its mobile market to the I-Phone and other innovations, South Korea chose to maintain a special WIPI software requirement.   As far as I can determine, this software requirement serves no useful purpose other than to make it more difficult for Apple or others to enter the South Korean market.   If you read the Economist's latest analysis, it implies that this nation should completely open up its mobile communications market to encourage innovation and also to help its leading exporters of handsets.  Among the main points are the following.
  • According to Informa, a market-research firm, the market for smart-phones will grow from $39 billion in 2007 to $95 billion in 2013, by which time they will make up nearly half of the handset market by value (though only 34% by volume).
  • More importantly, as handsets get smarter the nature of the industry will change. It will be less about hardware and more about software, services and content, as illustrated by the accompanying chart. This is why, for the first time, a fierce battle between operating systems for handsets has broken out.
  • It has taken two outsiders to shake things up. One is Apple, with its iPhone. As well as being a paragon of hardware and user-interface design, it comes with a flat-rate “all you can eat” data plan.
  • The other disrupter is Google, with its Android platform. It also lets users download applications from an online store, called Android Market. But it differs from the iPhone in that Android is just software, which Google makes available to handset-makers and operators.
The Economist goes on to point out that these developments have prompted the incumbents in the mobile phone industry to look for new operating system platforms as well.  The main point of all these developments for South Korea seems abundantly clear.  Both Samsung and LG are members of the Open Handset Alliance, a group of more than 30 technology and mobile companies who came together to accelerate innovation in mobile.  Their first product was Android.  Therefore, the whole world will be watching to see just how innovative the first generation of LG and Samsung Android phones will be.  If I were in charge of long-term strategy at either of these leading mobile handset manufacturers, I'd bet the bank on this one.  Take the best in design from the I-phone and your own prior models, program Android to place the "internet in your hand" and lead the way!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Broadband Convergence Update

The Joongang Daily reports that IPTV operators are "baiting subscribers with cash." With local high-speed Internet service providers using cash gifts as a marketing ploy again, experts warn that the industry faces cutthroat competition which is likely to harm subscribers. Since IPTV and Internet telephony are provided on broadband networks, Internet subscriber numbers are crucial to success. Currently, nationwide sales agencies of the country’s three major high-speed Internet service providers - KT, SK Broadband and LG Powercomm - all provide up to 200,000 won ($147) in cash or other high-value gifts such as the Nintendo Wii game console depending on the number of services people take and their subscription length. For example, SK Broadband offers 190,000 won in cash to subscribers who sign up for its triple-play service - Internet, IPTV and Internet telephony - for three years.

Friday, October 31, 2008

BBC Report: Chinese Melamine Scandal Widens

The BBC reports today that the "melamine scandal" has widened. As an American who has lived and worked in South Korea for the past twelve years, I feel obligated to comment on this. Why? Of course, it is because of the "Mad Cow Disease Scandal" that gripped South Korea for two months or more, bringing nightly candlelight vigils and almost paralyzing government.  Anyone reading the mainstream press or postings on Korean internet portals would conclude that "Mad Cow Disease" posed an imminent threat to Korean public health.  That widespread belief is what brought forth weeks of candlelight vigils. Although the health threat posed to Korea by the melamine scandal is far larger than that of the "Mad Cow Disease" scandal, there have as yet been no candlelight vigils or demonstrations about melamine. Read the BBC report and think about this issue for a moment.  The BBC reported that, according to the state media in China, the toxic chemical melamine is probably being routinely added to Chinese animal feed. The "Mad Cow Disease" candlelight vigils here in Korea were spurred by inaccurate reporting and rumors. The "Melamine scandal" on the other hand, is based on facts. This raises the question of whether the Korean public really cares about health standards.  If so, there should be nationwide candlelight vigils!  

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Korean Websites to Stop Using Citizen's National Identification Numbers

As reported widely in the press , the Korea Communications Commission has announced a revision to the Act on Promotion of Utilization of Information and Communication Network and Data Protection. All portal sites with average daily visitors of 50,000 or more, and all online commercial and games websites with average daily visitors of 10,000 or more must devise a new membership registration process that does not require resident registration number. Under the current system of relying on the citizens national ID number for registration, there has been considerable leakage of private data. About 1,176 websites will be affected by these new rules.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Two Percent of Primary and Secondary Students are Internet Addicts

According to an Education Ministry report summarized in the Korea Times recently, two out of every one hundred primary and secondary schoolers are seen as addicted to the internet, with the total number of such students reaching 100,000.  The addiction is reported to be much more common among elementary school students. Symptoms of students categorized as addicts include using the Internet for more than four hours a day, having problems with personal relationships and difficulties in study and daily life. The report also claimed they experience withdrawal symptoms when not using the Internet. According to the Internet Addiction Counseling Center under the Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion, the center gave counseling to 73,000 students last year. ``Parents take their children to the center. Students themselves usually deny they are Internet addicts, saying they have no problem using the Internet,'' Koh Young-sam, head of the center, said.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Google and Globalization in Korea

