Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The iPhone's Impact on Mobile Networks in Korea, the U.S. and Britain

Having spent the past year or more reading the laments of Korea's mobile service providers and others here about low levels of data usage, and knowing that this country probably has more unused 3G network capacity than any other nation in the world, it is interesting to read about the woes of AT&T in the U.S., and now O2, one of the leading mobile service providers in the United Kingdom.
As outlined in a PC World article, O2 in Britain has now joined AT&T in the United States in blaming the "excessive data demands" of the iPhone for crippling the network!   If in fact, the U.S. and British networks are not capable of handling the data load, then Korea, with its advanced and under-utilized networks should be in an enviable situation.   The PC World article does note that some reports suggest that the iPhone itself may be the cause of problems and complaints in major metropolitan areas like San Francisco and New York.
From a consumer standpoint, the best outcome will be to build robust, high speed data networks (WiBro comes to mind here) rather than laying the blame on consumers who happen to like using mobile broadband!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Korea's IT Growth Slows Since 2005

Citing a report by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, an article in the Joongang Daily notes that the growth of South Korea's IT Sector has slowed noticeably since 2005.  From 1989 until 2004 the sector grew at an annual average of 16.8 percent, but since 2005 the pace has fallen to the 4 to 7 percent range.  The report attributed the slowdown to three widening gaps.

1. Between software and hardware.  Between 2000 and 2008 the hardware industry recorded annual growth of 9.5 percent, while the software industry grew at an annual average of 7.5 percent.
2. Between finished goods and parts.  The report noted that domestic production of key parts in the IT industry remains weak.
3. Between large and smaller companies.  While the nation's 20 largest IT companies posted an 8.1 percent rise in average annual sales from 2000-2008, sales at smaller firms grew by just 4 percent annually.

Why the iPhone is Faster: Resistive versus Capacitive Touch Screens

Thanks to an informative article in the 전자신문 ( I now understand one major reason why I like my iPhone 3GS.   It is faster than my old Motorola Razr and even faster than other touch screen phones, like Samsung's T-Omnia.   There are two main types of touch screens used in today's mobile phones.  Resistive touch screens, used in most of Samsung's and LG's phones, depend upon the pressure of a finger, or a small stylus.   The capacitive touch screen used by the iPhone, on the other hand, uses the electro static field created by the human finger, allowing faster recognition than a resistive touch screen.  Capacitive touch screens also allow multi-touch functionality, such as using two fingers to enlarge the screen for better viewing of a map, picture or other document.
In a small computer or internet device like the iPhone, customers value speed. Speed matters, as I've touched on in earlier posts.  Now I know a bit about the technology underpinning this speed.   I'd only add that the capacitive touch screen also has a natural feel to it, in contrast to the more mechanical approach of the resistive touch screen, even with haptic effects added.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

iPhone Sales in Korea: A followup

This morning The Korea Times carried a report that smartphone sales in Korea are expected to exceed 1 million.  That prediction probably needs to be at least doubled, especially since I've predicted in an earlier post that Apple iPhone sales alone will probably reach one to two million.  According to my recollection, in the period before the iPhone was introduced, well over one million Koreans purchased the iPod Touch, and it is a safe guess that the vast majority of these people will prefer the iPhone.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fixed-mobile convergence and the Role of Wi-Fi in Korea

Now that the iPhone is available in the South Korean market, the media are beginning to discuss a number of issues.  One of the interesting ones is the role of Wi-Fi in the continuing convergence of digital media.   As noted in The Korea Times this morning, mobile carriers in Korea had considered Wi-Fi more as a threat than an opportunity, even blocking handset vendors from including the wireless broadband functions on their devices over worries about losing data traffic or voice minutes.  SK Telecom, in particular, has been criticized by users for years for forcing Korean handset vendors Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics to exclude Wi-Fi from phones offered to its subscribers.
Now, things seem to have changed and SK Telecom is considering new ways to incorporate Wi-Fi access into its service offerings.  I'll say things have changed!  They began changing nearly three years ago with introduction of the iPhone.  The significance of the iPhone is not as a "smart phone" but rather that it begins to utilize various applications made possible by mobile broadband.   Until the full build-out of WiBro and perhaps LTE networks in Korea, (and even after that) Wi-Fi plays a very important role in the mobile broadband picture and in so-called "fixed-mobile convergence."  KT seems to recognize that with the iPhone and the manner in which it is leveraging its NESPOT network to sell the iPhone in Korea.  Let's hope that SK Telecom and LG Telecom follow that lead.  

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Communication and Korean Reunification

Andrei Lankov's September Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, entitled "Changing North Korea," deals with a topic I addressed in Chapter 9 of my 1995 book, The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea.  That chapter is organized around the two fundamental realities of the information revolution in South Korea as they relate to the overarching problem of national division.  The first is the control of the media and the flow of information into and out of North Korea for political purposes.   The second is the growing disparity in information infrastructure between North and South.  These two factors taken together present North Korea with an enormous dilemma.  Developing modern digital networks inevitably weakens control over the information that reaches the people, while the effort to maintain strict control over information flows will inevitably inhibit the development of a modern communications infrastructure.
Under present circumstances, Lankov is undoubtedly correct in suggesting that change will have to come from the North Korean people themselves.  He notes that "Aware of their vulnerabilities, North Korean leaders have taken information control to extremes unprecedented even among Communist dictatorships."   Lankov's key suggestion is that "To crack Pyongyang's control over information and bring about pressure for change from within, truth and information should be introduced into North Korean society."   Obviously, I agree.  This is essentially what Professor Johann Galtung suggested in a 2008 lecture in Pusan (see my earlier post).
As Lankov warns in his Op-Ed piece, the United States, South Korea and others should be aware that there are no "quick fixes."  Engaging in dialogue with North Korea, encouraging exchanges, and disseminating information will only have an effect over time.   The recent growth of a digital mobile telephone network in North Korea is an encouraging sign, especially if one assumes that the development and use of modern digital networks enhances the prospects for information flow in and out of North Korea.  The evidence, if one looks at how North Koreans used Chinese mobile networks, seems to suggest that is the case. (See my September 2 post)

GE Global Ubiquitous Health R&D Center to be Established in Incheon

The Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) and the GE Healthcare and Bio Research Complex (BRC) have announced the signing of a five year plan to establish the GE Global Ubiquitous Health R&D Center in Incheon.   Under the agreement, GE Healthcare, a global leader in transformational medical technologies and services and BRC, a respected provider of gene analysis technology, will use the facility for research and development activities related to healthcare IT solutions.
GE has made a $6 billion dollar commitment, named Healthymagination, to the improvement of health care access, affordability, and quality through advanced technologies and R&D.  The Korean government and the IFEZ see the center as an opportunity to gain advanced clinical knowledge, build professional skills, and create jobs through healthcare IT, which is a mainstream green industry.  For a more detailed report, see

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Korean Cyber-Warfare

The Korean War may have ended in an armistice, but it seems to be continuing in cyberspace.  The latest evidence of this is in press reports that the South Korean-U.S. joint war plans, referred to as Operation Plan 5027, may have been hacked.  According to The Korea Times, the Defense Ministry announced that computer hackers who may be from North Korea might have gained access to this secret plan.
The Chosun Ilbo reported that an officer with the U.S.-Korea Joint Forces Command had used an unsecured USB memory stick and that, in the process, some contents of the secret plan were accessed by a hacker with a Chinese IP address.  North Korea is believed to have military personnel who specialize in hacking.

Strength in Software/Content Versus hardware: The E-Learning Initiative

The Korea Times yesterday carried an article on the government's new e-learning initiative that sheds some light on the importance of content and software in driving the use of digital devices.  Reportedly, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has spent about $255 million to install electronic blackboards or interactive monitors for showing electronic content in 256 middle and high schools across the country.   The article notes that, according to critics, these screens are not seeing much use yet, because of the absence of appropriate electronic content.
Converting whole textbooks into digital content and using it in classrooms would be considered illegal under current rules, so teachers are limited to using excerpts from the texts.
The overall project also calls for the provision of e-book readers to a 110 schools in rural areas of Korea, but the government says it will not spend more than 1.1 million won for each device, while the companies involved in the project say they cost more.
There is always a balance to be struck between the provision of digital networks and equipment to be attached to the networks, on the one hand, and content or applications, on the other.  Although there is currently controversy over the e-learning initiative, the story is far from over.  

