Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Long-term Media Trends--Evidence from Google's Ngram Viewer

I couldn't resist playing with Google's new Ngram Viewer, a program that an article in the The New York Times described as "Google's 500 Billion Word Haystack."  Plug in some of the major communication media of the twentieth century and the Ngram Viewer returns the accompanying line graph (click on the graphic to see a full size version).  The telephone and newspapers received considerable mention in English language books throughout the century, with a bit more attention around 1940 than at any other time.  Mentions of radio soared during the World War II era.  Mentions of television began to increase around 1950 and continued to do so until the year 2000.   It comes as no surprise that mentions of the internet begin in the 1990s, a pointed reminder of how recent a phenomenon this everyday communication tool is.  Although we may use the internet daily, we still use it for listening to the radio, watching television or reading newspapers, among other things.

Court Declares Telecom Law Unconstitutional

As reported in the Joongang Daily and widely in the local and international press, Korea's Constitutional Court yesterday ruled as unconstitutional a telecommunications law that had been used to punish the famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) blogger Minerva.  Minerva's case had been widely publicized in Korea and was the subject of an earlier post in this blog.   It was viewed as an important case for freedom of expression and certainly highlighted the complex issues that Korea is facing in this area.
The Constitutional Court struck down the clause in the telecommunications law that had imposed a prison term of up to five years and a 50 million won fine ($43,500) for those who were deemed to spread false information on the Internet and mobile phones that would harm the public interest.In the 7-2 decision, the court said the clause was unconstitutional because it lacked a clear definition of “false” and “public interest” and imposed an excessively harsh punishment on violators.“The electronic communications law is unclear in meaning,” the court said in the ruling.
Civil liberties advocates said the ruling could be a significant milestone in preserving the right to freedom of expression.  However, as noted in The Financial Times, some conservative civic groups worried aloud that it might contribute to chaos in cyberspace by tolerating online invective and hate mail against public figures.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

English-Teaching Robots Arrive in Korea

English teaching robots have arrived in South Korea!  As reported in the Joongang Daily, the Daegu Office of Education introduced 29 robot teachers in 21 elementary schools.  The 1-meter (3.28 feet) egg-shaped robot, named “Engkey” (an abbreviation of English key), spoke, asked questions and conversed in English with students, and even entertained the crowd by dancing to music.  (Click on the accompanying graphic to see a full size version.)
From my point of view, one of the most interesting aspects of this experiment is that these robots are linked to real live teachers. These teachers control the machines by remote from the Philippines. They have cameras to record their faces - which show up on a flat panel screen that forms the robo-teacher’s face - and they can also see the Korean students through a camera installed in the robot. Basically, the robot is a rolling Internet link between students and teacher, although the human teacher can also command the robot to make human gestures with its arms and wheels.
No doubt this news is going to strike a chord with many of the expatriate English teachers now living and working in South Korea.   It is also an interesting bit of evidence to support Korea's ambitious goals for the future of its robotics industry!  Comments welcome!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Gifts and the Future of Books

It is Christmas Day, 2010, and all around the world people are unwrapping their Christmas gifts.  A very considerable number of these gifts will be e-readers or tablet computers.   The recipients of these gifts will, in turn, download a large number of e-books, magazines, newspapers and other products being offered for these new devices.  The New York Times took note of this phenomenon in an article titled "Christmas Gifts May Help E-books Take Root."
There seems to be little question that the growing availability of tablet and e-reader devices, coupled with the increased availability of books in electronic format on the internet, will drive a major shift in reading habits all over the world.  The local press here in Korea has taken note, as in the Chosun Ilbo article entitled "Print Publishers Find New Life Through Tablet PCs."  The embedded illustration accompanied that article (click to see a larger version).
So far, I've held off on purchasing a tablet-sized device.  Although the form factor of the iPad is appealing, I still consider it too heavy as a reader.   However, I'm sure that as costs continue to come down and these devices become lighter in weight and with more features, I'll become a user.  The question of whether I will use such a device to read books has already been answered.  In fact, the majority of books I've read in recent years, along with magazines, newspapers and academic journals, have appeared on my computer screen.   I'm sure this is true for most of you who read this blog.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Seoul's Subways and Smartphones

The Chosun Ilbo reports that Seoul's Subway Line Number 2 has become one of the city's major WiFi hotspots.  The reason?  It passes by major universities including Ewha Womans, Hongik, Seoul National and Yonsei Universities and is now notable for passengers' lively use of smartphones.  According to statistics released by KT,  Line 2 recorded 2.56 times more WiFi data consumption than the average of 14 subway lines running through Seoul and adjacent areas.  KT also noted that 94 percent of WiFi data usage was accounted for by smart phones.
"The soaring WiFi traffic on the Line No. 2 stations including Dongdaemun, Gangnam, Hongik University and Samseong shows that most smartphone users are young people in their 20s or 30s," KT said.  Click on the accompanying graphic to see a full-size version.

