Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Friday, February 8, 2008
- The announcement last month by Egypt's Orascom Telecom that it had won a 3G license to construct mobile phone networks in North Korea bears close scrutiny. According to press reports, the company's subsidiary CHEO Technology, a joint venture 75 per cent owned by Orascom and 25 per cent owned by North Korea’s state-run Korea Post and Telecommunications, won the right to provide mobile phone services using 3G technology. This announcement was tantalizing news, for several key reasons.
- First among them is the recent history of North Korea's involvement with mobile communications. When China began building cell-phone relay stations along the North Korean border in 2003, the use of mobile phones with pre-paid cards became a hot black market item in North Korea. Defectors from North Korea have widely reported the use of cell phones to communicate with their families. The response of the North Korean government was an attempt to ban the use of mobile phones, including increased patrols using devices that detect cell-phone signals. Yet, in early 2005 Rebecca MacKinnon speculated in Yale Global Online that cell phone technology was poised to "re-shape the North Korean world view - seen through the Chinese peephole." In 2008, it remains "poised." To date, the North Korean government has shown its fear, politically speaking, of the free flow of information that cellular technology affords.
- A second reason for interest in Orascom's announcement is that it includes plans to invest more than $400 million in infrastructure over the next three years, providing mobile phone service to North Koreans in all of their major cities. Should this happen, it will be a start toward erasing the world's most egregious digital divide, that between North and South Korea. Such a step is long overdue. However, such modern infrastructure comes with a price, that the leadership of North Korea must certainly understand. Any modern communications, network, particularly if it brings access to the internet, will also aid those who seek democratization.
- Finally, this announcement raises some interesting questions about China's influence on the modernization of North Korea's communications networks, versus the influence of South Korea. I think there is little question that the Korean language will be dominant within North Korean communications for some time to come. However, it finds itself today sandwiched between China and a lively South Korean democracy in which information flows freely through advanced networks and whose major coporations operate globally. To eventually reunify with the South Korea of "ubiquitous networks," it seems that the North will need to veer away from China's policy of attempting to control the internet toward the manner in which the South has embraced it.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Sunday, February 3, 2008
- One important meaning is the length of time from when you touch a keyboard button on a PC, mobile phone or PDA, until the device displays your input. For users of the internet, this meaning of speed is very important, and it helps to explain why, once someone has gotten accustomed to fast, broadband internet connections, they're unwilling to go back to slower interaction with the web.
- Another meaning of speed has to do with bandwidth and how much data can be transmitted per second or other unit of time via different networks. In other words, I can say that I'm connected to the web at 54 Mbps or 100 Mbps. The vast majority of non-technically-inclined people in today's world probably tune out such explanations as irrelevant to their own, day-to-day concerns.
- In practical, human terms, yet another meaning of speed is how quickly a video segment will load and play on your computer, mobile phone, pda or other device. As with the response to keyboard input, the goal here is instantaneous response.
- In today's world, another way of thinking about speed is in relation to politics. Universal access to speedy networks equals the possibility for democratic politics and the chance for an information society in which everyone prospers. I'm not suggesting that content and other factors are irrelevant, but equal access to information and equal capability to disseminate information seem to demand speed on the internet and through the world's networks.
- Speed and virtual reality (aka Cyberspace). It is also the speed, or bandwidth of internet connections that makes possible Cyworld in Korea, Second Life in the U.S. and other world's of virtual reality. Do these worlds have a history, like the real world? If so, how is the history different from and related to the history of the real world we inhabit? Most importantly, how fast is the history evolving? Is it accelerating?
Friday, February 1, 2008
Moreover, the DOI is an outgrowth of the World Summit on the Information Society meetings organized by the ITU. Among the dominant concerns at these meetings was the digital divide and the degree to which developing as well as developed nations could achieve digital opportunity. In the Geneva phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, participants decided that, in an ideal world, digital opportunity would mean:
- The whole population having easy access to ICTs at affordable prices;
- All homes equipped with ICT devices;
- All citizens having mobile ICT devices; and
- Everyone using broadband.
As one can see from a glance at the world map, digital opportunity currently varies greatly from country to country and regionally. A couple of points deserve to be emphasized about South Korea's world-leading ranking on the DOI index. First, the index contains a strong measure of infrastructure. The presence and pervasiveness of an infrastructure, or we might say the ubiquity of a network, is a necessary precondition for the equitable flow of information among all citizens in an information society. Second, the "opportunity" which concerns the ITU is opportunity for all citizens, to access information, not simply the question of whether the new networks contribute to economic growth. Third, this index does not incorporate measures of literacy and education, but the inclusion of such data would in all likelihood bolster South Korea's standing. Fourth and finally, one would hope that somehow an index like DOI could be related to the language in which information is accessed, processed and used. The incoming administration in Seoul argues that English has become the lingua franca and therefore Korea needs to mount a major effort to improve English ability precisely in order to improve productivity. If 90 percent of the information on the internet today is in English, is fluency in that language a pre-requisite to true digital opportunity?
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
- Merriam Webster online and most other dictionaries define wire as having a metallic component, like the copper phone wires that if counted or weighed would make the US the world's most "wired" country.
- Even if the newer fiber optic cables are counted as "wires" designation of the most wired nation in the world ignores the broad trend in recent years toward "cutting the cord," i.e. the introduction of mobile networks. South Korea is a world leader in mobile technology deployment and use.
- "most wired" is a vague term that makes a nice headline, but in fact is used by different sources in different ways to confuse matters. Anyone who doubts this should do a quick Google search on "most wired countries" (without the quotes). This will show that among the measures of being "wired" are: (1) the information society index, IDC's annual study which includes fifteen variables, (2) broadband users, use per capita, or hours of use per week, (3) polling data about use in the last month, (4) broadband access as in percentage of households connected, (5) the digital access index or digital opportunity index (DOI) and so forth.
Although the "wired" terminology has a comforting, anachronistic feel to it, we probably need to get beyond it to be clear about measures of broadband access or infrastructure versus usage. These two types of measures, along with others such as education, go into indices such as the Digital Opportunity Index. Such measures are going to be important to track various "digital divides" and progress in bridging them.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
- Windows is still dominant in the South Korean market, despite some recent announcements. When the Ministry of Information and Communication announced in early 2006 that it would designate a "Linux City" and a "Linux University" only 1 percent of the nation's computers were running Linux (lower than the global median of 3 percent). Near the end of 2006 Kwangju was designated as an open-source city, in a project running from 2006-2010, which will bear watching.
- North Korea, despite having few connections to the internet and virtually no modern mobile telecommunication networks, reportedly has made some progress in software development. The government in the North may well view joint software development, including Linux, as a non-controversial way to start cooperation with colleagues from the South.
- Especially in the Korean context, announcement of a project and actual implementation can be two very different things.
- Will the jointly developed Linux be solely for the use of Koreans with only the Korean market in view, or will the developers envisage Korea's role in the global information economy?
South Korea has unquestionably made progress in the development of Linux, developing its own version called Buyeo, for use in Seoul schools. Also, the project to make Kwangju an open source city is underway. These developments all merit attention, as do joint South-North efforts on Linux. More to come on this topic.