Apple Envy at Samsung Electronics?

An article in Business Week suggests that Apple-envy may have been a major factor in the recent personnel shakeup within the Samsung Group.  The company Choi, Gee Sung, the head of its TV and cellphone business as CEO, replacing Lee Yoon Woo.  It also created a new position, that of chief operating officer, for Lee Jae Yong, the only son of former chairman Lee Kun Hee.
Some Samsung-watchers have a one-word answer for why the company made these changes now:  Apple.    For all of its success in consumer electronics, the company is an also-ran in the battle to win customers away from Apple's iPhone.  Park Kyung Min, chief executive of fund manager Hangaram Investment and a longtime watcher of Samsung noted that "Samsung must have taken a whopping blow from the revolutionary popularity of the iPhone.  To emulate Apple it needs a new start."
Until now, Samsung electronics success has come largely from the development and worldwide sale of electronics hardware, led by semiconductors, flat screen displays and televisions and handsets.  According to Business Week, the new management team will try to refocus the company on total solutions, including creative software.  After all, the Apple iPhone is a beautiful and efficient piece of hardware, but everyone knows that its real worldwide popularity lies in the software applications available through its App store.  The Apple iPhone is really just the first of a whole generation of hand-held computers and internet terminals.  The new Android phones will emulate the best features of the Apple iPhone and eventually these handsets will be come commodities, just as desktop or notebook PCs did.  Perhaps Samsung should envy Apple, but not for its hardware, but rather all of the very useful internet and iPhone based applications that people love to use!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mobile WiMax (WiBro) Development and Exports

It is about time to review the success of Korea's home-grown mobile broadband technology, at home and in export markets.   It is called WiBro (short for Wireless Broadband) here in Korea and Mobile WiMax in other countries around the world.  It is based on the IEEE 802.16e standards and subsequent updates.
First, regarding the South Korean market, it seems a safe bet that WiBro-equipped mobile handsets will be very popular and widely used here, now that the mobile broadband market has been opened up.  People using the iPhone, Android phones or other mobile broadband-equipped handsets will place a high value on speed.  WiBro delivers speed and does so dependably.
In terms of exports, WiBro has expanded its international presence in recent months.  The WiMax Forum has announced a long list of companies backing the building of a mobile WiMax ecosystem, including Cisco, Intel, Samsung, KT, Motorola, Yota and others.  The Forum reports that wireless broadband internet deployments based on WiMax have reached 519 in 146 countries, including 95 WiMax networks deployed by 2G network operators.
Samsung announced earlier this week that it will launch its next generation mobile internet service with its Russian partner Yota in Nicaragua, starting in May.   Also earlier this month, Korea Telecom launched WiBro service in Rwanda, marking the first deployment of the technology in Africa.  The initial deployment was a wireless network for government offices in the capital city of Kigali.  According to press reports, SK Telesys, the SK group's mobile communication equipment group has exported WiBro to Jordan.  KT is providing WiBro services to Uzbekistan, and the list continues to grow.  As of September 2009, Samsung alone had provided Mobile WiMax equipment to 25 operators in 21 countries.

Korea's "Smart Grid" Plans

South Korea plans to be the first country in the world to convert its electricity network into so-called "smart grids," as noted by a story in The Korea Times.  Korea plans to implement its high-tech nationwide electricity grid by 2030, at a projected cost of $23.3 billion.  The new grid should help the country reduce power consumption by 3 percent and cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 150 million tons.
A smart grid links electricity suppliers with consumers in an IP-based network.  Many countries are striving toward the goal of having smart grid technology.   Stakeholders in the United States have identified the following performance characteristics of smart grid technology.

  • Self healing from power disturbance events.
  • Enabling active participation by consumers in demand response.
  • Operating resiliently against physical and cyber attack.
  • Providing power quality for 21st century needs.
  • Accommodating all generation and storage options.
  • Enabling new products, services and markets.
  • Optimizing assets and operating efficiently.
A simple example of how the smart grid will work is that it will allow home or apartment owners to schedule their washing machines or other appliances to run when electricity rates are lowest.  This is the same principle as the "night-rate electricity boilers" that are so popular for ondol heating systems and hot water in Korea.  The smart-grid will be accessible from both mobile and fixed broadband internet, so people could be able to make adjustments to their home appliances via a mobile handset.
Residents of Jeju Island will get the first glimpse of the possibilities offered by smart grids.  KEPCO and 167 other companies are collaborating to build the nation's first smart-grid test bed

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Google Phone and AT&T: Implications for Korea

The New York Times this morning has two articles with direct implications for the evolution of the mobile communication market in South Korea.  The first of these is about the forthcoming Google Phone.   According to the report, Google plans to begin selling its own touch-screen Android phone early next year, a move that could challenge Apple's leadership in this market segment.  The company plans to use its brand power to market the phone directly to consumers over the internet.  Customers could then sign up for service with any compatible provider.  According to Google employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the new phone will be manufactured by Taiwan's HTC and will be thinner than Apple's iPhone with a slightly larger touch screen.  The phone has already been distributed to Google employees so that they can try it out with different service providers and applications.
Not surprisingly, analysts are reporting that Google sees mobile as its next big opportunity, and it wants more control over its destiny in this new environment.  Google wants more people using web-friendly phones in part because its advertising revenues come from this source.
Some of the implications and questions for Korea are rather obvious.

  • Which mobile service provider(s) will offer the new Google phone?
  • When will it be introduced into the Korean market?
  • At what point will Korea's wireless networks begin to feel the effects of rising data usage, as AT&T is in the United States because of the iPhone?  (this is the subject of the second NY Times article.)
  • How quickly will the use of these palm-held computers (iPhone, Google Phone, Android phones) spread in Korea?  I'm on record as predicting an extremely rapid diffusion!
  • What will the arrival of the mobile broadband, handheld internet device era mean for data rates and subscription plans here?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mobile Communication in North Korea

There was an interesting article in the English edition of the Chosun Ilbo that noted the rapid spread of mobile phones in North Korea since the government there established a joint venture with Orascom in December of 2008.  In just eleven months of service, the number of subscribers exceeds 70,000 and it appears that number will reach 120,000 by early next year.  Although these numbers exceed the published expectations of Orascom, in learning about them one cannot help but think of the deep and growing digital divide between North and South Korea.  Other thoughts that come to mind are that the North is just now introducing 3G WCDMA service (as shown in the image in the upper left-hand corner of this post---click to see full size), while in South Korea mobile broadband is set to explode via the iPhone, Android phones and competitors.  Of course, if North Korea were to allow mobile broadband on a widespread basis, it would completely undercut several of its basic policies, by allowing the populace access to information from the outside world.  These are some of my thoughts.  While most of the world focuses its attention on the six-party talks and North Korea's nuclear program, it seems that the fundamental problems of information infrastructure and their implications deserve at least as much attention.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I'm officially an iPhone User: Some Initial Reactions

On Wednesday of this week I purchased an iPhone and stopped using my older Motorola Razr.  I had debated for weeks whether to wait and see what kind of Android handsets Samsung and LG would come out with next year.  Also, I knew that Motorola's Droid would be available in the Korean market early next year, probably in January.  However, I have no need whatsoever for the slide-out physical keyboard.  It strikes me as an appendage from an earlier age in the evolution of digital communication.  So, after two days of using the iPhone (3GS, 32 GB) here are some of my reactions.

  • It is a handheld computer or PC, more than a phone.  There is no single "killer" application.  What makes it so wildly successful is that it brings broadband to your palm.
  • The screen resolution is great.  I had debated waiting for one of the Samsung AMOLED screen-equipped Androids next year, but the iPhone display is so crisp and clear that I doubt I'll experience any buyer's remorse.
  • The touch and multi-touch features on the iPhone are both designed for easy use.  All you need is a clean screen and dry fingers and you can rapidly move through screens, scroll and zoom using only your thumb or a single finger for the most part.  The user interface is elegant, with no extra steps and it is also largely intuitive.
  • Synchronizing:   I was very pleasantly surprised at how fast I could synchronize my contacts, calendar, pictures and other information from my notebook to the iPhone.
The above are some personal reactions.  Using the device for a couple of days has also reinforced some of my thoughts about the Korean mobile market.