The following is a letter to the editor that I wrote, published in the Joongang Ilbo
The Internet itself epitomizes globalization, and there is no more prominent indication of this than Google’s success. 
Because the Internet unleashes a flood of information, its users around the world now turn to Google to tame that flood and find the information they need. People in virtually every country of the world now “Google it” to find press coverage, images, videos and more.  Nevertheless, there are four nations in the world in which success seems to elude Google. The Financial Times, in an article accompanied by a map of the non-Google World, reported that Google has failed to achieve success in South Korea, China, Russia and the Czech Republic.  Here in Korea, the major media have made much of how Naver leads the search market and has so far beaten Google. 
However, this claim, like that on behalf of Yandex in Russia, Baidu in China and Seznam in the Czech Republic, is sheer nonsense. If you believe the apples and oranges comparison of these four search services with Google, I have a bridge to sell you.
In fact, the services all have two critical limitations. First, they answer search inquiries ONLY in Korean, Russian, Chinese, or Czech, respectively. Second, they do not search or “crawl” the entire Internet, instead focusing only on content in Russian, Chinese, Korean or Czech. Contrast this with Google’s stated mission, “… to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” 
A closer look at Naver’s success and the difficulties for Google here actually explains why Google must ultimately succeed in the Korean market. Part of Naver’s success is simply because Koreans feel more comfortable with a service presented entirely in the Korean language.  Despite the national campaign here to learn English, it is well documented that people here feel uncomfortable with situations that demand English, such as job interviews, meeting foreigners and surfing English Web sites. 
Naver also responds to a strong cultural need felt by many Koreans to know what other people are thinking. Hence, its most popular service is called “Knowledge-In.” Users submit questions which other Naver users are encouraged to answer, creating an ever increasing base of “knowledge.” 
The crucial limitation is that Naver’s database, because it is a Korean language-only service, effectively excludes most of the world’s knowledge.  In this respect, one can argue that Naver is more of a social-networking site than a search engine. Google, of course, allows searching in Korean as well as English and returns Web pages in both languages. 
Naver also relies heavily on “sponsored” searches, a model pioneered by Overture and Yahoo. With this business model, any company, organization or individual can pay to have its search results appear higher in the list of results from any search inquiry. 
Search results in Naver contain several categories of sponsored search. Consequently, commercial entities with the money to pay for Web-based promotion, dominate in Naver search results. So why must Google succeed in the South Korean market? 
The answer is because the flood of information that is available electronically and digitally via the Internet is multilingual. Although English may be the dominant language of international business today, other languages are important. Google’s robots search, or attempt to search, this entire universe of information on the Internet, whatever the language.  This explains Google’s interest in automated translation from one language to another and why its translation service now represents the best available machine translation. 
Whatever Google’s weaknesses, its global scope and goals are surely its strength.  Take a specific example from the field of education and study abroad, currently a booming business here. If a Korean parent or student does a search on Naver for “study abroad in the U.S.”, they will typically receive a page of search results that are sponsored by the dominant commercial study-abroad institutes in South Korea.  While those results may serve the promotional needs of private institutes, they may not fit the needs of the individual student or family.  They also may fail to contain the most current information placed on the Internet by the U.S. schools, colleges and universities themselves.  For such information - you guessed it - we advise parents and students to “Google it.”
For Korea to fully participate in the global information society, a higher portion of its students, teachers, government officials and business personnel will need to more effectively find and utilize the information available through the Internet. As things stand, this means embracing Google or a service like it, rather than simply enjoying the Korean-language province of the Web, which is now dominated by Naver.  South Korea has embraced the notion that English fluency is one key to its future role in the global information society.  The nation might do well to also monitor use of Google as an important index of globalization here.

Korean Search Engines to Separate Advertising, Legitimate Results

On Thursday of last week, the Korean Communications Commission announced that internet portal sites will be required to identify advertising links separately from information links on search engine results pages to avoid confusing consumers.  I found this most interesting since it added support to arguments I made in two earlier posts (read the first here , read the second here ) explaining why Google must succeed here in Korea.  I also wrote a letter to the editor of Joongang Ilbo on this topic.

Korean Internet Companies Opening Networks?

Yesterday's article in the Korea Times certainly caught my eye. Daum (www.daum.net ), the country's second most popular portal site, and Paran (www.paran.com ) have announced this month that they are supporting Google's ``Open Social'' initiative. Open Social is a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) developed by Google and other Internet companies like MySpace that aim to create a unified system of tools at different social networking sites and allow interoperability of applications. Industry watchers believe that Daum's commitment in Open Social could start discussions over the development of an open platform and common service standards for Korean social networking sites.
Although Daum has announced support for the Open Social initiative, it is significant that Naver and Cyworld have not, at least not yet.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Media Preferences of South Korea's Teenagers

The Korea Times today reports on a survey of middle and high school students by the Korea Press Foundation in September.  The survey showed that Korean teenagers prefer internet portal sites to newspapers for getting news, and trust them more than conventional print media.
When asked which media they are likely to use the most when they become adults, 46 percent selected Internet portals, while 25 percent picked terrestrial television, 12 percent internet news, 7 percent free newspapers distributed at subway stations, and only 5 percent newspapers. When asked to rate the credibility of 30 private and public media organizations, MBC, KBS, Portal Sites and Hangyoreh daily ranked first, second, fourth and fifth respectively.  Netizens ranked third on the measure of reliability, while the Joongang, Chosun and Donga Ilbo newspapers ranked 22nd, 24th and 25th.
Internet portals, online communities, and friends or family dominated the teenagers reported sources of information about this year's candlelight vigils.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Samsung Enters U.S. Notebook Market

Having personally used Samsung notebooks for many years now, I welcomed the news that this company is going to enter the U.S. notebook computer market.  It can only help competitiveness in the market and make available some high quality products to American consumers.  A little over a year ago I gave my Samsung X-10, a multimedia notebook with which I was very happy, to my wife.  For my own use, I purchased a Samsung Sens Q35, a bit more compact, but powerful notebook that is handy for weekend and occasional overseas traveling.  While in my office during the week, I plug into a larger monitor and regular keyboard.
One could almost say this Samsung move was inevitable, given that it manufactures most of the key components that go into a notebook computer these days --display, hard drive, and memory chips, to name the main ones.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Apple's iPhone Unlikely to Appear in Korea Soon

A report in today's Korea times suggests that Korean gadget lovers wanting an iPhone for Christmas had better forget it. The planet's most sought-after handset of the moment won't be making it to the world's mobile-phone capital by the end of the year.  This situation exists despite the interest of many consumers here in trying out the i-Phone.
There are basically two reasons for this situation.
  • One is the turmoil at KTF, whose former chief executive, Cho Young-ju, a big supporter of an iPhone release in Korea, is in jail for taking bribes from equipment makers.
  • And the Korea Communications Commission (KCC), the country's broadcasting and telecommunications regulator, still can't decide on whether to lift the software requirements (WIPI) that had prevented foreign handset makers from releasing their high-end products here.
Since 2005, the government has mandated ``WIPI,'' or ``wireless Internet platform for interoperability,'' for all handsets supporting mobile data services. Foreign makers have been reluctant to produce WIPI handsets only for the Korean market, which numbers about 20 million sets per year.
Samsung, LG Telecom and SK Telecom may all be content to see the Apple iPhone excluded from South Korea's market.  However, in the larger picture, this can be viewed as potentially damaging South Korea's market share in global mobile device exports.  As with Google's Android phone, the Apple iPhone is a cutting edge product.  If Korea would freely allow such products to compete fully in the local market, it would provide long term benefits in strengthening the capacity of its leading companies to compete globally.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Future of Mobile Technology

The following discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos makes for interesting viewing.  I recommend it to readers of this blog.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Mother of All Search Functions