More on the Skype Outage and its Implications

Like millions of others around the world, I experienced the disappearance (see the previous post) of my normally dependable Skype service.  It was out of order all day yesterday (December 23), but by this morning I was able to log on normally.
The media are full of stories about the Skype outage.  As The New York Times "Bits" column noted, Skype will struggle to restore not only its service, but its reputation.  Skype has announced that its problem was with "supernodes," computers among its network of 124 million users that serve as phone directories and help connect calls.  For unknown reasons, they were taken off line.  Although unknown, Skype did know and announce, according to the BBC, that the fault had been caused by a "software issue" on critical parts of its network.
Skype has announced plans to compensate users for the outage, but the long term impact of this event will be on the dependability of Skype service, especially for business users.  I'd be interested in comments from other Skype users here in Korea about how this event affected them.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Skype Issues and the Future of the Internet

This morning at 7:00 A.M. Korea time I was ready to have a pre-scheduled Skype video conference with a colleague in the United States.  The first time I dialed and failed to connect to Skype, I thought it might have been a problem with my notebook computer or with the local area network or router in my house.  After re-booting several times, I could still not connect to Skype, so I placed the call via my mobile phone to my colleague's mobile number and we had our conversation, without Skype and without video.
This all reminded me of Jonathan Zittrain's book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It.  I found that this book has been published on the web, with an associated site and blog.   Very interesting, and in light of my experience today, worth thinking about.  Some of you may find this site useful.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Enjoying IPTV in Rural Gangwon Province!

I did a post earlier on the arrival of fiber to the home (FTTH) service at our place out in Gangwon Province.  Yesterday, we took advantage of the fiber connection, by subscribing to IPTV.  This involved cancellation of our existing Skylife television service, and a short visit from a KT technician, who ran cable from the Qook modem to the set top box above our main television.
The IPTV service, for whatever reason, seems to provide better picture quality than our Skylife service did, and it has a host of new features, including the ability to search through and view old television programs broadcast after 2007.  Some of its features provide realistic glimpses of the future "smart TV," and they are all very easy to use.
According to the Joongang Daily, Korea is now the fourth largest IPTV using country in the world, after France, the U.S. and China.  As Korean consumers get used to the various features and applications that come with Google and other so-called "smart television," I expect it will rather quickly become a mainstream medium here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Google TV's Prospects in Korea

The New York Times is reporting that, despite setbacks, Sony is "optimistic about Google TV."  It could well be that Korea, with its world-leading digital networks and encouraging uptake of IPTV, as mentioned in my prior post, might be a market in which Google TV does very well.
Sony acknowledges that reviews of its internet-enabled Google TV have been mixed and Google itself has asked other television makers to delay new models until the software could be refined.  The Google TVs, which run on Intel’s Atom chips, are close to full-fledged computers. They let users search for keywords to find shows and see when and where it is being broadcast, as well as viewing links to Web sites about the show.
It appears that Toshiba, LG Electronics and Sharp have put off plans to demonstrate Google TVs at the consumer electronics show next month in Las Vegas.   However, Samsung still plans to show off a forthcoming Google TV model.  And why not?  Although the new, interactive, video-on demand and other services may take some getting used to, they undoubtedly represent a big part of the future market, especially with the digital network infrastructure available here on the southern half of the Korean peninsula!

IPTV Subscribers in Korea Top 3 Million

Internet protocol television (IPTV) has attracted more than three million subscribers within its first two years of operation, according to industry reports.  That figure represents 6 percent of the nearly 50 million subscribers in the local television market.   A KT official commented that "The number of available channels on Qook TV lags behind other cable TV services, but...we reached 3 million subscribers thanks to two-way services, such as video-on demand, and other features."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Digital Divide Concept as Applied to Korea

These days I've been looking more closely at the origins and different uses of the concept of digital divide.    As readers of this blog will know from prior posts, I believe the concept has particular relevance to present circumstances on the Korean peninsula and to prospective unification of the country.
Popular and scholarly use of the term "digital divide" roughly coincided with the large-scale adoption of the internet in the 1990s.  It is a multidimensional concept that has been used to refer to almost any aspect of access to and use of information using the internet and digital information processing devices.  The concept has been used to describe divergence in digital development between and among nations, differential access to information within nations, and also differences in how well different groups of people use information to participate in public affairs (the so-called democratic divide).  Those three approaches were outlined by Pippa Norris of Harvard in her 2001 book.
The digital divide has also been conceptualized in relation to the classic S-curve in the diffusion of innovations.  The accompanying graphic (click to see full size version), used in an ITU presentation by Choi and Lee,  illustrates the framework suggested by Molnar.
Korea's national division and its demilitarized zone originally took the form of an armistice that ended hostilities in the Korean War.  Both occurred decades before the digital revolution and arrival of the internet.  However, as I have argued on occasion, the latter developments have increased the significance of the DMZ as a digital divide, while decreasing its importance as a purely military demarcation line.
While searching for scholarly material on the digital divide, I ran across a fascinating book entitled Bytes and Bullets:  Information Technology Revolution on the Korean Peninsula.  It was published in 2005 based on an earlier conference hosted by the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, a U.S. Department of Defense Center in Honolulu.  The good news is that all nineteen chapters of the book are available in PDF format on the internet at this link.   Although much of the book deals with the digitization of defense in South Korea and some "guesses" about the role of IT in North Korea's defense modernization and in its economic development generally, the book and the conference represent the single most thorough treatment of this topic that I've yet located.   The introductory chapter, by Alexander Mansourov, outlines the scope of concerns treated in the book, and Chapter 18 by Scott Snyder, offers some interesting speculation on the digital divide on the Korean peninsula and the possible role of the IT sector in North-South reconciliation.
Comments are welcome, especially if you're aware of any more recent studies dealing with this topic.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Notes on some modifications to this Blog

I just reviewed my list of "Useful Websites in the right hand navigation bar of this blog.   Not surprisingly, I discovered that a number of the links were out of date.   I eliminated those and updated links to several Korean government web sites.