  • I'll repeat my earlier prediction that millions, not hundreds of thousands of iPhones will be sold here in the next year or two.  It is a big hit with younger people and we already know that diffusion rates in Korea's closely knit culture can be extremely fast.
  • Samsung, LG and the mobile service providers here need to take a close look at the overall impact and patterns of use of the iPhone, not as an Apple iPhone per se, but rather as a breakthrough device, similar to the first PC, and the first GUI or mouse.   A sea-change is taking place in mobile communications worldwide, and Korea has some catching-up to do.
  •  In the past, Korea has shown its ability not only to catch-up, but then to go out in front of other countries in the ICT sector.  For the long run, don't underestimate what this country's leading companies may accomplish in mobile communications!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Seoul Video Contest: "Streaming Seoul 2009"

This post is to call your attention to a very interesting and worthwhile video contest being sponsored by the City of Seoul called "Streaming Seoul 2009."   Click on the title or here to access their web site.  The contest is open to all, regardless of nationality, but there is a particular interest in how people from other countries and foreigners residing in Seoul experience and view the city.
Those of you who follow this blog know that I've long been concerned with questions surrounding national image and brand image, whether that be for a city, a corporation or another sort of organization.  Of course, this blog also concerns itself with developments in mobile communication.  One part of the big transformation taking place is the growing ease with which video can be recorded and shared with others via the internet.
I notice that the deadline for submissions to the contest is December 31.  That leaves just over three weeks for videophiles to shoot some video and put together a potential prize-winner.  The contest offers cash prizes for several categories of video.
My personal thanks to Danny Taewoo "Technokimchi" Kim for calling this contest to my attention.

Friday, December 4, 2009

"Korea has not yet begun to develop its mobile technology":Google's Expansion Plans

The Joongang Daily carried a brief report today about Google's expansion plans in Korea.   It noted the changes that Google is making to its home page.  I discussed this in an earlier post that referred to Google's plans to "Koreanize" its home page.
What really caught my eye about this latest article is the quote at the beginning, "Korea has not yet begun to develop its mobile technology."  As readers of this blog will note, I agree with the basic sentiment expressed by this quote.  As Cho Won-gyu, the head of Google Korea's research and development suggests, with the introduction of more smart phones next year, Korean consumers will begin to learn about many broadband internet applications from which they have been shielded to date.  Take for example video.  Although Youtube is now the most widely used video service in South Korea, it is not yet widely used on mobile phones.  Now that the iPhone is already here and numerous Android phone models are coming next year, that is about to change.  Given Google's strong array of web-based information services and their availability in Korean language versions, it is not too difficult to predict what will happen in Korea's mobile market next year.  Google will gain market share for all of its internet services, as Korea's customers become acquainted with them via the new Android phones that will probably come to dominate the mobile market here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

How Well will the iPhone Sell in South Korea?

A report by the Japanese investment bank, Nomura, is now suggesting that Korea Telecom could sell more than 700,000 units of the Apple iPhone next year, on the assumption that 10 percent of KT's new subscriptions are driven by iPhone demand. It seems that this prediction is based on the lively reception of the iPhone thusfar. I stand by the predictions I made in an earlier post, that the iPhone will sell millions over the next year ( I should clarify that to say 1-2 million iPhones). The Nomura estimate fails to take into account the rapidity with which mobile communications worldwide are becoming internet and cloud-computing capable. Nor, I think, does it account for the power of old fashioned word-of-mount communication in Korea, that is leading to a possible Apple iPhone mania here.

The iPhone Effect in South Korea

There is rather widespread reference these days to the "iPhone Effect," following the introduction of the Apple iPhone to the Korean market.  An example was yesterday's article in The Korea Times about the customer service war heating up between KT and SKT.    The article notes that, "triggered by this import" SK Telecom plans to introduce Android-powered handsets early next year.  It also notes that the introduction of the iPhone is "leading a new trend."
It is being called the "iPhone effect" because the iPhone got here first.  However the trend toward mobile handsets as internet-capable handheld computers has been apparent for several years now.  If the truth be told, it would be better to characterize the overall effect on South Korea's mobile market as the "Android effect," since that is likely to be broader and more sustained than the iPhone, which has its own built-in limitations.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Korea Joins Top Ten Exporting Countries, Led by ICT Sector

There has been a great deal of commentary in the local media lately about the performance and goals of South Korean exports. The country has broken into the ranks of the top ten exporting nations in the world, with total exports valued at about U.S. $260 billion. and it has done so during a global economic crisis and with ICT-sector exports leading the way. As reported in the Korea IT Times and other media, it appears that three of the four top spots in Korea's exports this year will be IT products. These are cell phones, semiconductors and display products including digital LCD televisions, which rank, which rank second, third and fourth on the list of Korean exports, following vessels (the shipping industry). The last year that three out of the top four exports came from the ICT sector was 2004.
Perhaps more important than the ranking of these major product categories is their total value, which this year will account for almost 25 percent of all Korean exports. Also, display exports showed a greater percentage increase relative to cell phones and semiconductors. The reasons for the increase in ICT exports are different for each of the sub categories. For example, exports of displays (including television sets) skyrocketed after the introduction early this year of the new LED backlit models. They represented a breakthrough from the older models, being much thinner, lighter weight and lower in energy consumption. In other words, they were a breakthrough technology in the marketplace that made all of the competing products seem old fashioned. On the other hand, the increase in cell phone handsets, while reflecting consumer preferences for Samsung and LG products around the world, was not based on significant increases in the rapidly emerging "smart-phone" segment. This has been the subject of other posts and should be of great concern to Korean exporters. Especially since the worldwide transition in mobile communications is clearly toward hand-held computing and internet devices. It is a transition that will perhaps be more important than the arrival of personal computers three decades ago.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Size of Samsung Electronics and its Challenges

The Korea International Trade Association recently re-published an article from the Wall Street Journal on the size of Samsung Electronics and the challenges it faces. In terms of size, it is already about the size of Hewlett-Packard with roughly $110 billion in annual sales. About one third of its revenues come from companies that compete with it in selling television sets, computers, mobile handsets, semiconductors and other electronic devices. The best example of this is Apple, which is one of its biggest customers for flash memory chips and screens. As shown in the accompanying graphic , Samsung is now a leading player in several key markets within the ICT sector. It achieved this status without major acquisitions and by running its own factories. As the article notes, this is similar to what IBM did back in the 1980s, making both the components for electronics products and the actual devices sold to consumers.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The iPhone is now here....where are the Android Phones?

The absence of the Apple iPhone in Korea's market was only a symptom of what was happening here.  Somehow, Korea's three mobile service providers (KT, SKT and LGT), its leading handset manufacturers (Samsung and LG Electronics) and the government managed to allow the domestic market to ignore a clear worldwide trend toward mobile broadband internet.  Now it appears they are going to pay the price.
All of the news these days is about the arrival (yesterday) of Apple's iPhone in the Korean market.   However, a much more significant development is around the corner.  It is the arrival of Android phones, manufactured by Korea's own companies, Samsung and LG, as well as Motorola, and a number of other companies around the world.  Yet there is very little specific news appearing about the release of Android phones here, despite the fact that Samsung released its first Android model in the European market months ago.
In short, despite the euphoria for some of the iPhone's arrival here in South Korea, it appears that it may take another year or two for this market to catch up with global trends. There are many ironies at play here, but this seems to be the consequence of  an exclusive focus on Korean language applications, services and software in this market.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Google's Search Market Share and "Walled Gardens"

A comment on my previous post asked why I included the Czech Republic, along with China, Russia and South Korea, as "walled gardens." A good question.
I based the reference largely upon a September 16, 2008 article in The Financial Times, entitled "Google still struggling to conquer outposts," which included a non-Google map of the world as an interactive graphic. The article used Szenam, Baidu, Yandex, Naver and Yahoo in Japan as "local success stories." What they all have in common, according to the article, is that they (1) invested earlier and developed technologies that work with (2) the local languages.
The term "walled garden" may not be the best to describe what is happening in all of these countries. For example, China is undoubtedly the most aggressive of these countries in governmental efforts to filter, censor and control the internet. However, in the case of Korea, I believe that the overwhelming preference for Korean language, together with the fact that Naver does not really search the internet, as Google's bots do, effectively walls off most consumers here from using most of the content and applications that are out there on the web. With the arrival of the iPhone tomorrow and Android phones soon to follow, that situation may be about to change.