David Pogue of the New York Times made a point in his e-column today  that reinforces what I've said in earlier posts about search, specifically Google versus Naver .  He begins the column as follows.
"Today's e-column is nothing but a computer tip, but it's a biggie.  It seems obvious in retrospect, but I've got to tell you, it's totally rocked my world:  Use Google search for everything.  Let me explain."
Pogue then goes on to explain why it wastes time and effort to use the search boxes embedded in almost all web sites, when Google has already indexed everything on the web and you can get to where you're going faster by searching directly with Google.  He gives several examples of how it "used to be," before he discovered how Google works.  For example, "Used to be, when I wanted to consult Wikipedia, I'd go to Wikipedia.org, I'd click English; I'd click in the Search box; I'd type 'blu-ray', and click Search. Five steps. . . . . I've been totally wasting my time.  Google blows all of this out of the water."  I agree, and here in Korea the degree to which people begin to use Google, rather than relying only on Naver ,  will be an important indicator of the globalization process.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Google's Android Phone: What Will Samsung and LG Do Now?

With the release of the world's first Android phone yesterday by T-Mobile in the United States, following on the success of the iPhone in most of the world, Samsung, LG and other major players in the South Korean market should be prepared to act boldly.  Failure to do so could damage the efforts of these companies and others here to maintain a healthy share of the international market for mobile phones and other portable devices.
The iPhone and the Android make it very clear that convergence has already brought the internet experience to mobile phones, and consumers all over the world will be clamoring for these devices.  There will also be pressure for the leading mobile operators to provide high speed internet access at reasonable rates.  Here in South Korea, we still have the unusual situation that neither the iPhone nor the Google Android are available yet.   Clearly, many consumers would like to purchase one, or both of these phones, given the high levels of internet use here.   As a consolation prize, many are hoping, with me, that LG and Samsung will soon launch their own Android phones here.  Both companies are members of the Open Handset Alliance .

Friday, September 19, 2008

KT Launches IPTV Test Service

One of the most interesting aspects of the broadband digital convergence taking place in South Korea these days is the introduction of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) service.   On Thursday, as reported in the Digital Chosunilbo, Korea Telecom started a test service of the IPTV, including realtime broadcasting of KBS1 and EBS.  Although the test is beginning with service for only 200 members, KT aims to secure at least 300,000 members by the end of this year, 1.1 million by next year and 3 million by 2011. 

FTSE to Promote Korea to 'Developed Market'

It's official.  As reported in the Chosun Ilbo online English edition, the Korean stock market is to be promoted to "developed" from "advanced emerging" status by the Financial Times Stock Exchange index.  The FTSE is used by many European investors, and the promotion would help the country draw more foreign investment and raise stock and bond prices, which have been notoriously undervalued. Korea thus joins 24 "developed" markets.  My reaction in part:  better late than never.  Another part of my reaction:  national image, or the brand image and brand value of a nation are extremely important in this information era.  This cannot help but enhance South Korea's national image.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

95 Percent of Korean Households Have Broadband Internet

The Korea Communications Commission has announced that, as of the end of July, fully ninety-five percent of the households in South Korea subscribed to broadband internet. This amounted to 15.09 million households, an increase of 620,000 from the previous year. The breakdown of broadband market share among service providers was as follows:

  • Korea Telecom        44.7%
  • Hanaro Telecom       22.4%
  • LG Powercom          13.2%
  • Cable TV Operators 19.7%
Although the household internet penetration is nearly at saturation levels, an official at the Commission said that the number is likely to increase when Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) services are launched in the country next year.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

South Korea's Seven Economic Zones

In its efforts to become more internationally competitive, South Korea's government plans to group areas of the nation into seven major economic zones or blocs as indicated in the accompanying graphic (click on the graphic to see a full-sized image).  According to the Korea Times, each bloc will be assigned with one or two leading industries as part of government efforts to promote balanced development and turn the nation into a globally competitive business hub. As part of the overall plan, the government plans to spend 25 trillion won out of state coffers and attract another 25 trillion won from the private sector over the next five years, implementing 30 development projects aimed at expanding roads, railways and other infrastructure, as well as nurturing talented manpower.  The Korea times further notes that "Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province will be transformed into a global business hub, equipped with knowledge-based service industries.  Chungcheong Province will be fostered as Korea's Silicon Valley and a research and development hub for Northeast Asia. Two other observations come to mind with regard to the regional distribution of leading industries in South Korea.  One is that information and communication technologies (ICT) are a key underlying element for all of these industries.  The fundamental building blocks of the information age will be necessary for success in each and every industry.  Second, it is notable that Gangwon Province is split, with the northern part of the province being in North Korea and the DMZ.  The graphic used here shows only the southern part of the province, which is in South Korea.  In fact, the governor of Gangwon Province recently announced a plan to develop a "Peace Zone" in the present demilitarized zone portion of the province.  As reported in the Korea Times, the governor said that "In the peace zone will be a tourism area connecting the North's Mt. Geumgang and the South's Mt. Seorak, an industrial complex like Gaeseong, and a 'peace city' on the border which will be a gateway between the two Koreas."  Governor Kim also said the province has already proposed some of the joint projects to North Korea, where they were welcomed.  "But such projects will be possible only after the governments of the two Koreas agree to them."

Friday, September 5, 2008

New Website on Korean Cyberspace

For those of you who are interested, I've just started another website and would like to invite you to enter.koreacyberspace.com  The purpose of this new site will be to place web resources about Korea's information society in a single place.  Unlike a blog, there will not be frequent new entries. However, this should prove to be an increasingly valuable resource over time.  Please let me know if you have suggestions about it.

