The Economist has two new analyses of the mobile market in its current issue. The first explores the growing popularity of mobile broadband, using small dongles or modems with notebook computers to access broadband networks. Mostly, the story refers to operators of 3-G networks, who have cut charges for data services. It does not even mention WiBro, as it is called here in Korea, or mobile WiMax as known in the rest of the world. The other article is entitled "Boom in the Bust" and deals with the remarkable popularity of the Apple iPhone and other smart phones, and the transformation currently taking place in the mobile phone industry. In reality both of these pieces in The Economist are part of the same story. Consumers all over the world like access to broadband internet, and the "law of mobility" is beginning to exert its force. Frequently attributed to Russ McGuire of Sprint-Nextel. (download a pdf version here ) the law states that the value of any product or service increases with its mobility. A simple measure of mobility is the percent of time that a product or service is available for one's use.
It is rapidly becoming obvious to everyone that consumers like the idea of a portable internet, which is why Apple's iPhone was such a hit from the beginning, and why Google's Android platform is so important for the future internet. Thusfar, the response of the Korean government, its major mobile service providers, and its handset makers to these developments has been rather slow, somewhat defensive and tentative. The Apple iPhone will not even appear in this market until next month, along with lifting of the WIPI software requirement for mobile phones in South Korea.
I'd like to close this post with a larger point. Google, as I've argued in earlier posts, is far more than a search engine. In fact, its global dominance helps to bring into focus a number of policy issues that as convergence of media and technologies continues and we move toward the future global information society in which South Korea aims to be one of the first "ubiquitous network societies." A new book by Peter Cowhey and Jonathan Aronson, entitled Transforming Global Information and Communication Markets: The Political , has a very cogent argument concerning what is at stake in the current transformation of the global ICT infrastructure. They argue that the global ICT infrastructure is in an "inflection point" where broadband is becoming ubiquitous and network components are becoming more and more modular. In such an environment it is not surprising that new services, software and content will drive the market. More specifically, they suggest that understanding the market position of a dominant firm like Google is important to understanding the technological and political-economic choices facing policymakers. I agree and will have much more to say on this issue. The future of mobile broadband is in fact just an interesting and important aspect of the larger evolution of a global information society in which Korea can play an important role.