The Apple iPhone in Korea's Walled Garden

I couldn't resist the title for this post, conjuring images as it does of the Garden of Eden and what went on there, but there is some logic to that symbolism.  The Apple iPhone is about to be released in the Korean market starting tomorrow.  The Korean market, like those of China, Russia and the Czech Republic is an internet walled garden, built almost entirely on use of only Korean-language web sources and databases.  The Apple entering this garden, on the other hand, is built on a different principle:   wide access to the internet worldwide and to applications devised by internet users all around the world.   It appears possible that the Apple iPhone, like the apple in the Garden of Eden, is going to mean the end of the garden as we know it!
Most people I talk to know that Korea has the most advanced wireless networks in the world and plenty of digital capacity, so they are surprised to learn that only 10 or 11 percent of the populace purchase data plans and actually surf the internet on their 3G phones.  It seems that the Apple iPhone, along with Android and other phones to follow, are going to break that pattern once and for all.
A good editorial in the Chosun Ilbo yesterday called the iPhone a "wake-up call" for Korean telecoms.  I think it may be even more than that, since consumers here may decide they like the iPhone, its apps, and its broad use of the internet.  Once Android phones arrive, it is difficult to imagine Korean consumers staying away from some of Google's powerful cloud-computing tools.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

iPhone Equals Explosion of Korea's Mobile Internet Market?

Now that the iPhone is officially coming to Korea, there seems to be a flurry of media attention to what it all means. Many observers are beginning to pick up on the larger significance, as indicated by today's article in The Korea Times, headlined "iPhone's Debut May Spark Mobile Internet Usage." Of course it will! Consider the following:
  • The major reason for the iPhone's popularity around the world is that it makes the internet mobile. Most of its applications depend on the internet.
  • Mobile broadband is the killer application for mobile devices and the main transformation taking place in mobile communication worldwide involves the transition from phones to handsets that are internet-capable and more like hand-held PCs.
  • There is a very good chance that Android phones will rather quickly surpass the iPhone worldwide and in the Korean market because of (1) Google's powerful range of cloud computing information services and (2) the more open nature of the Android platform.
The next year or so will be a period of great transformation in Korea's mobile market, with positive implications for consumers here.

Google Korea to "Koreanize" its Home Page

The Korea Times yesterday notes that Google Korea plans to "Koreanize" its home page!   The article notes that Naver has a 66 percent share of the search market and Daum is in second place with 20 percent.  Meanwhile, Google has only 2.2 percent of the Korean search market.  The article also points out that Google's strength has been simplicity, but that now it is ready to compromise that to make its web page more attractive to Korean users who "have grown accustomed to fancy websites crowded with features."  The article then proceeds to discuss the load time factor, or how long it takes Google's home page to load.  Everyone knows that Google favors speed.   Number three of its "Ten Things" states that "Fast is better than slow."
All of this is interesting, but I don't think it gets to the central point of explaining why Google has such a minuscule market share in Korea.  For insight into that, do a search of this blog for "Google" and read one of my earlier posts on the topic, including this one.    I'd like to repeat some of the main points.

  • Naver is not really an internet search engine, since it searches only Korean language materials and ignores most of the information on the worldwide web.
  • Korea is one of four countries in the world, including China, Russia and the Czech Republic, that pursue this walled garden approach to so-called "internet search"  Coincidentally, while the rest of the world was enthusiastically adopting an innovation called the Apple iPhone, Korea was content to use its own, Korean-language only mobile services for two and a half years before bring in the iPhone to this market.
  • The popularity of Naver versus Google obviously has a great deal to do with language and culture.
  • Conclusion:   "Koreanizing" its home page will not do much for Google Korea's market share.  Language, culture and mindset issues are never solved that easily.   Perhaps a more focused approach, simply telling Korean consumers that there is a whole world wide web of English and other language information out there would be more helpful.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Apple iPhone Release Set for November 28th: Some Predictions for Korea's Mobile Broadband Market

Finally, after two and a half years of waiting for many people, Korea Telecom has announced release of the Apple iPhone in Korea.  On November 28, KT is planning to invite 1,000 customers who made online reservations to the Jamsil Basketball stadium for a launch event.  I've been posting on the topic of Korea's mobile communication market for some time now (just use the search feature in the right-hand column to search for "mobile")  Just for fun, I'll go out on a limb and make the following predictions about the forthcoming launch of the iPhone in Korea.

  • It will be immediately and immensely popular here, selling millions, rather than tens or hundreds of thousands of sets with service contracts in the first year.  This is based on the established popularity of the iPod touch, which many bought as the best possible substitute for the non-existent iPhone.
  • It will spark a mad rush by other mobile service providers and handset manufacturers to produce Android phones for the local Korean market.  The delay in getting Android handsets here is almost as embarrassing as the long delay in the arrival of the iPhone!
  • The market for the iPhone, Android phones and competitors from Symbian will be heavily skewed toward younger people because they are (1)more broadband internet literate and (2) more fluent in English and other foreign langauges.  The market will, of course, most definitely include those of us in older demographics who use and appreciate the value of mobile broadband.
  • The entry of iPhone, Android and others may help to shed light on the inherent weakness of South Korea's Microsoft monoculture, the subject of earlier posts.
  • Finally, assuming that mobile broadband finally takes off here in Korea, as it has throughout North America, Europe and other parts of the world, this may wake people up to the extreme Korean-language dependence of the domestic Korean market.  Of course, Korean is the native language of residents here and will always be dominant.  However, if South Korea truly aspires to become a hub of any sort, it will need to adopt multiple languages, much in the way that Singapore or Hong Kong have, for different historical reasons.  The introduction of more foreign language broadband content and options here, starting with English, is not a threat but an opportunity for building a strong 21st Century information society in Korea.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 is accessible again

Just a quick note to readers of this blog.   My personal website, is now accessible again.  I'm still not sure why it was being blocked, but am glad to see that it can now being accessed from within Korea.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Update on my personal website

My personal website, is apparently still not accessible from within South Korea. I am informed that it is being blocked by KT, on the advice of the Korea Internet Security Agency (KISA) because the site is generating malware. My ISP is in the United States and I opted years ago for the least expensive plan. Therefore, I suspect that the malware is coming from other websites hosted by my ISP on the same IP adress.
In any event, I apologize to those people in Korea who temporarily cannot access my personal website. I'll work this out and get it back up and running.

Sunday, November 15, 2009 not accessible from Korea

This post relates to my personal website,, which I have hosted with an ISP in the United States for nearly a decade now.  About three or four days ago, I suddenly noticed that I could not access my own site from my office here in Seoul.  This is the first time I've had any difficulty accessing my personal site, which basically serves as an electronic resume and source of information about my background, including books and other publications.
Our network administrator advised pinging the site and doing a traceroute, which we did a couple of days ago. I then contacted my ISP in the U.S. and verified that there is no server-side problem there.  Another individual independently verified that can be reached from within the U.S.
Meanwhile, as the owner and the author of the site, my attempts to reach it from here in Seoul seem to drop off the internet at a Kornet router somewhere here in Korea, to the best of our knowledge.  Tomorrow I'll ask another staff member to follow up with Kornet.   This type of network problem is a nuisance, to say the least.  I'll look forward to learning what happened and reporting on it here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Digital Textbook Plan hits Snag

Korea's Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is planning to spend about 18 billion won ($US 15.5 million) to establish e-book infrastructures in 110 schools in rural communities around the country. However, as The Korea Times reports today, there are concerns that the project could be derailed. The consortium that the government selected to provide the e-book readers, led by LG-Dacom and Hewlett Packard, are finding it difficult to keep the price of each device below 1.3 million won, while the government insists it will pay no more than 1.1 million won per reader. This seems like a laudable project, given the rapid convergence that will soon lead to widespread availability of mobile broadband and the ability to download books from such vast digital libraries as the one made available through Google Book search. The Korea Times article notes that the Ministry of Education Science and Technology had approached both LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics to support the project but the companies both declined, citing lack of market size! Perhaps this is the same lack of market size that explains why Apple's iPhone and also Android phones are so slow in arriving in the Korean market. An alternative view would be that Korea's large electronics firms, along with their telecoms service providers, should view the Korean market, although small, as a valuable test bed for products that will be part of the future information society.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Korea's Dependence on Foreign Trade

One reads a great deal about South Korea's export-led economic growth and its dependence on foreign trade.  Nonetheless, I was struck by today's article in The Korea Times that graphically quantified Korea's dependence on exports.  Last year, imports and exports made up 92.3 percent of the Korean economy, breaching the 90 percent level for the first time.  Exports accounted for 45.4 percent of the national income, while imports made up 46.9 percent.
Such dependence on foreign trade is inevitable for an economy like Korea.  Other Asian economies depend even more heavily on trade.  Last year Singapore saw its ratio record 361.7 percent followed by Hong Kong with 348.4 percent.   Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan also had ratios higher than South Korea.
I would only add that ICT exports and imports play a very important role in this overall picture.  It would be nice to break out the ICT sector to see just how things stand.