Korea's Growing Game Industry

I wrote a short post back in February about South Korea's Game Science High School, and thereby at least made a nod in the direction of the game industry within this country's information economy.  However, since that time, I have learned a great deal and today's news compels this posting.  According to statistics recently released by the Korea Game Industry Agency, Korea accounted for just over a third of global online game sales last year.The revenues posted by Korean online game companies totaled $2.41 billion in 2007, or 34.5 percent of the worldwide online game market.  The figure included $781 million worth of online games exported by the Korean companies.  According to  Business Week Online's "Eye on Asia,"  a report released this week by Pearl Research, a San Francisco-based consulting firm specializing in the Internet and technology markets, shows top Korean game portals such as CJ Internet's Netmarble, NHN's Hangame, and Neowiz's Pmang can attract 500,000 to 1 million unique visitors a day. More than 10 million Korean adults visit game portals every month, according to its estimates.  That's more than a fifth of the whole population.
Two English websites that provide useful background on the game industry in South Korea and its place in the world are the Korea Game Industry Agency site and the Game Industry Total Information Service System site.  I will obviously have much more to say about this important and rapidly-growing industry.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Internet Changes Rituals for Chuseok

The universal availability of the internet in South Korea is beginning to change how some families approach the rituals assoicated with Chuseok, Korea's harvest moon festival.  According to an article in the Korea Times, the Chuseok holidays extend three days this year from Sept. 13 to 15. But weeks prior to the holidays, families have already started their trip to their ancestors' tombs to hold a ritual, in order to avoid traffic jams during the holidays. Last weekend, most highways were jammed with those trying to pay an early visit to their ancestors. But even ``smarter'' holidaymakers opt out of congestions by using ``beolcho,'' or grave weeding services.  It is easy to find such services on the internet.  Likewise, there are internet-based services to prepare all of the food required for family gatherings at Chuseok, a chore that used to cause housewives to suffer from "holiday sickness," even before the holiday.

North Korea Trains Hackers

Although the digital divide between South Korea and North Korea is probably the deepest such chasm in the world, the North Korean military has trained hundreds of hackers, some of whom have used their skills in an effort to undermine the South Korean military.  According to an article in today's Chosun Ilbo English edition, a North Korean spyware e-mail was reportedly transmitted to the computer of a colonel at a field army command via China in early August. The e-mail contained a typical program designed automatically to steal stored files if the recipient opens it. It has not been confirmed whether military secrets were leaked as a result of the hacking attempt, but their scale could be devastating given that the recipient is in charge of the South Korean military's central nervous system -- Command, Control, Communication, Computer & Information (C4I). South Korea's Defense Ministry believes that the skills of 500 to 600 North Korean hackers are on a par with those of CIA experts. In 1999, the department said it traced frequent cyber visitors and found that North Korea topped the list.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Korea Ranks High in New United Nations E-Government Survey

Korea ranks high on most measures reported in the "United Nations e-Government Survey 2008:  From e-Government to Connected Governance."  This is the latest in a series of United Nations studies that in some ways are more comprehensive than the Brookings Institution study mentioned in my earlier post.  For example, South Korea ranks sixth in the world on the important overall measure of e-government readiness, as shown by the accompanying graphic. (click on the graphic to see a full size version)  Within the Asian region, Korea was the leader on most of the measures reported by this study.   Worldwide, on the measure of e-participation, it ranked number two, behind the United States.  The e-participation index aims to capture the dimensions of government to citizen interaction and inclusion, by assessing the extent to which governments proactively solicit citizen input.

Brookings Institution Report Ranks Korea's e-Government Number One

Another in a series of reports on e-government by the Brookings Institution has ranked South Korea number one.  The report notes that "unlike traditional bricks and mortar agencies, digital delivery systems are non-hierarchical, non-linear, interactive and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The non-hierarchical character of Internet delivery permits people to look for information at their own convenience. The interactive aspects of e-government allow both citizens and bureaucrats to send as well as receive information."  To evaluate the state of digital government, the study examined 18 different features. Four
points were awarded to each website for the presence of the following features: publications, databases, audio clips, video clips, foreign language access, not having ads, not having premium fees, not having user fees, disability access, having privacy policies, security policies, allowing digital signatures on transactions, an option to pay via credit cards, email contact information, areas to post comments, option for email updates, option for website personalization and PDA accessibility. These features provide a maximum of 72 points for particular websites. Each site then qualifies for up to 28 points based on the number of online services executable on that site (one point for one service, two points for two services, three points for three services and on up to 28 points for 28 or more services). The overall e-government index runs along a scale from zero (having none of these features and no online services) to 100 (having all features plus at least 28 online services). Totals for each website within a country were averaged across all of that nation's websites to produce a zero to 100 overall rating for that nation.

Monday, September 1, 2008

ITU Telecommunication Channel Available on YouTube

One important aspect of the telecommunications revolution that took place in South Korea during the 1980s was that it led directly into a more active international role for the country.  The highly successful 1988 Seoul Olympics gave a big boost to the country's so-called "Northern Policy" of opening up relations with China, the former Soviet Union and socialist bloc countries in Eastern Europe. (see my book with Heung Soo Park, Global Television and the Politics of the Seoul Olympics). At the same time, South Korea's economic growth put in in a position to more actively participate in ITU (International Telecommunications Union) projects, as well as those of the OECD, which it joined in 1996.  It became an active participant in the World Summit on the Information Society and in global efforts to help eliminate the digital divide.
In the above context, I was pleased to find that there is an ITU Telecommunication Channel on YouTube. You may enjoy, as I did, getting to know this channel by viewing the following video.

I can see from a number of Korean-language annotated entries that people here have taken an interest in this channel.  Through this blog and related sites, I hope to organize links to the major YouTube channels relating to telecommunications, and in particular the Korean experience. A word of warning. Don't expect a tremendous amount of quality and substance in these telecoms-related videos. That is one reason I want to review them, to sift the wheat from the chaff as it were.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Korean IT Firms Benefit from the Won's Decline

Korea's leading IT exporters are benefiting from the recent decline in the value of the Korean Won.  According to an article in today's Korea Times, the Won this week fell to as low as 1,062.6 per dollar, the weakest since December 2004.  A source at Samsung Electronics estimated that "if the exchange rate drops 10 won, we expect won-denominated sales to rise 300 billion won."  Exports account for 80 percent of Samsung's sales. In the second quarter, the electronics giant reaped an additional 300 billion won in sales thanks to the weakening won, sources say. LG Electronics benefits in a similar fashion.  "When the won-dollar rate drops 10 won, then we expect to gain some 70 billion in won-denominated sales," an LG spokesman said. 
However, the changing value of the won is a double-edged sword.  South Korea's airlines, steel makers and oil refiners, are suffering from the weaker won in the wake of surging prices for imported raw materials.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Kenichi Ohmae on Dodkdo 독도는한국땅 입니다!!