I also added sharing links at the end of each post to facilitate things for those of you using social networking sites.  

Finally and perhaps more importantly, I activated the mobile blog feature that Blogger now incorporates.   It looks a lot better on my iPhone and this should make things easier for all smartphone users who may occasionally read the blog!   Hopefully these changes are helpful.   Let me know if they are not!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Korea Ranks Number One in Fourth Annual "Speed Matters" Survey

The Communications Workers of America has released its fourth annual "Speed Matters" survey of broadband internet speed in the United States.  As shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full size version) their report benchmarks several other countries around the world, including South Korea.  The new report argues that speed matters because 1) speed makes the promise of the internet a reality, 2) U.S. economic growth depends on high speed internet, 3) millions of Americans don't have high speed internet, and 4) the U.S. trails far behind other countries.  According to this latest report, the United States ranks fifteenth among the countries of the world in average broadband internet speed.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why a Book on Digital Development in Korea: Reason 5, the Review Process

I've just finished reading the first page proofs of my forthcoming book with Dr. Oh, Myung entitled Digital Development in Korea:  Building an Information Society.  Doing so couldn't help but remind me of a fifth reason for writing the book:  the review process.  Writing a book like this starts with a proposal to the publisher.   That proposal undergoes review by acquisitions editors and sometimes series editors.  In the case of academic books like ours, the publisher sends out the proposal, including a number of chapter drafts, for a confidential peer review by other scholars in the field.  Then, assuming the book is accepted, the manuscript goes through one or two more reviews before and after the typesetting stage of production.
Yes, these multiple reviews may at times become tedious from the author's standpoint, but there can be little doubt that they contribute immensely to the quality of the final product.  I was reminded of this while responding to specific questions raised by the copy editor who read the page proofs before they were sent to us for review.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Another Chapter in Korea's Relationship with Qualcomm

Way back in 1993 the Korean government made a difficulty and bold decision to adopt CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology as its mobile communications standard.  Although holding much promise for the future, at that time it was an untested technology to which a small U.S. company, Qualcomm, held most of the patents.  The Korean government decision made it the first nation in the world to commercialize CDMA.
For many years, Korean companies paid handsome royalties to Qualcomm as they manufactured CDMA devices not only for the Korean market, but for export to the U.S. and other countries.   Last year, the Korea Fair Trade Commission fined Qualcomm a record $236 million for discriminatory acts that included charging higher royalties to some customers.  Now Qualcomm, as part of the agreement that followed that fine, will start disclosing information that will allow South Korean companies to develop software for its chips.  As reported in the Joongang Ilbo,  Qualcomm intends to open an application digital signal processor (ADSP) interface so that third parties can develop mobile multimedia software that can be used on its modem chip, for which it has exclusive rights. The interface helps to compress and convert computer files into moving images, making it possible to receive video and other types of content on a cell phone.
This is an interesting development that may give a boost to Korea's efforts to move from its manufacturing emphasis into software and services.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

President Lee: South Korean Reunification Drawing Near

President Lee Myung Bak, on a tour of Southeast Asian nations, has stated that although "North Korea now remains one of the most belligerent nations in the World... it is a fact that the two Koreas will have to coexist peacefully and in the end realize reunification."  As reported by the Washington Post, and widely in the international press, Lee made the comments on two different occasions.   In a speech on Thursday night, Lee said that North Koreans have become increasingly aware that the South is better off. He did not elaborate on how their knowledge had expanded, but he said it was "an important change that no one can stop."
Although President Lee did not elaborate on how and why North Korean's knowledge of the South is increasing, readers of this blog will know from earlier posts that the information revolution and the availability of ever-smaller and more powerful digital devices (cameras, DVD players, smart phones.....) is at the heart of the matter.
In August, President Lee said South Korea should prepare for reunification by studying the possibility of adopting a reunification tax aimed at raising money for the costs of integration. Lee proposed a three-stage reunification process in which the two Koreas would first form a "peace community" involving denuclearization of the peninsula, then an "economic community" for cross-border economic integration, and eventually a "community of the Korean nation" with no institutional barriers between them.  In a recent interview, the President noted that "ultimately, the foundation for reunification will be laid when North Korea becomes economically independent."

Facebook versus The Korea Communications Commission

The Korea Communications Commission (KCC) is in the news again, throughout the tech blogs and even in the mainstream press around the globe.  The KCC, formed in 2008 by the incoming Lee Myung Bak administration, is South Korea's top communications policy and regulatory agency.  This time it is in the news for issuing what The Register called a "stern warning" to Facebook about its privacy policies.
As reported by IDG, the KCC sent a letter to Facebook indicating that it is in breach of South Korean data privacy laws and needs to do a better job of getting consent from users when getting their personal information.  The KCC said the U.S.-based company has 30 days to respond to the complaint, so this may be a developing story.
Much of the blog and mainstream press coverage of this development, while interesting, fails to convey adequately the following obvious points.

