Thursday, January 22, 2009

Short U.S. Trip Starting Tomorrow, I'll be back soon

This is a note for the benefit of those who follow this blog.  I'll be in the U.S. from tomorrow through January 29th, so please understand the hiatus in posting.   Check back early in February!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New York Times: "Big Step Forward for Flexible Electronics"

The discovery made news rather quickly and now the New York Times has picked up the story.  A research team from Sungyunkwan University and the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology has developed a technique for making stretchable, thin electrodes out of graphene.  As the New York Times article put it "Graphene is a single-layer sheet of carbon atoms (the building block, in fact, of the graphite used in pencils) and has properties that make electronics engineers swoon. But making graphene sheets of a practical size has proved problematic." In addition to being nearly transparent and having excellent electrical characteristics, the films this research team has developed are unaffected by bending or stretching. And the researchers say the process is scalable, so relatively large films can be made.  More on this development in later posts.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The U.S., Korea and Broadband

Almost on the eve of President Obama's inauguration Business Week has published an interesting article, entitled "Bring U.S. Broadband Up to Speed," and its recommendations are right on target.  As the sub-head notes, "For long term economic growth Obama's stimulus package should include a $10 billion to $15 billion investment in high speed communications infrastructure.  Quoting from the article:
"The U.S. desperately needs to catch up with global leaders in two areas of high-speed broadband communications. The first is extending the current world-class wired broadband service now used by big business, smaller companies, and consumers across America. The second is increasing the transmission speed and reach of wireless service to nearly everywhere in the nation. Achieving these two goals would bridge the digital divide between city and country and provide a powerful productivity tool to all sectors of society: private enterprise, nonprofit organizations and institutions, and every level of government."
The article goes on to note how companies in other countries are leveraging broadband and the internet to operate more efficiently and create game-changing advantages.  Australia, with territory nearly as large as the continental U.S. and a very similar population distribution, has wireless network speeds of 21 Mbps to cell phones, laptops, and other wireless devices on a mobile Internet that reaches 99% of the population.  Plans are to double Australia's network speeds to 42 Mbps in 2009, "enough bandwidth to download a two-hour movie to a laptop on a beach in four minutes."
Business Week could have just as well have elaborated on South Korea.  This country built its first digitally switched network in the 1980s.  The Public Switched Telephone Network was completed in 1987, just before the Seoul Olympics.  Improvements to that network continued until, in the early 1990s leaders here saw the need for building "information superhighways."  The Korea Information Infrastructure project from 1995-2005 laid down the most extensive fiber optic, atm-switched communications network in the world, allowing those who live here to enjoy fast internet service.  However, things did not stop there.  In South Korea, development and investment have been consistent and continuous since 1981!  Policymakers here and most people have come to appreciate the productivity advantages and possibilities brought by the information revolution.  Soon WiBro (Mobile WiMax) will be available throughout Korea, but that will not be the last stage of this revolution.  Ubiquitous computing and ambient intelligence will be prominent in the next phase of development.
It seems clear that the U.S. could benefit from Korea's example and that a strong government-industry partnership between the telecoms sectors of the two nations would be beneficial to both as Obama takes office.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

WiBRO a White Elephant? I Think Not!

I saw a copy of the Korea Times this morning while strolling through our third floor offices and could not avoid noticing the frontpage article with the headline "WiBro Turns into White Elephant."  Although this makes for a good headline, after reading the article I think the analysis is way off the mark.  Most of the argument seems to be based on the fact that projections for WiBro in the local Korean market, including some by the Korea Information Society Development Institute, were overly optimistic.  Furthermore, the reporter notes that in a country with one of the most advanced wireless networks in the world WiBro looks like a "solution without a problem."  I beg to differ.
Consider the following:

  • There has been relatively slow and little uptake of the internet services offered by nation's mobile service providers on their 3G phones.  I have Nate and other SK Telecom services on my Motorola Razr phone but I seldom use them because of the inordinate cost.  The cost of surfing the web on current 3G services in Korea is way out of line.  There is your problem and it is a big one.
  • The Apple I-phone, Google Android based phones give a glimpse of what is coming.  It is really a hand-held computer that also serves as a phone.  I want my next phone in order to do Google searching, read BBC or the New York Times, check my e-mail, or make a Skype or other VOIP call.  The Korea Communications Commission has recognized that the world is full of consumers like me and so they have opened up the mobile market to the I-phone, Blackberry and other international competition, starting in a few months.  
The Korea Times article also says that "WiBro is designed as a predecessor to mobile WiMax."   This is in error.  WiBro, as it is called here in Korea, IS mobile WiMax in the terminology used by most other nations. Furthermore, the comments in the article about standards are potentially confusing.  WiBro, or mobile WiMax has been accepted as an international standard.  The major competing standard, also accepted internationally, is LTE, but it is further from implementation than WiBro.   Reading this article, one might think that WiBro, rather than LTE is lagging.
At this point, there is very little question that both WiBro and LTE will be successful for the simple reason that they add mobility to our experience of the internet.  I've used WiBro and it works just fine, thank you.  So will LTE, when they get to the same stage of technology rollout.
One final comment.   Of course SK Telecom doesn't like the thought of WiBro handsets, WiBro notebooks and all sorts of WiBro-equipped devices. ``We would need to invest at least two trillion won more to complete a nationwide WiBro network, and the cheap calls on WiBro handsets will erode our profits by initiating fierce competition,'' said an SK Telecom spokesman.  So what else is new?  Of course it will erode SK Telecom's profits and initiate competition.  I would only suggest that SK Telecom cannot forestall the inevitable move to more powerful handsets.  Nor will it thrive in the long run through thinking only about protection of short-term profits.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Happy New Year and an Update!

This is just a note to let readers of this blog know that I'm alive and well. In addition to my full-time work at the Fulbright Commission, I've been working on a book project.  Those of you who have written books or contemplate doing so know that it is an entirely different dynamic and medium than blog posting, magazine or print journalism.  I think the medium of the book, just like television, will be around for many years to come.  A far larger proportion of the books may be read over the internet or using electronic readers, but even the printed version will be preferred by some people for a long time to come.
Furthermore, the book I'm working on deals with Korea's efforts to build an information society, starting back in the 1980s.  Addressing this topic in a book, rather than other possible formats, has the advantage of forcing one to look at developments as an evolving historical process.
I'll be back to semi-regular posting soon.   Happy New Year!