Friday, July 31, 2009

Read my book, The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea, online

I'm delighted to inform you that Google has completed scanning my book The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995 and you may now read it in its entirety on Google Books. It may take Google a while longer to get it placed into the Google Books index, but for now, just use this hyperlink.
The book focuses largely on developments in the 1980s and very early 1990s. Enjoy the reading and please send me any questions or comments you might have on what I wrote such a long, long time ago.
There will be more where this came from as I plan to place as many of my books as possible on the internet, including some co-authored ones.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Modest Mobile Communication Proposal for Korea

Today the Joongang Daily has an interesting article providing more background on why KT and SKT are delaying their decision on whether to import or not import the Apple iPhone.  I suggest that both companies, along with Samsung and LG Electronics, accept some basic realities and move forward.  Why not do the following:

  • Immediately begin offering full internet access via existing 3G networks, with reasonable monthly charges for unlimited data (internet browsing) use.  Say in the range of 30,000 to 40,000 won.
  • Equip most phone models, by default with WiFi capability, and as many as possible with WiBro.
  • If Apple is driving too hard a bargain, come out with some snazzy Android phones.  This, even more than the iPhone, probably represents the future of mobile communication.  Furthermore, since it is open source, it offers far greater future rewards for Korean companies.
  • Offer an easy toggle to English and other major international languages in your software for ALL future phones that you release.  Although foreigners and tourists may constitute a niche market, it is an important niche.
Given the huge stake that LG and Samsung, along with KT and SKT have in the global marketplace, I'm amazed that some of these things haven't already been done.  The basic reason for the popularity of the iPhone is that people realize they can now take the internet with them, wherever they go, 24/7.  Sooner or later, consumers in Korea will demand the same level of service currently provided in other countries.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Korea Times: "Closed Mobile Market Frustrates Consumers"

The headline of this article in the Korea Times says it all.  There has been a lot of local press coverage about the Apple iPhone (not yet available in Korea) and Android Phones (being launched by Samsung and LG in Europe and not yet available in Korea).  This latest article summarizes many of the points I've made in earlier posts.  I'd add the following considerations just to sharpen the point.

  • it is becoming more than a little embarrassing for South Korea, a nation that touts its high levels of broadband internet access to actually deprive consumers here of mobile broadband access.  (I subscribe to SK Telecom's service but will NEVER use NATE.  Not only is Nate expensive, it doesn't even provide unfettered access to the internet! I'd like access to the internet via my handset.)
  • Instead of protecting old-fashioned, Korean language only services, Korea should open up the mobile internet market.  Force Samsung, LG, KT and SK Telecom to compete here with the best the world has to offer.  This competition, over the long run, can only strengthen Korea's position in the global market.
  • Now that handsets basically function like hand-held computers, it is natural that people want to use them as such.  This means that Korean corporations need to rapidly shift their focus to the production of software and content that young people today and future generations will want to use.  The handsets, like the PCs of old, will become commodities.  

Qualcomm Fined $208 Million

According to the Korea Times, the Korea Fair Trade Commission, this nation's anti-trust watchdog, has fined the U.S.-based company Qualcomm a record amount of $208 million for unfair business practices.  The Commisson said that the U.S. chipmaker had used its market dominance to maintain a virtual monopoly on CDMA-based phone chips.  Qualcomm owns critical key patents for CDMA, reaping huge profits from Samsung and LG Electronics.
What the Korea Times article neglects to mention is that Korea, back in the 1990s became the first nation in the world to commercialize CDMA technology.  This was accomplished through a partnership of Qualcomm and Korea's Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI).  As a result of the successful commercialization of CDMA in Korea, and its adoption by mobile service providers in the U.S. and other parts of the world, Korea's electronics companies began benefitting hugely from the export of CDMA handsets and mobile base stations.  As mobile telephony worldwide is transformed into mobile computing and internet access via the iPhone, Android phones and competitors, the latest versions of CDMA are likely to be even more important.  There is much more to say on this topic, but I'll conclude for now with one comment.  A lot of money is at stake here.    How much is Qualcomm entitled to and for how long for its intellectual property?  Comments are welcome.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Green PC Bangs (Internet Cafes) Coming!

It had to happen. As reported in the local media, including the Korea Times, the PC Bang phenomenon has converged with green IT and South Korea's internet cafes will be going green. It was an idea whose time had come. The Ministry of Knowledge Economy is looking to spend about $33 million on power-efficient internet data centers. Within this, it plans for "green" PC rooms. By eliminating the individual PCs from a PC Bang and connecting all of the LCD displays and keyboards to a single server, substantial power savings can be realized. For example, a PC Bang with 50 computers that presently utilizes 54.7 megawatts of electricity per year could reduce its annual power bill by $4,300. The complementary plan for low-power internet data centers focuses on lowering the power requirements of these centers, which are the backbone of "cloud computing."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