  • Traditional conceptions of privacy in Korea, and in Korean language web content and services, are not at all the same as ideas about privacy in the West and other parts of the world.
  • Social networking in Korea, epitomized by Cyworld, and social networking in the U.S., led by Facebook, have significant differences.  As noted in earlier posts, even though Cyworld swept through the Korean internet experience almost half a decade before Facebook appeared, it cannot simply be treated as the Korean equivalent of Facebook (as noted in earlier posts on social networking.)
  • Notably, Facebook did not have much of a presence at all in Korea until the arrival of Apple's iPhone about one year ago.
  • Finally, it seems to me that the KCC complaint to Facebook represents another excellent illustration of the global scope of the internet.  While the activities of Facebook impinge upon Korean society and Korea's laws, the question of what impact the KCC complaint will ultimately have on Facebook's behavior is an interesting one.   Some months earlier, when the Korean government sought to regulate how users could log  in to Google's Korean Youtube site, that company reacted by closing the site.  Subsequently Korean users of Youtube flocked to sites hosted in other countries to make use of the service.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Dilemma for Korea's Online Game Industry

The Korea Times earlier this week carried an excellent article describing the dilemma posed by its online game industry. The nation's policymakers recently decided to limit the amount of time that Korean youngsters can spend playing their favorite online games. The new online gaming curbs prevent gamers under the age of 16 from playing between midnight and 6 a.m. to combat addiction.   The age and the time period were the result of a compromise between the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which had advocated imposing the limits on gamers age 14 and under, and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which had proposed restrictions for all gamers under the age of 19.  Eventually, the Blue House had to step in to referee the conflict between the ministries.
The dilemma is clear.  Stronger restrictions on online games also restricts the growth of the industry, while a lax approach which encourages industry growth may contribute to more internet addiction.  The dilemma is being exacerbated by the mobile broadband revolution.  The country’s existing rules require all game content to be screened by government reviewers before reaching customers, and critics have been questioning whether such rules are relevant in an era when more games are played online than through CDs or game cartridges. Apple and Google have been forced to prevent its Korean customers from accessing the game categories on their content platform, as Korean censorship officials have no prayer of reviewing and approving the flood of games released by Apple’s massive network of developers every day. This has also prevented Korean games developers from marketing their products to local customers. As noted by an official of one local gaming firm, "The Internet has no boundaries, and the new regulations have no grasp of the reality. Young users can easily log-in to a foreign online game service after we stop providing them after midnight."

Korea's Ambitious Goals for the Robotics Industry

As reported in The Korea Times, the Knowledge Economy Ministry has announced that it will channel $26.3 million next year alone in an effort to become one of the three world powers in the robot industry by 2018.  This has been one of the government's goals for several years now, as noted in earlier posts.
Korea is seeking to capitalize on the global transition from a focus on mass production models to service robots.  Presently, Korea's global market share is about ten percent.  It seeks to double that figure by 2018.  That means that Asia’s fourth-largest economy is looking to earn as much as $20 billion a year in 2018 as the world market is expected to grow to $100 billion by then from today’s $10 billion.
The article notes that growth of the robotics industry is expected to positively effect related businesses such as motors, sensors, actuators, displays and chips.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Korea's Booming IT Exports

As noted by a report in the Joongang Daily, Korea's IT exports continue to flourish, led by semiconductors, flat screens and smart phones.  As shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full-size version) November marked the sixth consecutive month that IT exports exceeded $13 billion.   The information presented in this article, based on reports from the Knowledge Economy Ministry, make it clear that the worldwide boom in smartphones and other mobile devices is perhaps the major factor behind the export growth.  After all, as discussed in earlier posts here, many of the key components in Apple's iPhone and iPad are manufactured in Korea.  So, in addition to the export of Korean smart phones per se, we must consider how many of the semiconductors and screens manufactured here are sold in order to provide hardware for the transition to mobile broadband around the globe.
It is equally apparent that the new finger-slim LED television sets are selling well around the world.  In addition to the export categories already mentioned, television components was among Korea's top ten exports in November.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fiber to the Home in the Mountains of Gangwon Province

Since 2004 my wife and I have enjoyed dependable DSL service, courtesy of Korea Telecom, at our small house in the mountains of Gangwon Province.  It was initially installed during a Winter snowstorm by a young KT technician (see my earlier post and photograph as proof).
After years of dependable DSL service, the modem provided by KT suddenly went dead two weekends ago.  We made an appointment for another technician to come out yesterday and I thought he would simply replace the DSL modem.  Instead, he climbed up to a box on a nearby telephone pole, strung fiber optic cable from it to our house, and connected KT's Fiber to The Home (FTTH) modem.  All of this took approximately an hour.   No charge for the service and no change to our current service, except that we're getting faster speeds on the fiber!
For the record, this is our most recent experience of customer service from one of Korea's major service providers.