I read with great interest in yesterday's Chosun Ilbo English edition that Kenichi Ohmae, Japan's well-known management expert and futurologist suggests Japan should recognize Korea's effective control of Dokdo. In a Japanese weekly publication, Omae said no nation which failed to occupy territory effectively has obtained it through dialogue between parties concerned or UN arbitration. Everybody knows that a war, the only means possible, is not suitable as a way to solve the Dokdo issue. For a moment, I thought that this was going to be an enlightened statement on the issue by a well-known person from Japan. Then I read that Ohmae had stressed Japan should "continue claim" over the islets, while recognizing Korea's effective occupation, but without criticizing or irritating Korea. He further suggested that, in the future it was necessary “to expand the East Asian economic sphere by skillfully pulling China and Korea into it." Japan, he wrote, "should build a hypothetical great power in the future, when the meaning of national territories will become blurred." What this amounts to, in part, is that Ohmae is suggesting Japan can lay claim to Dokdo in cyberspace. What else will Japan lay claim to in the future? What about the future of history? In one sense the information age may blur the meaning of national territories or boundaries, but at the same time it will offer an opportunity to preserve and protect the memories and history of what actually happened over the past several centuries and more.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

South Korea Ranks 3rd Among OECD Countries in "Readiness for Globalization"

Ready for Globalization?  Global Benchmark Report 2008 is the fourth in a series of reports giving the Danish Confederation of Industry's annual assessment of the development in the business environment and the performance of the individual OECD member countries.  I must admit that I was somewhat surprised that South Korea, overall, ranked third among the countries studied.  The report includes 84 international benchmarks and provides a picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the OECD countries in the global economy.   On balance it is quite a laudable accomplishment for The Republic of Korea and a closer look at the report is quite revealing.  The report compares the performances of 29 OECD countries and their business environments.
The comparison is based on 84 indicators divided into six main sections as indicated in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full-size version of the graphic).  Across all of the benchmarks, South Korea had more top-3 rankings than all other countries, except for Switzerland and Iceland.  This is shown in the second graphic to the left.  One can read through the entire report to get a sense of where Korea ranked high and where it was low.   It ranked high on measures of growth and development, but low, for example on labour productivity.  Korea came out number one among the 29 countries in the benchmark of knowledge and competence, based on average rankings using 23 separate indicators. This is shown in the third accompanying graphic.   As the report explains, The strengths of South Korea include a large share of youth completing a secondary degree, a large share of students in science and engineering and a high patent productivity.  One interesting measure shows that South Korea led all OECD countries in the share of 25-34 year olds with an upper secondary education as of 2005.  It ranked number three in the share of 25-34 year olds with a tertiary education.
And, it ranked second to the United States in terms of expenditure on educational institutions as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product.  Notably, South Korea ranked in the bottom five in terms of Labor Regulations as of 2007.  The assumption of the report being that a low degree of labor regulation helps business adapt to changes.  Not surprisingly, it ranked at or near the top in measures of broadband and internet use.  Finally, it is of interest to note that South Korea ranked last on the measure of "Cultural Openness" as shown in the final graphic below, and next-to-last on a measure of "Discrimination Towards Race, Gender, Etc." in 2007.   There is much more in the full report, which can be downloaded as a pdf file using the link at the start of this post.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Google Translate Tool Added to This Blog

For the convenience of many Koreans who view this site, and other visitors from around the globe, I've added the Google Translate tool in the right-hand navigation area. Just choose 한국어 or another language from the pop-up menu and the page will automatically be translated for you. As you all know, machine translation is far from perfect and has a long way to go. However, it seems to be improving, and it offers a useful starting point for translating any of these posts into Korean. I hope you enjoy using this service and would appreciate any comments.

Monday, August 25, 2008

China Biggest Threat to Korean Intellectual Property

In a prior post dealing with Korea, Patents, Shift in Innovation Hubs I noted South Korea's growing interest in its own intellectual property.  Now, an article in this morning's Chosun Ilbo notes that China is the biggest threat to Korean intellectual property.  A survey was conducted by Gallup Korea for the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) on the overseas intellectual property cases of 1,202 domestic firms. Some 65 percent of all cases happened in China, and 12 percent each in Taiwan and in the United States. By sector, 24 percent of breaches happened in electrics and electronics, 22 percent in machinery and 21 percent in textile and clothing.  A KIPO official noted that “While the number of intellectual property infringement cases of Korean products is decreasing in other countries, it is rising in China."

Russians Dent Google's World Domination? I Doubt It

An article in the Sunday Times declares that the Russians have dented Google's world domination with their search engine Yandex.  According to the article, Russia is one of only four countries where the American search giant fares considerably worse than local services – alongside China, where the internet is controlled by the government, South Korea and the Czech Republic. To “Google it” may be the common way of searching in much of the world but in Russia Yandex holds 55% of the market compared with Google’s 21%.   I haven't checked on the Czech Republic, but suspect that the situation there is similar to that in China, and Korea.   Korea's Naver, provides only Korean language search results and its most popular feature is "Knowledge In," a database service where answers to questions in Korean are answered by other Koreans.  Naver does not actually search the internet.  Neither does Baidu in China or Yandex in Russia.  Read the following description from Yandex's own English language website.
"We operate Russia’s largest internet search engine and are a leading Russian internet and technology company. Our goal is to provide easy access to the wealth of information available online to answer any questions our Russian-speaking users may have. We rely on our in-depth understanding of the Russian language, culture and internet market to provide our users with sophisticated web search and information retrieval services."  In short, Naver, like Baidu and Yandex, do not challenge Google's World Domination because they do not even claim to search the internet.  More on the search issue in later posts.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Other Side of the Information Revolution Coin: Korea's Farm Population Drops

On my weekend trips to Kangwon-do, my wife and I enjoy watching the farmers do their work as the seasons change. The report in today's  Korea Times, about the continued decline of South Korea's farming population caught my eye.  The number of Koreans working in the agricultural and fisheries sectors has declined by one-third over the past 25 years as people in rural areas moved to cities for higher income and a better life. According to the National Statistical Office (NSO) Wednesday, the number of farmers and fishermen stood at 3.4 million in 2005, accounting for 7.3 percent of the total population. It marks a sharp decrease from 10.8 million in 1980 when almost one out of three Koreans were engaged in the sector. The article also notes that the agricultural and fisheries industries accounted for 3.3 percent of Korea's gross domestic product (GDP), substantially lower than manufacturing's 28.4 percent and the service sector's 67.8 percent, according to the statistical office.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