KCC Chief Ambivalent About WiBro

A very interesting piece in The Korea Times today about WiBro versus LTE.  WiBro, or "wireless broadband" is a locally developed variant of Mobile Wimax.  It was developed jointly with Intel and grows out of WiFi, representing the computer industry's claim to 4G mobile status.  LTE, on the other hand, is an outgrowth of W-CDMA technology and is backed by wireless companies, including Ericsson.
According to the article, some experts suggest that LTE will eventually garner 70 percent of the global market for 4G mobile services.  This despite the fact that it isn't even in the marketplace yet.  It seems to me that the real questions are (1) who will get WiBro or LTE-equipped notebooks, netbooks, handsets and modems into the marketplace first AND (2) how much consumers will value the additional speed provided by a WiBro-equipped device.
WiBro works and it appears to work just fine.   We won't know the outcome of this for another year or two, but I'd expect something more like a 60-40 or even 50-50 split of the global market between LTE and WiBRO.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Korea the World's Largest Net Exporter of ICT Products

As reported by the Korea Times and other local media, a new OECD "Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard" report shows that, as of 2007, South Korea was the world leader in exports of information and communications technologies. The nation exported a range of ICT products, including computers and cell phones, worth $97.4 billion in 2007, while importing technology goods valued at $54.1 billion. Furthermore, Korea's ICT trade surplus grew at an annual rate of 10 percent from 1996 through 2007. This record owes primarily to success of Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics in their exports of semiconductors, mobile phone handsets, televisions and other LCD products, and home appliances. However, despite the dominance of the two big chaebol groups, an industry expert noted that many of Korea's small and medium size industries also benefited from this export trend as they supplied critical electronic components here in Korea and for export. Think, for example of a 3G mobile handset. One of these today may contain 800 or more components. Until 1993 or later, Japanese firms dominated the market for handset components. However, when Korea chose to adopt the CDMA standard and became the first nation in the world to commercialize it, that picture started to change. It changed even more dramatically in favor of Korean exporters and components manufacturers when some large U.S. telecoms service providers announced they would use the CDMA standard.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

President Obama's Eloquent Reference to South Korea

"From South Korea to Singapore,history shows that countries thrive when they invest in their people and in their infrastructure; when they promote multiple export industries, develop a skilled workforce, and create space for small and medium-sized businesses that create jobs"--- U.S. President Barack Obama, Speech to the Ghanaian Parliament,Accra Ghana July 11, 2009 With the above comment in his speech to the Parliament in Accra Ghana, President Obama demonstrated that he "gets it," regarding the underlying changes needed for any country to thrive in the emerging information age. Koreans should be rightfully proud.

The Outbreak of Cyberwar in Korea?

In one of the profound ironies of the dawning information age, it appears possible that North Korea has again attacked South Korea, but this time in cyberspace, rather than across the DMZ.  The irony stems from the fact that South Korea has the world's highest levels of broadband internet usage is by far the most densely networked nation on earth, if measured in terms of fiber optic and wireless digital networks.  The attacking nation, North Korea, ranks near last in the world on measures of internet access and usage.  This is not surprising, considering its government takes great pains to insulate ordinary North Korean citizens from outside information.  Television and radio sets are wired and periodically inspected to receive only permitted channels.  Videocasettes, DVDs and mobile telephones have been prohibited and heavy penalties, up to and including death, have been exacted for their use.  Only this year, it is reported that up to 40,000 North Koreans have subscribed to the new mobile system being built by Orascom Telecom.
According to sources in both Korea and the U.S., the denial of service attacks which disrupted some government and other high-profile websites in both South Korea and the United States, may well have originated in North Korea.    In an article on "North Korea's Powerful Hacker Army," the Chosun Ilbo notes that the North Korean regime is believed to emply from 500 to 1,000 trained hackers who attack from third countries, including China.  The article suggests that the North Korean regime recruits hackers mainly from Pyongyang Automation University, also known as Mirim University, Kim Chaek University of Technology, or Pyongyang University of Computer Technology.  The first of these schools belongs to the general staff of the People's Army, has about 700 students and about 500-600 faculty and staff.  It graduates about 100 professionals every year.  The North Korean army also maintains a bureau under the General Staff to manage hackers and develop software.  Reportedly, data compiled by the U.S. Defense department shows that North Koreans are among the most frequent visitors to many of their Defense Department websites.
If the recent cyber attacks in South Korea and the U.S. indeed originated with North Korea, one can only imagine what sort of counter-attack the South and its allies are capable of, should they choose that option.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Korean Netizens Flock to YouTube, Making it Number One

As reported by the Korea Times, YouTube recently became the number one video-sharing website in Korea for the first time since it entered this market in 2008. KoreanClick, a local online consultancy, said Sunday that Youtube carved out a 42.79-percent market share last month, up from 36.29 percent in May, in overall usage time.
It outdistanced business bellwether Pandora TV, which saw its market share dwindle from 40.75 percent in May to 34.19 percent last month.
Youtube's footing was expected to slip further in April, when the site was at odds with the Korean government due to the Internet real-name system.
In April, the government urged Youtube to embrace the real-name system ― the Web site was obliged to ask users to present their names and identification details before uploading any video files or write-ups. In defiance of the instruction, Youtube stopped Web users from posting video clips or comments on its Korean Internet site, prompting concerns that users would leave Youtube.
As the Planet Size Brain blog put it, YouTube basically told the Korean government to bug off when it announced that it would reject a local law that requires users to prove their identity when they upload videos and post comments.  By voluntarily disabling comments and video uploads from the Google Korean language site, Google actually generated a favorable reaction from many netizens in Korea, who could easily go to one of Google's many other YouTube portals to upload their comments and content.  Some even said they would seek "online political asylum."   Whatever the reason, use of YouTube in Korea and Korean-language contributions have increased markedly since April.