Korea's DMZ as a Digital Divide: Examining the Implications

In one of the earliest posts on this blog, back in late 2007, I noted the significance of Korea's DMZ as a digital divide.  Although much of the news about Korea these days is about the recent North Korean shelling of Yongpyeong Island or its nuclear program, there are some valuable bits of news here and there about the digital divide between the two Koreas, which deserves much more attention.
Stuart Fox has an interesting article about "The Technological Hassles of a Potential Korean Reunification," which draws heavily on interviews with faculty from Syracuse University, which continues an ongoing IT-related exchange program with Kimchaek University in Pyongyang.  The article contains some informed speculation on what might happen when the world's most digitally networked nation, South Korea, moves toward unification with one of the least digitally networked countries in the world, North Korea.    I would add that the implications of the current, growing ICT infrastructure disparity between North and South Korea is a topic that deserves not only more attention in the news, but also more serious and in-depth research.  For example, there is speculation in the article that unification might enable North Korea to leapfrog by quickly building new mobile networks.  To what extent is this really the case?  What of the need for terrestrial fiber optic networks that have taken South Korea decades to build?  An argument might be made that such a decades-long investment in fiber infrastructure will be necessary for full parity in communications infrastructure and for true and complete unification.
I also ran across the North Korea Tech blog, which contains regular posts on the development of the ICT sector in North Korea.  It is authored by Martyn Williams, Tokyo Bureau Chief for IDG News Service.
Back in the early 1990s when I was researching and writing The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea, it was already apparent that there were two broad aspects to Korean national division, from a communication perspective.  The first of these was the growing infrastructure disparity between North and South.   The second was that of the political implications of free flow of information in and out of North Korea.  Both are important, but these days the second area is getting more attention as cameras, phones and other electronic devices are becoming smaller, more mobile and more powerful, just as the internet and cloud computing become the norm for many.  In the current era it is literally impossible for any country to completely control the flow of information to and from its citizens.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

More on Social Networking Trends in Korea

The Joongang Daily has an interesting article today dealing with the problems of security on social networking sites in Korea.  It quotes a Facebook representative in Korea as saying that Koreans have a relatively low awareness of social network security.   I would suggest that this is part of the broader cultural differences in thinking about and using social networking sites, as discussed in earlier posts.   Cyworld is dramatically different from Facebook with the latter being introduced over four years later in the U.S.
According to eMarketer, 61.4 percent of Internet users worldwide have an SNS account, up from 51.4 percent in 2009 and 45.1 percent in 2008. And it turns out that people spend more time on social media Web sites than they do e-mailing or Web surfing. Those surveyed spent 4.6 hours a week on SNS sites, compared to 4.4 hours for e-mail.    Here in Korea, according to the Korea Communications Commission, 65.7 percent of the population uses SNS sites.
The article notes that the very concept of social networking is about sharing personal information.  However, there are limits, as most people would not want credit card or certain employment-related information publicized over the internet.   In Korea, as shown by the accompanying graphic, Cyworld is still the most popular "social networking" web site (click on graphic to see a larger version).
Online attacks have been a common occurrence in Korea, with the most famous being “dog poop girl.” In 2005, a photo of a girl who left the subway train without picking up her dog’s waste was spread on the Internet. Korean netizens revealed her identity as well as her school, and she ended up dropping out in disgrace.
Although the graphic in this post shows the current dominance of Cyworld, it should be noted that Facebook and Twitter are experiencing much more rapid growth with the booming growth of mobile broadband and smartphones.  This all amounts to many future challenges for Korean consumers, the government and the legal system here as South Korea adjusts to the realities and the security risks of social networking.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Why a Book on Digital Development in Korea: Reason 4, the Book Format

Within a week or so my co-author and I should receive the first page proofs from Routledge of our forthcoming book, Digital Development in Korea: Building an Information Society. Routledge has published preliminary information about the book on its web site here.   This post is another in my series of thoughts about why I would want to co-author a book on this topic.  Why write a book, especially one that is subjected to a long process of blind (anonymous) peer review, and then takes 6-8 months to produce and print?
A fourth reason is simply that the book format is proving remarkably resilient in the face of digital convergence and the information revolution generally.  Google has its book project.  The Kindle and its competitors are all "e-book" readers.  In the midst of all the current changes, the concept of the book (versus the magazine article, newspaper article, blog post or many other shorter formats) holds a certain attraction for both readers and potential authors.   Despite the rapid growth of the internet and various digital information sources that it interlinks, many doctoral students around the world still strive to publish their doctoral dissertations as a book!
Whether in e-format, hardback or paperback, there is something about the book that appeals to human readers around the globe.  I recall once, during a conversation with my co-author when I mentioned publishing it in e-book format, he smiled and said something to the effect that "but you still need to print a book!"
Having said all this, it would seem that the delivery format for books is shifting toward electronic readers and digital distribution via the internet.   However, the length and basic chapter structure of a book are likely to stay with us for some time to come.
You're invited to contest or add to my Reason #4.   More reasons to come in future posts.  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

IT in Education: New System Targets Student Cheaters

A new system for admissions to foreign language and international high schools was adopted by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in January of this year.  It placed greater emphasis on essays and teacher recommendations versus test scores and language certificates.  This change in emphasis highlighted another threat, that of cheating on essays by hiring a ghostwriter from a private institute.
Consequently, the Ministry has now announced the introduction of a new system that targets student cheaters. If an essay has more than five consecutive words that are the same as on any other essays, the system will automatically highlight the common words so that examiners can judge whether a student cheated, according to the ministry. The system will indicate the name of the writer and what percentage two essays may have in common.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Korea's North-South Digital Divide: Cracks in an Orwellian Paradise

The overarching political problem in Korea today, the continuing tragedy of national division, also makes the digital divide between North and South the largest such divide existing in any country or bordering countries in the world.  I've been interested in national division as a digital divide for a long time, at least since my 1995 book, The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea was published, and have posted on it in this blog.
There are at least two major aspects to the North-South digital divide in Korea.  The first is the growing disparity in digital communications infrastructure between the two countries.  The growing infrastructure disparity has many implications, including important ones for the cost of unification.  The second aspect of the digital divide on the Korean peninsula is the vast political or democratic divide that has developed.
Andrei Lankov, an astute observer of North Korean affairs, devotes an article in The Korea Times  to an exploration of how the government in North Korea has attempted to insulate its population from outside information.  He tells an interesting part of the tragic story, and it is worth reading.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