Friday, November 6, 2009

More on Microsoft Monoculture: Mobile Phones

The Chosun Ilbo English edition carried an interesting article yesterday headlined, "Microsoft Can't Get a Handle on Mobile Phone OS Market." Of course it can't. This is highly relevant to the current situation here in the Korean market, which has been described as a "Microsoft Monoculture." (see my earlier post) The article relates to a growing concern I've had with developments, or lack of development, in South Korea's mobile market over the past several years. This nation, which has the most extensive and advanced digital networks in the world and where 100 percent of the population carry 3G, internet-browsing capable phones, finds itself in the somewhat embarassing situation. Only about 10 percent of the population actually use there phones to surf the web, for two reasons. First, the exorbitantly high data rates. Second, and more importantly, two of the three mobile service providers do not even allow web-browsing on most of their phones, instead providing a Korean-language only walled-garden database which, in the case of SK Telecom is called "Nate." All of this prompts the following observations.
  • Microsoft's whole business model was built around the PC and desktop computing, an era which is now ending with the advent of cloud computing and true mobile broadband.
  • To be more specific, Microsoft's Windows Mobile platform was modeled after Windows itself, which may only now be emerging from the disaster of Windows Vista. Industry and expert reviews of the latest versions of Windows Mobile are hardly encouraging. Those who know a little bit about software will surely go for Android, Apple's iPhone or Symbian before venturing into a Windows Mobile user environment.
  • Korea's major handset makers, LG and Samsung, both have big business deals with Microsoft. In the case of LG, it made a long term commitment to manufacture handsets using the Windows Mobile platform. Samsung is currently trying to sell its Omnia and other nice new AMOLED touch screen phones in Korea, with the Windows Mobile OS. This at a time when consumers here in Korea want the iPhone or something much like it--the Android.
  • Both mobile service providers and handset manufacturers in Korea appear to have "missed the boat" in the Korean mobile market by about two and a half years. That is how long ago the Apple iPhone was first introduced in the U.S. and some other markets. Korea will catch up. I never bet against this country in the long term, but valuable time has been lost.
  • I expect to see Android emerge as the leading OS for mobile communication over the next 5-10 years, perhaps even sooner. There are solid reasons for this expectation. Read David Pogue's review of Motorola's Droid in the New York Times.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Korea's IT Service Industry Lags Behind World Leaders

Korea is becoming well known around the world for its IT manufacturing industry. However, as reported in the Chosun Ilbo today, its IT Service industry lags behind world leaders. A study of 37 major IT firms including Samsung SDS, LG CNS and SK C&C was released by the Federation of Korean Industries on Monday. It estimates the competitiveness of Korea's IT Service industry at 73.3% of that in nations that lead the industry.
Some of the reasons given in the report were a fixation with low prices, a focus on the domestic market, the lack of a high quality workforce and insufficient investment. Interestingly, lack of foreign language skills and poor working conditions were also cited.
The world IT service market was worth $754 billion in 2008, far more than the markets for semiconductors ($255 billion)and mobile phones ($122 billion). Korean companies account for only two percent of the IT service market.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Korea's Amazing Century: From Kings to Satellites Available Full-View

I'm please to let readers of this blog know that a 1996 book I co-authored with Mel Gurtov and Robert R. Swartout, Jr. is now available full-view on Google Books. It is titled Korea's Amazing Century: From Kings to Satellites. The final third of the book, pages 127-172 summarizes and in some cases updates material from The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea, which was published a year earlier. To download a PDF version of either book, go directly to Google Books or click the bottom-right hand hyperlink to "More About This Book." Enjoy.

Korea Ranks 7th Worldwide in Wi-Fi Hotspots

As reported in the Chosun Ilbo, new statistics from JiWire show that South Korea has 12,814 Wi-Fi hotspots, placing it 7th in the World. The U.S. leads with 68,059, followed by China, the UK, France, Russia and Germany. The majority of Korea's hotspots are part of KT's Nespot service.
The broader significance of Wi-Fi hotspots was noted in a new draft report by Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. The report is entitled Next Generation Connectivity: A review of broadband internet transitions and policy from around the world. The report is available for download from the Berkman Center site.
The Berkman Center refers to Wi-Fi as providing "nomadic access" to broadband, as opposed to mobile or fixed access. The current trend toward ubiquitous, seamless access therefore involves the integration of fixed, mobile and nomadic access.
Finally, I recommend the Berkman Center's new report to readers of this blog for many reasons. It contains the best comparative analysis I've seen to date of the major international measures of broadband --the ITU and OECD measures, the World Economic Forum, and Leonard Waverman.

Hangeul Soon to Be Useable for Web Addresses: 조선일보.한국 coming soon

Thanks to an action being taken at the current ICANN conference in Seoul, it will soon be possible to use the Korean alphabet, Hangeul, in web addresses.  As reported in the Chosun Ilbo, an ICANN board meeting on Friday is set to approve a multilingual address system.   Under such a system, the web address for the Chosun Ilbo might be (조선일보.한국).   Another issue that will be addressed at the ICANN conference is the proposal to allow the use of any word after the dot at the end of an adress.  This will allow use of nouns and company names.  For example, Samsung might choose .Samsung or a wine company .wine.
The use of Hangeul will certainly add a new layer of convenience to internet browsing for Koreans, who will find it easier to quickly recognize web site addresses.  One interesting question is whether it will really diminish the need for Koreans to learn English, Chinese and other foreign languages.  Most probably not.  For Koreans, their companies and their products to really venture out into cyber space, they will need to use the dominant languages of communication in that space.

Monday, October 19, 2009

South Korea's Green New Deal: The Role of Green IT

The following CNN report shows how central green ICT is to all of the green growth plans Korea has.
Enjoy watching it!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

TV Stations Start Broadcasting to Mobile Gadgets---In the U.S.

Why, you might say, do a post about a development in the United States on this blog which deals with Korea's Information Society? Simply to make the point that the U.S. and other countries are following Korea's lead, four years later. This also happened earlier with social networking, as the founding of Facebook and MySpace in the U.S. followed Korea's Cyworld by about four years. Digital multimedia broadcasting was introduced here in 2005 and proved to be a big hit with consumers. So much so that during certain dayparts, more people in Korea watch television on mobile devices than on conventional television sets. Those interested in developments in the U.S. can read the full article in the New York Times.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cloud Computing in Korea --KT-Ericcson Deal and Some Thoughts

The Korea Times reports that KT and Sweden's Ericcson have formed a united front to nurture eco-friendly information and technology to be used in mobile telecommunication systems.  A KT spokesman said that, with the help of Ericcson, his company would move toward constructing a mobile communication system based on a cloud communication center (CCC) computing structure.  CCC is widely regarded as the next-generation telecommunication technology to maximize digital-related structures by separating the radio unit and digital unit from base stations.
The joint plan calls for KT to set up CCC base stations across the country and to work with Ericsson for early commercialization of this 4G technology.  KT officials say that nurturing capability in higher capacity mobile networks could be a key factor for sustainable green growth.   The article notes that "The mutual partnership with KT is in line with Ericsson's view of the higher market potential in South Korea, analysts say, which as one of the world's most advanced telecoms markets, will provide sufficient regulatory support and operator cooperation to create a 4G-based system."
This is all very interesting.  It raises a number of immediate questions in my mind.