World Attention in the Information Age: Korea's National Image

In 1941 Harold Laswell, one of the social scientists whose work led to the creation of communication research as a field of study, wrote a thought-provoking article titled "World Attention Survey." Laswell's research tried to map attention patterns around the world by analyzing the content of newspapers, in particular the countries and issues mentioned in newspaper articles. My first book, Television's Window on the World, was based on my doctoral dissertation and attempted to do something similar with U.S. network television in the 1970s. Today, thanks to the internet and some new Google services, it is possible to do a "World Attention Survey," with much less manual effort than when Laswell was conducting his research or when I laboriously, with the help of research assistants, hand-coded television content for analysis in my dissertation. To illustrate the possibilities, I will show in this post how Google Insight, its brand-new service, can be used to shed empirical light on the question of Korea's national or brand image. In an earlier post, I showed how searches of Google News could be used to help analyze Korea's national image. Google Insight provides an important new piece of the puzzle about national image because it shows patterns of search activity on the internet by people around the world. If you doubt this, take a look at the results of the following global, unfiltered set of searches on Google Insights for Search. Just click on the links to see the results of worldwide search activity, from 2004 to the present, for each of the following terms. If you took time to look at each of the results pages by clicking on each of the four links above and scrolling through the results page, you'll agree with me that several definite patterns show up.
  • First, searches for Korea tend to turn up news of North Korea's nuclear test and related political problems. Not surprisingly, the topics covered by the 4,000 plus media sources in Google News and the search patterns shown by Insights for Search, tend to be highly correlated. Mainstream media coverage and global search patterns are both part of "World Attention" in this information era.
  • Second, searches for Samsung and LG tend to center around information and communication technologies, notably television sets and mobile phones.
  • Third, searches for Hyundai make it clear that Hyundai is viewed around the world as an automobile manufacturer, first and foremost.
  • Fourth, the results for regional distribution of search behavior around the world show clearly that Korea's corporations have effectively established a presence in developing countries as well as those of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
These preliminary observations are based on a simple, unfiltered search for several terms. Obviously, much more could be learned by comparing search patterns across different countries or regions. However, I do think the results are intriguing. I assume that a majority of Google searchers around the world may NOT be aware that Samsung, Hyundai and LG are Korean companies, so that complicates the question of their contribution to Korea's national image. It also seems that the major mainstream media and their consistent focus on political problems or crises--currently North Korea's nuclear progam and the six-party talks--form a part of South Korea's image. This part of the image, however negative it may be, will be hard to escape short of reconciliation and eventually reunification on the Korean peninsula.

Korea a World Leader in Credit Cards, ATMs Per Capita

The use of a bank card, credit card or debit card to conduct transactions at an ATM is a very common experience for anyone living in Korea these days.  Koreans have more credit and debit cards per person than any country in the world, with the exception of the United States, according to Bank of Korea data yesterday.  And, as shown in the accompanying graphic from an article in the Joongang Ilbo, it has more Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) per capita than any other nation in the world.  Among 14 countries surveyed, Korea ranked second lowest in terms of the portion of an individual's assets held in either cash reserves or demand deposits. (click on the accompanying graphic to see a full size version)

Cyworld and Social Networking in South Korea

The Plus 8 Star website, Benjamin Joffe, CEO, has some very useful reports on social networking in Asia, including a report on Cyworld, South Korea's leading social networking site.  A report, Inside Cyworld:  Best Practices from South Korea's Leading Online Community, provides a nice overview of social networking in South Korea.  The report notes that the internet in South Korea is dominated by three major portals:  Naver, Nate.com (Cyworld) and Daum.  Yahoo Korea is the only foreign-owned website in the top fifteen. As shown in the accompanying graphic, seven of the top 15 Internet sites by traffic, are general portals and four are online game sites. (click on the graphic to see a full size version)

Monday, August 18, 2008

"Korea Connected" Documentary on Arirang Televison

Those of you interested in getting a taste of what is meant by the ubiquitous network environment being created in South Korea may want to view this half-hour documentary, entitled "Korea Connected."  It was first broadcast by Arirang Television this past June.  The link above will take you to the Arirang TV page that carries the documentary. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Slow Light to Speed up the Internet?

I hadn't planned another post on the importance of speed for the internet, but ran across a fascinating article from the BBC (click here to read the full article).  Researchers in Britain and the United States say that a huge increase in the speed of the internet could be produced by slowing parts of it down.  The major limiting factor on the internet's speed comes about not from transporting information, but in routing it to its various destinations. Metamaterials could replace the bulky and slow electronics that do the routing, paving the way for lightning fast web speeds. As noted by Dr. Chris Stevens from the department of engineering sciences at the University of Oxford,  the current system ". . . limits the speed of the whole process to the speed of your electronics.  The light and the fibres can quite cheerfully sustain a couple of terahertz, but your electronics can't do more than a few gigahertz."  Using metamaterials to build a completely optical internet may help to get around this problem.  

Speed Matters: The U.S. Lags in Internet Download Speed

It is not only in Olympic swimming events or track that speed is important.  The new 2008 report, "Speed Matters," a project of the Communication Workers of America, quantifies just how much the United States lags behind other nations in the speed of its broadband internet infrastructure.  The full report is available for download at the organization's website, http://www.speedmatters.org/ This second annual survey of internet speeds in each of the fifty states shows, not surprisingly, that the United States continues to lag behind other countries in the world.  The median download speed for the nation was 2.3 megabits per second (mbps). In Japan, the median download speed is 63 mbps, or 30 times faster than the U.S. The U.S. also trails South Korea at 49 mbps, Finland at 21 mbps, France at 17 mbps, and Canada at 7.6 mbps.
The median upload speed from the speedmatters.org test was just 435 kilobits per second (kbps), far too slow for patient monitoring or to transmit large files such as medical records.  The report also notes that about 15 percent of Americans still connect to the internet via a dial-up connection, something that has been virtually nonexistent for years now in South Korea.   It is worth noting that the debate over the importance of high speed, broadband internet was concluded years ago in South Korea.  People here are already enjoying many of the benefits that high speed internet connections bring and, if anything, the Korean populace seems to look forward to even higher speeds in the near future.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Speed in Mobile Broadband Solutions

I've commented on the importance of speed in internet connections in several prior posts. Now Jeff Orr, a leading industry analyst of mobile broadband, has created an elegant chart that visually portrays the relative speed of different mobile broadband solutions. (Click on the chart to see the full-size image.) In comments introducing the chart, Orr notes that "As more mobile broadband networks are launched and accessible to a greater potential market of users, a common question I receive is how these protocols compare in speed. This first chart shows multiple contemporary protocols and their maximum claimed data rates." Both his comments and the chart are right on target.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

One of My Favorite Korean Songs 김종환 - 사랑을 위하여

Korea has many good artists and some wonderful songs.  This is one of them.