More on Microsoft Monoculture and the Mobile Revolution in Korea

An article in The Korea Times yesterday highlights an important aspect of the mobile broadband revolution occurring in South Korea, namely the problems caused by the so-called "Microsoft Monoculture" that has grown up here.  Readers of this blog will know from earlier posts that I've been an observer of the heavy reliance on Microsoft and its implications for Korea.
The article notes the great popularity of both the Apple iPad, running on the Apple OS, and the new Samsung Galaxy Tab, which runs on the Android operating system.   Unfortunately, despite all of their other attractive features, the fact that these devices do not work with the older Microsoft software that has been adopted for online banking and many e-government services in Korea somewhat limits their utility.   The article correctly notes how the nearly exclusive adoption of Microsoft's Active X and public key certificates is at the heart of this problem.   Ironically, Micorosft itself has been moving away from Active X for a long time now due to security problems.   Another factor diminishing the appeal of the iPad is that it will not display many "Flash-happy" Korean websites.
The article might have gone on to note that the mobile broadband revolution involves not only Korea, but is global in scope.  Most likely, the introduction of the iPad and the Galaxy Tab signal an increasingly urgent need for South Korea to jettison its reliance on Microsoft and move more aggressively into the mobile and ubiquitous network environment of the future!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Social Networking and Korean Social Networking: The Rise of Twitter and Facebook

In retrospect it is clear that "social networking" via the internet arrived in Korea, in the form of Cyworld, almost half a decade before Facebook appeared in the United States.  However, as pointed out in an excellent  article in The Korea Times, Cyworld's "mini homepages" were tailored for users seeking to maintain a closed and controlled network of immediate friends.   I assume part of Cyworld's great appeal here in Korea is that it naturally extended the Korean penchant to form close networks among classmates,  family or friends from the same hometown or business.
It is most interesting that Facebook and Twitter, along with Google to some extent, only began to seriously penetrate South Korea's market with the arrival of Apple's iPhone about a year ago.  According to local market research, the number of visitors to Facebook and Twitter reached 7.38 million and 8.65 million respectively, during the month of September.  This represented a 650 percent year-on-year increase for Facebook and a 580 percent jump for Twitter.  Cyworld saw its visitors drop nearly 12 percent over the same period.
In response to these developments, local services such as Cyworld and Naver are introducing their own alternatives.  In the case of Cyworld, one such service is C-Log, a Facebook resembling service.  Time will tell about the success of these services, but as prior posts on this blog have argued, (for example here, here, or here.  Better yet, search this blog for "language") language and culture are extremely important factors in shaping Korea's information society and this reality is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Emerging Growth Patterns in the Global "Smartphone" Market

The Independent recently carried two articles that are of interest to those following the global growth of the smartphone market, which is more aptly thought of as the worldwide transition to mobile broadband.  The first of these reports on data from a recent Gartner study showing that Google's Android system surged past Apple's iPhone and Canada's Blackberry in the third quarter of this year to become the second biggest smartphone platform, after Nokia's Symbian.  Based on third quarter sales, Nokia held a 36.6 percent market share, compared with 25.5 percent for Android, 16.7 percent for Apple and 14.8 percent for Blackberry.   Among other trends, smartphone sales grew 96 percent in the third quarter and accounted for 19.3 percent of overall mobile phone sales.  Nokia continued to be the leading handset manufacturer in the world, followed by Samsung and LG.  Samsung, according to Gartner, was the top Android seller in the third quarter, with sales of 6.6 million Android phones.
The second article of interest appeared last month, and relates to an earlier post on this blog.  It deals with the interesting relationship between Apple and Samsung as competitors yet partners in the global roll out of mobile broadband via smartphones.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

LG and Samsung Struggle to Crack Smartphone Market

An IHT special report published in The New York Times yesterday was headlined "Korean Giants Struggle to Crack Smartphone Market."  It caught my eye and I read it with some expectation, but it was disappointing.  It failed, as many reports in the mainstream press do, to get to the heart of the reasons why Korea suffered the "iPhone shock" or "smartphone shock" beginning about a year ago.  As readers of this blog will know, I've been caught up with attempting to explain this phenomenon for a long time.  See this post, or another here, or simply search this blog for "smartphone shock" or "iPhone."
The story of why Korea's leading consumer electronics companies are struggling with the rapidly expanding smartphone market is more complex than the IHT special report makes it seem, and it involves the following elements.

  • Weakness in software and content versus hardware exports.  Smartphones themselves (the hardware) are not the key element in this wave that is sweeping the globe.  Rather it is the "apps" and the software ecosystem that count.   Not surprisingly, Google and Apple are major players.
  • Language -- As I've noted in earlier posts, Korea's heavy reliance on Naver for internet search casts into stark relief the importance of language and culture in any given market.  See my posts on Naver versus Google here or here  or do a search of this blog on the topic.
  • Non-tariff barriers -- The WIPI software platform adopted in Korea, while it may have originally had good intentions, eventually became a barrier to entry of the Blackberry or iPhone into South Korea's market.  I've done a number of earlier posts on this topic including this one.
  • Worry about loss of Voice Revenue--Korean telecoms executives, along with some of their European counterparts, feared a massive loss of mobile voice telephony revenues if they were to allow the iPhone and other smartphones into South Korea's market.  In fact, these fears were well grounded as Korean youth had flocked to buy Apple's iPod touch, on which many of them installed the free, Skype VOIP service.
The above are just a few of the points I wish that the IHT article, published in the New York Times, would have expanded upon.