  • How with the CCC centers relate to the cloud that already exists, led by information stored and organized by Google?   Access to that cloud seems essential for success.
  • More generally, how do the technical aspects of this move to 4G relate to software, applications and content, which is where the large future growth of mobile communications will take place?
  • What exactly is the definition of "cloud" as in CCC?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mobile, Immersive, Interactive Entertainment

I was catching up on Eli Noam's periodic contributions to the Financial Times and found his excellent article on the future of mobile entertainment in a July issue of the paper.  He points out that, at certain times of the day, there are already more Koreans watching television (DMB) on mobile handsets than on conventional television sets.  However, the heart of his argument is that the experience of mobile television is soon likely to be transformed into an immersive, interactive experience that equals or exceeds the quality of watching television on a large screen.  This will come about through new display technology involving eyeglasses or "heads up" displays, and other technological improvements.
South Korea's already strong position in multiplayer online games is likely something that can be translated into successful business in mobile multiplayer games.  Also, it is worth noting that there is a serious aspect to games.  If you don't think so, just check out

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mergers in Korea's Telecoms Sector

An article in the Korea Times, accompanied by a nice graphic, depicts the major shifts taking place in South Korea's telecommunications sector. In order to effectively compete in a market characterized by rapid convergence and in which the ability to sell bundled digital services will determine success, several major companies have merged or will soon merge. As shown in the accompanying graphic, the mergers began with KT absorbing its mobile affiliate, KTF. More recently, it was announced that three units of the LG Group will merge. As the Korea Times article spells out, it appears to be only a matter of time before SK Telecom merges with SK Broadband.
As broadband internet, fixed line telephony and mobile internet service all converge, it seems apparent that the mobile communications market will be reshaped into one in which content, applications and software make up the main arena for competition. This is in line with global trends.

KT to Allow Free Internet Phone Calls

As reported in the Korea Herald today, Korea Telecom announced that it will allow free internet phone calls from its mobile handsets. KT said it will introduce a plan which enables both traditional cell phone services and Wi-Fi connections for free internet phone calls. According to a statement, the company sees wireless internet as a growth engine for the future. Telecom companies in Korea have been reluctant to promote internet phone calls for fear that they would cut into revenues. Indeed, KT estimates that the move could initially slash its revenues. It expects a 35 percent reduction in fees for cell phone calls and an 88 percent drop in data transaction fees. However, the new service will be limited to three designated smartphone models.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Imminent Mobile Internet Revolution in Korea

There is more information to add to my earlier posts on the rapidly approaching shakeup in Korea's mobile market.  A recent article in the Korea Herald highlighted some of these points.   It began by noting that only 10 percent of Korea's mobile phone users currently subscribe to a fixed rate data plan for mobile internet, compared with larger percentages in other advanced countries, as shown in the graphic (click the graphic for a full-size version).  Not surprisingly, revenues from data services in all those other countries are significantly higher than in Korea. The main reason for Korea's low percentage of data-service use, in a country where everyone carries an internet-capable 3G phone is, of course, the outrageously high rates charged for data services.  Also, smartphones make up only 1 percent of total handset sales (I must confess that I didn't realize it was this low!)   All of this while the iPhone, along with the Blackberry and other smartphones have enjoyed booming popularity around the world for the past two years or more.
In the Korea Herald Article, analysts claim that the iPhone will create a breakthrough in Korea's wireless internet services.  One is even quoted as saying that the iPhone will bring about a paradigm shift that will lead to a better telecommunications environment for consumers.  I would simply note that the paradigm shift is well underway all over the world, and it involves not only Apple's iPhone but most notably the Google-supported, open source Android platform, and of course Symbian which continues to lead the world in smart-phone market share.   As noted in my previous post, Android is predicted to move ahead of the iPhone by 2012.
A final thought:  although this post focuses on mobile internet, the continued rapid convergence of digital media means that it has ramifications for converged services in the "ubiquitous network" era that is rapidly approaching.  Mobile handsets, after all, promise to be the key device in that era, providing users with services based on increased ambient intelligence in Korea's cities, towns and even rural fishing and farming villages.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Android to Overtake iPhone in Worldwide Mobile Market

Finally a colleague sent me the study I've been waiting to see.  According to a new Gartner forecast reported by Register Hardware, Android will have more than quadrupled its market share by 2012.  Its market share stood at only 1.9 percent in the first quarter of 2009, but will grow to 14.5 percent by the final quarter of 2012.  This would move Android from the sixth most popular operating system for smartphones to the second most popular, following Symbian.  The main reason for this market share growth is because, unlike Apple, Google licenses their OS to multiple original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
If this projection is even close to accurate it holds huge implications for the mobile communications market here in Korea, which is on the verge of a major transition to mobile handsets capable of surfing the web (all of it!) with a host of new services and content appearing in the process.  Not all of the services and content will be "made in Korea," but a flood of new applications should strengthen, not weaken, South Korea's mobile content, services and software sector.  If all works out well, 2012 should be very interesting, with gigabit per second internet service in major cities and much faster mobile broadband.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB) Developments of Late

My wife and I just recently traded in our Kia Sportage and purchased a new Hyundai Tucson.  In the process, we chose several options, including the built-in navigation system.  The navigation options on the system are quite nice and highly programmable.   In addition, the system includes a DVD player, FM, and DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcasting), among other things.  One day, a couple of weekends ago, I was checking out the system and when I pressed the DMB button on the left of the console and found myself watching a Korean drama via terrestrial DMB, it occurred to me what a convenient and natural option this was.  I imagined being caught in traffic, arriving at an appointment or simply being out in the mountains on a Fall afternoon, when it might be nice to watch a bit of television.  I also thought of the fact that most countries in the world don't yet enjoy the convenience of free DMB television, so this is an update on two earlier posts (the first here and the second here.)   Several things are happening in the DMB industry.
First, according to reports in Korea's electronics newspaper (전자신문), several of the terrestrial DMB broadcasting companies are starting to specialize, in an effort to attract a more targeted audience, and advertisers.  For example, U1 is specializing in online and offline sports, and Korea DMB was changing its name and plans a focus on the economy.
Second, also according to the Electronics Newspaper, three big mobile carriers in Korea are experimenting with two-way data broadcasting services using DMB.  Using such services, users can do search, shopping or communications while watching DMB programming.   This is similar to the sort of services that are incorporated in the IPTV offerings for which more than one million Koreans have subscribed to date.
Second, the export market for Korea's DMB technology, although in its infance, is still alive.  The technology is being used in such nations as Germany, China, Ghana, and France.
Like wireless broadband (WiBro), Korea's DMB technology faces competitors in the global market.  However, there may well be an important market niche for Korean technology.  This is a sector to watch closely.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hangeul and Korea's Information Society

Tomorrow, it turns out, is the 563rd anniversary of the promulgation of Hangeul by King Sejong. An opinion piece in the Korea Times provides some interesting background, but I'd like to emphasize a bit more, in relation to the central focus of this blog.
  • Because the Korean alphabet is so scientific and phonetic, it was an important factor in accelerating the uptake of computers, mobile phones and all sorts of digital electronic devices here.
  • It is possible to type much faster on a hangeul computer keyboard than on a qwerty English keyboard--much faster! Just watch any reasonably skilled Korean typing and you'll see what I mean.
  • Because Hangeul is alphabetic, it was conducive to the rapid development and growth of the graphics industry, which began back in the 1980's. Some of us remember when there were no Korean fonts, only calligraphy.
  • Literacy is an essential requirement for the information society and Hangeul helped promote it in Korea. For years now, South Korea has had near-universal literacy.
On the occasion of Hangeul's 563rd anniversary, it is well to remember the above points. People from North America or Europe frequently lump the Korean alphabet in with Chinese and Japanese and assume that it is a pictographic writing system. To the contrary, it is alphabetic, scientific and an important factor in explaining the rapid digital development in Korea over the past three decades or so!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Korea's IT Service Sector vs. IT Manufacturing