김종환 - 사랑을 위하여

Friday, August 8, 2008

Why Google Must Succeed in Korea, for Korea's Benefit

I have read umpteen articles in recent months that note Google's lack of success in penetrating the South Korean search market.  As shown by the accompanying graphic, Korea and China are two stunning examples of markets in which Google is struggling.   Many of the recent media reports extoll the virtues of Korea's own search engines, especially Naver, with its "Knowledge-in" feature that is so popular here.  The clear implication is that Google's streamlined web pages, that return clean, well organized search results, are somehow inferior to the wealth of organized information returned by a Naver search.  In an effort to achieve some clarity here as to what is happening with "search" in the Korean market, consider the following:
  • Naver returns only Korean-language results, coming from its own databases, rather than crawling the internet as googlebots do.
  • Whereas Naver is a Korean networking site where you can search for answers to your questions in Korean, it does not even claim to search the vast non-Korean parts of the Internet.  Google has a more ambitious goal, to explore the whole internet, including all of its languages. 
  • The preceding realities mean that search results in Google will typically be far more complete and comprehensive than those in Naver or similar Korean search engines.
  • In addition to the scope or comprehensiveness of a search, there is the question of sponsorship bias, or the role of money. Google provides search results that help you find information about the topic of your interest, while Naver will tell you everything that sponsors want you to know and have paid for you to know about that topic. 
If you are skeptical about the last bullet point, take any search topic, open two tabs in your browser, and do a search for the term using both English and 하국말 as you please.  Earlier this afternoon, I did side-by-side Naver and Google searches using the term "Community College" in English and  "커뮤니티컬리지" in Korean.  The results are very revealing.  For an interesting blog posting related to this topic, see the Waiguoren's Weblog posting from September 2007.
Because the leading Korean search engine, Naver, has limited its search offerings to the Korean language, it is "searching" and building only a small part of global cyberspace.  While I agree that Korea and Korean language searching are very important, they should not be presented to Korean netizens as the ultimate solution to search.   In a sense, because of the realities mentioned above, the success of Google in Korea is an important measure of globalization and mindset here.  After all, why should Google not do well in Korea?  Google Korea is a Korean company, hiring Korean employees, and contributing directly to this economy.  Furthermore, its corporate goals seem to very compatible with some of Korea's central aspirations.  Ultimately, for Korea to succeed in the information age, it will need to be fully and seriously engaged in the internet search market, not narrowly focused on Korean-language-only social networking.  The success, even if moderate, of Google Korea, can be a great help to this country in achieving its economic goals.  The failure of Google Korea, in the absence of a better search algorithym and method, will not bode well for this nation.  There is a great deal more to be said on this topic.  More later.  In the meantime, I'd like to hear what the rest of you think.

The Internet Comes to North Korea!

According to the Chosun Ilbo and other media sources, North Korea will finally join the world wide web and provide internet service from next year.  Kim Sang-myung, the chief of the North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, a group of former North Korean professionals, at a symposium in the National Assembly on Wednesday said, "According to the Internet Access Roadmap it launched in 2002, North Korea will begin providing Internet service for special agencies and authorized individuals as early as next year."   According to The Daily NK website, "Kim Sang Myung is an IT expert from North Korea who escaped from the country in 2004, while he was a Computer Science professor in the Engineering department of Kongsang University. He now works as a professor at Kyonggi University in Gyeonggi Province, South Korea."

The Chosun Ilbo article continues, "Implementation of the roadmap, which major agencies such as the Workers' Party, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, the Ministry of Electronic Industry, and the North Korea Academy of Sciences have pushed for under the instructions of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il since 2002, is now at its final stage, he said. First of all, North Korea will establish infrastructure for a super-speed Internet service network by laying optical cables between Pyongyang and Hamhung and extending them to Chongjin and Shinuiju this year. North Korea has recently succeeded in consolidating security solutions for the prevention of online leaks of data to foreign countries and of online intrusions, and in enhancing service stability. "  Kim Sang Myung is quoted as saying the following about North Korea's decision to proceed with development of the internet. "North Korea is strongly determined to be part of the global community through the Internet. After watching China and Vietnam control the Internet effectively although these countries have opened up Internet wireless networks since the early days of their opening, the North has concluded that it can now introduce the Internet service."

Leakage of Private Information a Major Problem

According to an article in the Korea Times, the unauthorized leaking of private information continues to be a major problem in South Korea. According to a member of the ruling Grand National Party, ".. unauthorized officials at public firms had searched and even leaked sensitive private information on numerous citizens.
He said officials at the National Health Insurance Corp. had inspected more than 12,000 citizens' private information such as home address, annual income and health conditions between 2002 and May this year, adding such illegalities have been rampant at the National Pension Service as well. Among the victims are famous entertainers and politicians including Bae Yong-joon, Kim Tae-hee and even President Lee Myung-bak. Males searched the data to check whether their girl friends had an abortion. Employees collected home addresses to dole out wedding invitation cards. Some workers sold a pile of such information to private financial companies." "A recent Korea Information Security Agency (KISA) report showed that of 700 public offices' Web sites, 54.1 percent or 379 were highly vulnerable to leaks. The report stated KISA collected more than 67,000 social security numbers through the Internet homepages." The social security numbers referred to in the Korea Times article are actually national citizen's ID numbers, the rough Korean equivalent of a U.S. social security number, but arguably even more personal and confidential than a social security number. The Korea Times article also notes that the government is updating regulations to prevent private information leakage on public institutes' Web sites. It also plans to spend $700 million to install anti-hacking tools on them. A new law will mandate every public and private organization handling private information to encode subscribers' information such as bank accounts, social security (citizen's national ID) numbers, IDs and passwords. The web site of Korea Information Security Agency (KISA) is a useful source of information regarding all aspects of internet security, including SPAM, identity theft, electronic certificates and privacy issues. Unfortunately, the English side of the web site has not been updated, for the most part, since 2006. However, it is still worth a visit.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Google Korea and the Future of Search in Korea