Growth of Mobile Phone Service in North Korea

According to a report in Business Week, mobile phone subscriptions in North Korea have surged by 400 percent over the twelve month period ending in September of 2010, reaching a total of 301,199 subscribers.  Of course, this increase is due in part to the low level of subscribers a year earlier (reportedly just slightly over 69,000 as of September 2009).  Cairo-based Orascom Telecom said its advanced 3G telephone service network now covered 75 percent of the population.  It reaches a total of 12 main cities, 42 small cities, and 22 highways and railways.  Orascom plans to extend coverage to over 90 percent of the population by year's end.
Analysts had predicted that mobile service would be limited to North Korea's political elite and the capital city of Pyongyang.  However, Orascom reported a steady increase in voice and SMS usage over the past three quarters.  The company has 26 direct and indirect sales outlets in eight North Korean cities.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why a Book on Digital Development in Korea: Reason 3--Language

A third reason I can think of for co-authoring a book on Digital Development in Korea is language.  By that I mean to emphasize several points.  First, while there has been a great deal written about these developments in Korean media and scholarly journals, there is a lack of such information in English.  Second, my own ability to read, write and speak Korean has improved to a point where it motivated me toward a better effort to understand the 한국의정보사회.  There is little doubt in my mind that the language barrier alone explains in part the relative lack of international scholarly attention to Korea's remarkable developments.  Third, as our forthcoming book will explain, language is a key factor in explaining the distinctive pattern of South Korea's digital development. The popularity of Naver versus Google, for example.   And, of course, language and culture are ever so closely intertwined.  

Friday, November 5, 2010

Samsung's Galaxy Tab versus Apple's iPad

Ever since Steve Jobs recent public comments about the optimal size and other characteristics of tablet computing devices, I've been thinking occasionally about this matter.  One of the reasons I have not jumped to purchase an Apple iPad is its thickness and weight.  It is just a bit to heavy in your hands to be comfortable for reading e-books, magazines, and newspapers.  Heavier, that is, than a paper newspaper or a paperback book.
The Chosun Ilbo today covered the introduction of Samsung's Galaxy Tab, the 7" tablet that Steve Jobs critized.  While it is definitely lighter in weight, its problem is that the screen size doesn't permit a natural reading of books, newspapers or magazine articles.  The Chosun Ilbo's article does note one point that I strongly agree with.  Consumers will be the ultimate judge.  In my opinion, neither Apple nor Samsung are quite there yet, in terms of the form factor for  tablet-size computers or reading devices.   I see these emerging as lightweight and very much the size of the old print media.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why a Book on Digital Development in Korea: Reason 2--History

A second major reason for co-authoring my forthcoming book with Dr. OH, Myung (Digital Development in Korea:  Building an Information Society) was the need for historical perspective on Korea's accomplishments.  This is the second post in my informal series on the reasons for the book.
If you're like me, you've read many industry or press reports that make it sound as though the information revolution occurred just within the past few months or perhaps years.  For example, many published reports about Korea's broadband infrastructure access and use begin the story in the mid-1990s or later.
The developments during South Korea's so-called "1980s telecommunications revolution" need to be included in the story to comprehend today's evolving information society here.   As of 1980, the nation suffered from a massive backlog in telephone service, its basic telephone network had only a few imported digital switches, and efforts to enter the semiconductor industry could be described as somewhat hit-and-miss.  The development of Korea's networks and its electronics sector during the 1980s was truly revolutionary.  It also laid the foundation and set precedents for developments in the 1990s and beyond, illustrating what economists refer to as the "on the shoulders of giants" characteristic of information.  That is, information is both an input and and output of its own production process.  As explained by Yochai Benkler in The Wealth of Networks, in order to write today's academic or news article, I need access to yesterday's articles and reports.  So it is with building advanced digital networks.  Also, the technology is continually changing, so that a long-term project to build a certain network over fifteen years might be shorted to ten years owing to technological change.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Yet another Broadband Index: Korea Ranks near the Top on "e-Intensity"

The Boston Consulting Group was recently commissioned to do a study of the internet economy in the U.K.  In order to measure the reach and depth of the internet in the United Kingdom, and to make comparisons with other countries, the BCG created an international "e-intensity index."  Fifty percent of the index is accounted for by enablement, which measures how internet access and how well built the infrastructure is.  The other two elements in the index are expenditure, how much money consumers and businesses are spending online on e-commerce and online advertising, and engagement, which measures how actively businesses, governments and consumers are embracing the internet.
The top ranked countries in the world on the BCG's e-intensity index are shown in the accompanying graphic (click on it to see a full size version).  South Korea, not surprisingly, ranks as the number two country in the world, behind Denmark.  I say "not surprisingly," given the weight given to infrastructure.  It is now well known aroud the world that South Korea has the most extensive and modern digital networks in the world.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Evidence of American Misperceptions of Korea