In recent decades, South Korea has become an IT Powerhouse, based largely on the impressive strides it has made in ICT-related manufacturing.   We all know the main products --semiconductors, mobile handsets, LCD flat panel displays and digital televisions, along with parts and components for many of these products as well as fiber optic and wireless digital networks.
A new report by the Hyundai Research Institute warns that the sluggish development of South Korea's IT Service industry could hurt the country's overall IT competitiveness since it widens the gap between the service and manufacturing sectors.  Korea's IT Service industry expanded by an annual average of 7.1% from 2001 through 2008, while its IT manufacturing industry grew 9.5 percent in the same period.
An article published by Yonhap News also notes that the the IT service industry encompasses consulting, systems integration and management, and IT education.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More on Naver vs. Google

According to an article in the Korea Times today, Naver takes pride in being one of the planet's few internet companies that can claim to be a "Google Beater."  The other three countries, as mentioned in earlier posts on this blog, are China, Russia and the Czech Republic.
The article further noted that Naver has improved its search results in order to recognize the search habits of individuals so that they can be provided with the type of information they prefer.  As if this weren't enough, the article states that Naver "...doesn't want to hear talk about an open web environment."
Altogether, this article provides convincing evidence that Naver is not really an internet search service.   Rather, it is a walled garden Korean-language database which tells Koreans what other Koreans think about things.  While the internet is global, Naver tends to be national and rather narrowly so.
Contrast Naver's goals with the mission of Google, "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."  Google operates in all the world's major languages while Naver excludes all but Korean. This is not simply a matter of language.  It also extends to internet content--books, videos, blogs and all of it.  Naver simply ignores most of the world's information.  Let's assume a user wants to see whether a book has been written about some topic in European history.   Would sh/e use Naver or Google?    I think the answer is clear.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Samsung Delivers Linux Handset to Vodaphone, but NOT for Korea

Samsung will provide Linux-powered mobile phones to Vodaphone, the world's largest wireless carrier, based in London. The phone is the industry's first commercial handset using release 2 of the LiMo operating system. LiMo, backed by a large group of global handset vendors, is a platform based on the open source Linux, which can be used on mobile phones for free. The Korea Times has an interesting article on this development. By now, everyone should realize that the future of the mobile communication industry is going to revolve around
  • a growing array of handsets that are essentially like small internet-enabled PCs. These will become like a commodity, with increasing power and lower prices,
  • the real excitement and money in mobile will be in the content (software and applications) that mobile devices allow customers to use.
Given these realities, I only have one question about the new LiMo based phone by Samsung. When will it, along with Samsung and LG's android phones, hit the Korean market? For the overall health and growth of the market, the sooner the better.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Korea's Microsoft Monoculture: the Downside

There is an excellent article in today's Korea Times about the price South Korea is paying for an almost exclusive reliance upon Microsoft Windows based software and its "Active-X" controls.  As the article notes, some critics would claim that the almost complete reliance on Microsoft software here makes the country's computing experience outdated by about a decade, compared with the rest of the world. As the article notes, ". . . Linux, Firefox, Chrome and Opera users can't bank or purchase products online, and where Mac users buy Windows CDs to prevent their devices being reduced to fashion items." It is going to be a major challenge to break this heavy reliance on Microsoft and introduce some healthy diversity into the Korean market. However, it is a challenge that must be met for this country to remain competitive and in tune with global developments.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Apple's iPhone Coming to Korea: The Implications

The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and press all around the world are reporting that the Korean government has removed the last legal hurdles to sale of Apple's iPhone in the South Korean market.  Assuming the reports are all true and that that the iPhone will go on sale here later this year, this is good news, but it is only the beginning of a big shakeup in the mobile communications market in South Korea.   Watch what happens in relation to the following questions.

  • Will only KT sell the iPhone or will it be sold by competing service providers as well?
  • When will Android-based phones show up in the South Korean market and which service providers will offer them?
  • Will VOIP services like Skype be allowed on the iPhone and Android phones?  (presumably because Skype is already being used on iPod Touch here in Korea).
These are only a few "top of mind" questions.  What seems likely is that the mobile communications market here may soon shift, along with the rest of the world, over to the iPhond/Android model. Stay tuned.

Lessons from SK Telecom's App Store: Welcome to the 21st Century

An article in the Korea Times contains some interesting bits of information about SK Telecom's new Apps Store.   Among the key points are:

  • It is a "me-too" effort, modeled after the great success of Apple's online App store.  
  • The only way apps can currently be downloaded is through SK Telecom's own fixed data rate plans.  Those not subscribed will have to pay on a per-packet basis, 3.5 won per kilobyte.   So downloading the 1,349-kilobyte ``2009 Pro Baseball'' mobile game, one of the most popular programs made available on T-Store, will cost users nearly 5,000 won for network usage, in addition to paying 3,000 won for the game itself.
  • The article quotes bloggers who note that SK Telecom only wants to make as much money as possible, and is not interested in improving the smart-phone experience of users.
  • SK Telecom remains concerned that free internet capabilities (via Wi-Fi) on their phones would lead to  VOIP calls on the handsets and thus cut into their voice revenue!!
 The last point is obvious from the growing number of Koreans who are using Skype on I-Pod Touch sets.  It would seem that it is time for SK Telecom, along with KT and LG Telecom, to develop strategies with an eye toward the future.  The future of mobile communications, as demonstrated by the iPhone phenomenon, and soon to be reinforced heavily by the likely success of Android around the world, lies with handsets that are really mobile computers.  This in turn means that future profits will come from software and content innovations.  Welcome to the 21st century!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Another of My Books Available Full-View on Google Book Search

I'm please to let you know that my 1993 book with Heung Soo Park, Global Television and the Politics of the Seoul Olympics is now available full-view on Google books. It will take a few days before it is in the Google Books search engine and fully searchable, but for now you can read it on my own web site, and download a PDF version if you prefer. Professor Park and I are delighted that this book is now available to a wider readership. The 1988 Seoul Olympics were a pivotal event for Korea and for its relationship with the rest of the world. In retrospect, it is even clearer now that they marked a distinct takeoff point for this country's ICT sector. Some of the reasons for that are discussed in the book. Enjoy

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Samsung Launches Solar Cell Testing Facility

Today the Chosun Ilbo published a very interesting article on Samsung launching a solar cell R&D and testing facility.  Its eventual goal is the mass production of solar cells.   The sentence from the article that caught my attention was the following. "The company said it has raised its technological independence in solar cells to 85 percent by utilizing its expertise in LCDs and semiconductors." This is only one example of the diverse effects of having a strong ICT sector like that here in Korea.

More on the iPhone's Conspicuous Absence from the Korean Market

The Korea Times and other media reporting today that the long-delayed arrival of Apple's iPhone in the Korean market is being mulled over by the government.   The big hangup seems to be the current regulations governing location-based services in South Korea.
I would only point out that the delayed arrival of the iPhone, Android-based phones and other competitors here is, in a broad sense, detrimental to the health and future growth of Korea's mobile communications market.  The failure thus far of the major service providers to move in this direction is one reason that WiBro services are so slow to take off here. One cannot help but surmise that, once people in Korea get a taste of iPhone and Android applications, they will also demand greater speed, and that is precisely what future WiBro equipped devices will provide.
Today's news makes it appear unlikely that Korea will see an iPhone this year, but that is only my speculation.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Anecdotal but Interesting: LG more popular than Samsung in North Korea

A short article in The Korea Times today notes that LG home appliances are more popular in North Korea than those manufactured by Samsung.  Even though North Korea is generally regarded as a "closed" society, quite a few Samsung and LG television sets enter the country through China.  To prevent the flow of South Korean electronics products, North Korea started a registration system for television sets in May of this year.
The most interesting point of this story was the reason for LG's popularity.  Reportedly, many people in the North don't know that LG is a South Korean brand, thinking instead that it is an international brand like Sony.  The story also notes that in electronics categories like computers and digital cameras, Samsung is considered better than LG.   Although this is anecdotal evidence of what is happening these days in North Korea, it is interesting and thought-provoking.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Google Book Settlement: An Author's Point of View

