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!