The dominance of Naver, Daum and Empas in the South Korean search market, along with the failure thusfar of Google to garner much market share here, has caught the attention of internet-industry watchers around the world. It is illustrated by the accompanying graphic generated by a search of Google Trends (click on graphic to see a full-size version).  How can it be, many analysts note, that  Google is struggling in the nation with the world's most advanced broadband internet infrastructure?  The answer is largely to be found in language and culture.   Naver is less a search engine than a social-networking internet portal.   It doesn't search the internet.  Instead, it relies on a growing database of Korean-language only material in order to answer queries by Koreans.  As a Korean colleague with considerable internet industry experience told me, "when Koreans search on Naver, they simply want to know what other Koreans are thinking."   Or perhaps they simply want an answer in their own language, and Naver is extremely successful in providing such information.  This explains why its "Knowledge-in" feature is one of the most popular parts of the site.
In broader, more global terms, the very strength of Naver is probably its weakness.  Because it was built by Koreans, for Koreans and in the Korean language, it serves them extraordinarily well for certain purposes.   However, for the same reason, it probably will not do as well in North America, Europe and other international markets.  Also, even for certain purposes here in Korea, Google is superior to Naver.  One example that comes to mind is the many students and parents who are looking for information about study abroad in English speaking countries.  In most instances, they will find more up-to-date information, in both English and Korean, by using Google as their primary search tool.  They will also avoid the pitfall of being overly influenced by "sponsored links" and the web promotion of private study-abroad agencies who pay to sponsor those links.  So, for the benefit of Koreans themselves as well as the future integration of Korea into global cyberspace, we should all hope that Google succeeds here, at least moderately.  More on this topic in future posts.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Portable Internet: What's With WiBro?

The Korea Times chose an interesting headline for an article today about the prospects for Korea's homegrown portable internet technology, WiBro, as it is known domestically, and Mobile Wimax internationally.  "Will WiBro Sizzle or Fizzle?"  Although this may appear brash, I'm going to predict that, in the long run, WiBro or something very much like it will sizzle.  Furthermore, there appears to be no serious downside to the efforts of Samsung and other Korean companies to push for international approval of a mobile internet standard that originated here. 
At this moment in South Korea's rapid evolution toward the ubiquitous network society, it is a safe statement that there are two desireable characteristics of the future media environment:
  • It will provide broadband internet access via mobile handsets, PCs and a variety of other devices.  The term broadband internet, as used here, means speed, as in access speeds currently available in Korea, Japan and a handful of other countries.
  • To the extent possible, it will be cordless or mobile
As things currently stand, the only reason most people would want to plug in a cord or a network cable in order to access the internet, is to achieve an adequately fast connection.   WiBro, aka Mobile Wimax will succeed because it offers both speed and mobility.   Perhaps we're getting ahead of the story here.  There are other countries and companies in the world that may be pushing for their own versions of the "portable internet," as WiBro appropriately dubs itself.  The most notable of these is LTE, which is still several years off.
WiBro has an informative English language web site.  It contains links to several other sites that may be useful for those closely following the development of these technologies, approval of international standards, and related issues.   One is the Wimax Forum.   Another is the Telecommunications Technology Association.   Also of considerable interest is Intel's view of technologies that will enable the portable internet.  

Korea to Strengthen Online Etiquette Education

Officials from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology have announced plans to strengthen online etiquette education in South Korea’s grade schools. Currently students receive instruction on internet ethics beginning in the fourth grade. Starting next year, such instruction will be given in the second and third grades. According to the Donga Ilbo, “Twenty-two pages on Web etiquette will be included in ethics textbooks and supplementary teaching material. The chapter “My Friend, the Computer” will cover prevention of overuse and addiction to the Internet, and teach students to use polite words on the Web. The ethics textbook for fourth graders to come out in 2010 will have 20 pages on Internet etiquette. That for fifth graders to be introduced in 2011 will also contain 20 pages on preventing Web addiction.”

Monday, August 4, 2008

Will Convergence Lead to Free Voice Telephony?

In South Korea, internet telephony is poised for explosive growth over the next five years. As anyone who has experienced the convenience and economy of a service like Skype will already know, consumers are likely to go for internet telephony in droves. An article in today's Korea Times points out that the Korean government is expected to adopt number portability as early as next month. That policy will allow telephone subscribers to switch to cheaper VoIP services without changing their numbers and offer new possibilities for companies like Hanarotelecom, which has been struggling to strengthen its share in the saturated fixed-line market. Although Internet protocol television (IPTV), has been getting more attention in the Korean media, some analysts believe that VoIP offerings could make more of a difference in the competition between bundled services. The Korea Times article notes that "The local VoIP market was valued at about 255.2 billion won (about $251 million) last year, according to an estimate by IDC Korea, but forecasted to show an annual growth of about 53 percent for the next five years." With the introduction of VoIP and IPTV services in Korea, the major providers are planning to bundle services and offer steep discounts. Some are expected to offer free calls between subscribers to their VoIP service. However, the article reports that KT is not planning to do so, "... fearing a massive drop in average revenue per user (ARPU)." In fact, market pressures may force KT to offer free calling sooner rather than later. South Korea seems certain to be one of the first markets in the world to test the viability of something many analysts have predicted: free voice telephony.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Korea's Beef Infodemic and Cyber Defamation Law

The international news agency Reuters took note today of a subject treated in several of my earlier posts on the Korean "Beef Infodemic." The Reuters headline cast the subject as "Bruised South Korean government takes on infodemics." The lead sentence in the Reuters report says that "South Korea's unpopular young government is having second thoughts about the benefits of running the world's most wired society."   Not a bad lead, except for the fact that much of Korea's networking these days is wireless, and is aiming to become "ubiquitous."  South Korean government efforts to deal with media convergence are one factor that has led to a full fledged debate here about the role of the traditional print media powerhouses here and the nation's leading internet portals.  The Justice Ministry is working on what it calls a Cyber Defamation Law. "The reality is that we lack the means to effectively deal with harmful Internet messages," a ministry official said.  The Korean Communications Commission, which regulates the industry, has come up with its own rules to oblige portals to suspend sites stepping outside the limits and force Websites to use real names of anyone posting comments. The commission says the measures are designed to improve security and reduce the spread of false information.  Predictably, voices are rising that the government moves are attempts to erode freedom in a country that has had only two decades of democratic elections.
"The regulations violate the autonomy of the Internet and are an effective tool for tighter media control by the government," said Lee Han-ki, senior editor at the popular citizen news Website OhMyNews.  For a better overall picture, read the complete Reuters report.