I read in the New York Times this morning that the top copyright official in the U.S. has attacked the Google Book settlement with authors and publishers.  She claimed the agreement would allow Google to profit from the work of others without prior consent, and could put "diplomatic stress" on the United States because it affected foreign authors whose rights are protected by international treaties.
Regarding her first point, as an academic author myself, I have read the terms of the Google Book Partner program and wonder where the U.S. copyright official is getting her information.  Authors and publishers have the choice of whether to submit their works for digital publication by Google and should they make that choice, they have nearly complete control over how the material is displayed and distributed through the Google program.  Furthermore, they share fairly in any advertising or other revenue that may result from online display and sale of the books, something that was not the case under the old, pre-information age copyright system.
As an Academic Author, I think that Google's partnership with Creative Commons was a huge, positive factor that augurs well for the success of its books program and others who should choose to follow its example and compete in this new arena.  I have already submitted four books and two short monographs to Google for scanning and processing.  Two of them are live and you can read them, search them, or download a PDF at the following links:  --Television's Window on the World was based on an expansion of my doctoral dissertation.  I wrote it in the late 1970s and early 1980s, at a time when there was great concern about the possible role of communication in national development.   Should you choose to read the Acknowledgements (p. viii), you'll note that I dedicated the book to people who live in the world's developing nations.   Now, thanks to Google, many of them will soon be able to read it, and many may first encounter it on a handset or Kindle-style reader. -- The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea was based on two years of research in Korea in the early 1990s, with the assistance of many Korean colleagues, and the content relates rather directly to some of the concerns I express in this blog.  Were I writing it again, I would revise certain portions.  Nevertheless, it represented my best effort at the time (1995).
Back to the New York Times article and the U.S. copyright officials point about foreign authors.  If she was referring to academic authors, along with others, I fail to see the point.    Two more of my books that will soon appear in Google Books were co-authored with "foreign authors," one Korean and one from Spain. As co-authors normally do, we've talked about the Google Book Partner program and amicably and jointly decided to submit our co-authored books for digitization and publication on the web.
Finally, I would simply note that the old, print-only academic publishing houses are rapidly changing with the times.   Oxford University Press, Greenwood Press, Westview Press, and John Libbey were very willing to revert copyright to me and my co-authors so that we could submit the books to the Google project. Looking ahead, they and other university and academic presses are going to have to chart a successful business approach in an era in which there is a large, rather comprehensive digital library, mostly available to the public around the world.   In large part, we have Google to thank for this welcome new development.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

China Looms Large in Display Market

Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics currently lead the world in the manufacture and export of flat panel displays and television sets.   As outlined by the Korea Times today, China looms large for these two companies and for the other major manufacturers of flat panel displays.  After 2012, China is expected to become the world's largest market for displays, outpacing the United States and Europe.  LCD panels are used for everything from mobile phones, to computer displays to television sets.
Samsung is reportedly pursuing a "dual strategy" in the display business, by producing panels that require cutting edge technology in Korea, for export to the U.S. and Europe, while producing other panels in China.    LG Electronics, by contrast, is concentrating on gaining the "first mover" advantage in China by setting up partnerships in that country.  All of the world's biggest LCD panel manufacturers are in Asia, primarily in Japan, Korea and Taiwan.  The number of LCD TVs sold in China is expected to jump 76 percent to reach 23.6 million this year, according to Austin, Texas-based DisplaySearch. With Samsung and LG Display, Taiwan's Chi Mei, Japan's Sharp and China's BOE Technology are set to build advanced eighth-generation plants on the mainland.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Samsung is Committed to Open Innovation

I just read in Korea's Electronics Newspaper ( an article which proclaimed in its headline that "Samsung is Committed to Open Innovation."  Many of the actions taken by Samsung Electronics in recent years support that proposition, including its strong involvement in the Open Handset Alliance, and its vigorous support of basic research that will influence future electronics and telecommunications.
I have only one suggestion to add for Samsung Electronics---that it increase efforts to encourage open innovation in the Korean market.  True open innovation needs to display openness in the following ways:

  • Linguistically--hardware, software and content need to be made available simultaneously in all of the world's major languages.
  • Geographically--innovations should be introduced broadly and globally, in tune with the global nature of innovation and the information society.   E.g. Samsung's introduction of its Android phone only in Europe deprives Korean consumers and those in other countries of access to the innovation.
  • Innovation in content--Google is the undisputed world leader in terms of organizing the world's information and making it accessible.  Why should Samsung not partner in a deep, long-term way with Google?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea

Just a note to tell readers of this blog that Google has corrected the scanning problem that omitted a dozen or so pages in Chapter 1 of The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea.
The book is now fully viewable by searching Google Books or on my own web site at
Enjoy! Comments welcome

Use of Chinese Mobile Communication Services in North Korea

An article in yesterday's English edition of the Chosun Ilbo outlined a new crackdown by the North Korean government on defectors.   It contained interesting detail on how the government places defectors into three categories, with the harshest punishment dealt to those  who had entered foreign embassies or taken similar action to get to South Korea, or who had converted to Christianity.  Of particular interest to me was the detail contained in the article about those found trying to use Chinese mobile phone services.  The article notes that they are subject to the level of punishment reserved for defectors and taken to the Chongori reeducation center in North Hamgyong Province, a center which has reportedly been reorganized to deliver harsh, concentration-camp approach to punishment.
Since 2003, when mobile telephone traffic increased in the areas near the North Korea-China border, China has built many signal towers there. As a result, communications, which had been possible only in some mountains near the border, is now possible in nearly all urban areas in North Korea including Sinuiju close to the border. But North Korea is cracking down on Chinese mobile phone carriers because they could help smuggle out information and encourage defection. It has reportedly recently launched an around-the-clock watch, providing all security guards in the border areas with portable radars. Any mobile phone carrier would see a security guard vehicle arrive immediately if they engaged in a phone conversation for more than five minutes, so they are safe to use phones if they do so in the mountains, where they do not need to worry about being caught by security guards.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Connecting at London's Heathrow versus Hong Kong International

On my recent trip to Barclona, I experienced the dramatically different approach that two of the world's airports have to wireless internet access, a convenience sought by an increasing number of world travelers. While Heathrow Airport in London sought to entice users to pay one euro for ten minutes of internet access, Hong Kong International Airport provided it for free and even offered a service to charge your notebook or netbook.Needless to say, I think Heathrow has missed the boat on this one. Eventually I
suspect that they will come to see the value of providing airport-wide free access to the internet and the short sighted nature of their attempts to "nickel and dime" any customer passing through the airport.
The two pictures embedded with this post tell the whole story. Just click on the thumbnails to the left to see a larger version of the picture.
Note that the first picture is from an internet area at Heathrow and contains the chairs with "Internet Here!" on the background. The screen displaying "free access" in this picture is intended to entice users for what is really a paid access service. A link on it leads to a small set of public service pages.

Korea's Mobile Market Malaise

I've just returned to Korea from a one-week visit to Barcelona as noted in my earlier post.  As I catch up on some reading of tech articles, I cannot help but mention several developments that go a long way toward explaining the malaise in South Korea's mobile communications market.
A headline in The Korea Times a couple of days ago asks "Can Smartphones, Netbooks Save WiBro?"  The answer to this question is pretty obvious to those following the massive shift in the mobile market worldwide, away from phones per se and toward internet-enabled devices like the Apple iPhone, Android and other would-be competitors.  At least one company in China seems to understand what is going on as China Unicom, the country's second largest mobile operator, announced with Apple that it will launch the iPhone in China.  It is more than a little interesting that this comes before any Korean mobile operator announces a similar deal.  For details, check out The Financial Times article.
The answer to the Korea Times headline question is that phones like the iPhone, Android phones and the like can do a great deal to boost interest in WiBro.  Why?  Because they allow access to the entire internet at reasonable monthly rates.  Also because WiBro-equipped devices offer greater speed than 3-G connections to the internet.  Internet users around the world have proven many times over that they value the speed of their interconnection.   Simply put, when it comes to broadband, speed matters.
People in Korea should not be wondering so much why WiBro has not yet taken off here. The experience of the iPhone for over two years now in many other countries shows that (1) people want internet access, not a small, pre-packaged segment of the internet only in Korean or only in any other single language (2) they prefer faster rather than slow access via their mobile device and (3) that people find different applications very useful, including many types of geospatial and social networking applications.
Failure to realize the importance of the Google-backed Android and the iPhone have put the Korean market well behind (2+years) significant global trends.  The whole mobile communications market in South Korea will only emerge from the current malaise when one or two companies start offering internet services via the iPhone, Android phones and possibly other competitors.  Although the iPhone was first out of the starting block back in 2007, I think Android will give it a run for the money worldwide,including the South Korean market.  Comments welcome.