Prosecutors Indict KT Officials for Receiving Kickbacks

There is so much money circulating in the telecommunications sector around the world that some call telecommunications "the modern-day license to mine gold."  Therefore, it was not a huge surprise to read today's reports that prosecutors have indicted KT officials for receiving kickbacks. As reported in The Korea Times, a district prosecution office in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, apprehended the staffers and dozens of subcontractors on suspicions of taking and providing bribes, indicting seven with physical detention and 47 without restriction.
In one case, a senior KT official allegedly received a bribe of 350 million won ($275,000) from a subcontractor between December 2004 and July 2006 in return for ignoring shoddy construction work and providing other ``favors.'' The KT officials received bribes regularly in return for awarding optical cable network and other construction orders to the subcontractors. They were given from 3 to 5 percent of the contract value, the prosecutors' office said.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More on KT and the Korea Communications Commission

The Korea Times reported yesterday that the Chairman of KT, Lee Suk-chae had gone "one up" on Choi See-jung, the Chairman of the Korea Communications Commission (KCC).  The article suggested that the relatively new KCC is already facing an identity crisis, and that the threat is coming from KT.  As noted in an earlier post, the Chairman of KT recently publicly questioned whether the KCC is the appropriate structure to "guide the country's information technology policies forward."
Last Thursday, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance announced plans to combine KT and state-run banks in a special purpose entity (SPE) to invest about $790 million in the network infrastructure for next-generation telecommunications services such as WiBro and Internet protocol television (IPTV).  An SPE is a legal entity owned by one or more organizations that is created to fulfill specific or temporary objectives. These entities are typically used when companies look to isolate themselves from financial risks on large-scale projects.
The problem is that Thursday's announcement by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance caught the KCC by  surprise.    KT officials noted that they have made no changes to their previously announced plans to invest in WiBro and IPTV.  However, they submitted the idea about the special purpose company to the finance ministry because "we were asked to come up with scenarios to help the economy and boost employment."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Freedom of Speech on the Internet in Korea

Issues relating to freedom of speech for Koreans on the internet are almost continually in the news.  According to the Korea Times, South Korea's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said on Wednesday that the current Telecommunications Law infringes upon the freedom of expression protected under the constitution and asked the judiciary to take a cautious approach in dealing with relevant cases. The law (article 47, clause 1) bans the spread of misleading information with the intention of ``damaging the public interest’’ via telecommunication infrastructure including the Internet.  According to the NHRC, ``Since the law was enacted 45 years ago, it has never been applied except for some recent cases, including Minerva. This means the law is unnecessary and outdated."  The law created a stir after online commentator Park Dae Sung, who used the alias "Minerva" was indicted on charges of breaking the law which sees violators face a prison term of up to five years or a fine of up to 50 million won.  Park was acquitted in April.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Publications going Digital

This post has to do with all of my journal articles, books and other writings going digital. It relates to Korea's information society only in that this transition has occurred while I've been working for the Fulbright Commission here in Seoul.
Last week I walked across the street to DHL with new copies of two of my books, Television's Window on the World and The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea. Following the explicit instructions provided on the website of the Google Books Partner program, I shipped them via DHL to Google in California. I now expect that they will be available to read, to anyone in the world with an internet connection, within a matter of weeks. You see, the publishers of the books, Greenwood Press and Oxford University Press, have reverted the copyright to me as author. That gives me the freedom to join the Google Books Partner program and to make the books 100% browseable via the web.
I'm delighted with this development. These two books, in particular, are ones that I want to make available to everyone, including people from developing countries. The first book was an outgrowth of my doctoral dissertation at Stanford, which I completed in 1978, and the book was published in 1984. The second came after two years of research in Korea during the early 1990s with financial support from Dacom Corporation and the cooperation of a multitude of Korean colleagues. Both of the books were influenced tremendously by my doctoral training at Stanford from 1974-1978. While I was at Stanford, it was a leading center for research and training on the role of communication in development, along with the obvious fact that Silicon Valley developed next door, owing to the influence of Stanford.
When I was in graduate school, South Korea was widely acknowledged to be a "developing country." Today, it is one of the world's advanced economies, in large part because of (1) education and (2) the IT revolution that it so enthusiastically embraced.
I've also placed digital copies (PDF) of two of my journal articles on my personal website. Given the current developments in Iran and the influence of the internet on politics in Korea, these may be of interest to some of you. My intent is to place publicly available copies of all my publications on the internet as soon as is practical. I'd welcome comments from any of you that find these publications of interest.