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has recently published a Report on U.S. Attitudes Toward the Republic of Korea, authored by Victor D. Cha and Katrin Katz.   A PDF version of the study can be downloaded from the Council's Website.  Coincidentally, both authors are recent alumni of the Fulbright program in Korea!  Their study was part of a national survey by the Chicago Council and it contains some findings that should alarm those who are concerned with the health of the U.S.-Korea alliance.
The survey, conducted earlier this year, found general awareness of South Korea in the U.S. to be low.  For example, only 51 percent of respondents thought of South Korea as a democracy, compared with 40 percent who thought it was not a democracy.  This despite Korea's status as one of the most successful examples of peaceful democratic transition in modern international relations history!  Fifty percent of survey respondents thought that Buddhism had the most followers of any major religion in Korea, while only 19 percent mentioned Christianity.  Fully 71 percent of respondents did not know that South Korea is one of the United States top ten trading partners.
Findings such as these are of concern because of their impact on public support for key U.S. policies toward Korea, including the pending Free Trade Agreement, the North Korean Nuclear issue, and the presence of U.S. troops in South Korea, to name a few.  Readers of this blog will know that I am very interested in the nature of Korea's national image and the major factors shaping it, including the internet and new digital media.  The easiest way to see past posts, such as this one, is to enter "national image" in the search box to the right.
The thought that U.S. policy toward Korea might be influenced by vague and misguided public images is disturbing to me, as it should be to all who are concerned with the current and future health of the relationship between our two nations.

Converged Network Operators Will Lead the Mobile Broadband Era

Interesting coverage in The Korea Herald yesterday of a speech by KT Executive Choi, Doo-hwan.  He makes some obvious, but important points about the network infrastructure needed for the emerging era of mobile broadband and eventually ubiquitous networking. "The key to success in the competition of wireless Internet, triggered by the rising popularity of smartphones, is gaining competitiveness in wired broadband networks,” said Choi. “The firm with both the wireless and fixed-line networks will ultimately pioneer the wireless Internet market.”
The reason for this is rather straightforward.  It will be necessary to spread the increasing wireless internet traffic to different networks, including Wi-Fi, WiBro and 3G in order to handle the amount of data used by smartphone users.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Will Physical Books be Gone in Five Years?

CNN is carrying an article today based on an interview with Nicholas Negroponte of the MIT Media Lab, who predicts that physical books will be largely gone in five years.  I encourage you to watch the interview on CNN's video as well as reading the article.
A basic part of Negroponte's argument is that old-fashioned printed books cannot be produced in sufficient quantity to reach the populations of developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  However, he also notes that, for him at least, the iPad experience of reading a newspaper is superior to reading the paper version.  As an author, I've made all of my books and monographs available free of charge via Google Books, and I actually prefer to read them electronically, mainly because of  (1) the ability to search the entire content of the book, (2) the hyperlinked table of contents, and (3) the hyperlinked index.  Actually, I rarely use the index anymore, given the search capability.  However, as one of those individuals not gifted with a photographic memory, I frequently find myself wondering exactly what I wrote or how I structured an argument in a book written decades ago.  Today, I can pick up my iPhone, launch Google and quickly search the full text of, for example, Television's Window on the World (my first book, based on my doctoral dissertation.)  Moreover, any of you who wonder what the world of television news was like back in the 1970s, before CNN and long before the Internet and Google News existed, can do the same thing!
I will chime in and basically agree with Negroponte's prediction, although I think he's using a bit of hyperbole to make the point.   I expect that some people will continue to print their own books or use "print on demand" services to get a paper copy.  However, most of us will prefer the power and convenience of light weight, high quality color readers with full internet connectivity.  The players in Korea's display industry should anticipate and lead this global trend.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Why a Book on Digital Development in Korea: Reason 1

Here goes.  The idea occurred to me some time ago and I've decided to act on it.  In a series of posts over the next 4-6 months, I'm going to share with readers of this blog some of the reasons why I teamed up recently with Dr. OH, Myung to write our forthcoming book, Digital Development in Korea:  Building an Information Society Routledge, March 2011.  Let me be clear from the beginning that these posts reflect my own perspective, not necessarily that of my co-author, who has a long and distinguished career in Korea's ICT sector, and has written or spoken publicly on many of these issues.
One of the first reasons for undertaking this book project was quite simple.  There appeared to be no other scholarly book in existence that examined South Korea's ICT development over the past three decades.  Back in the 1990s I had spent more than two years researching and writing The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea (Hong Kong, Oxford University Press, 1995)  Well over a decade had passed since that book was written, years which I spent as an administrator with the Fulbright Commission in Seoul, formally known as the Korean American Educational Commission, with responsibilities for our academic testing (mainly TOEFL) and technology (the web was becoming the principal channel for study abroad advising).  My personal experience of Korea's burgeoning networks and electronics sector convinced me that an update of my book was in order.  So, I contacted editors at Oxford University Press in New York, London and Hong Kong with my idea.  After some weeks of e-mail consultation, they declined to even receive a proposal for a new book, citing the lack of a market for such in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries.  Whether or not there is/was such a market is a topic for another post.
To some extent it is true that the world took note of South Korea's digital development, especially when it emerged with the arrival of the new millenium as the world leader in broadband internet penetration as shown by leading international measures.  It is also true that the ITU published a short monograph entitled Broadband Korea:  Internet Case Study in 2003, the OECD has published voluminous statistics, and the World Bank has paid attention to the Korean experience through its project and series of publications on Korea As a Knowledge Economy.   Ahonen and O'Reilly's book, Digital Korea, which appeared in 2007 is an industry-oriented survey of the Korean experience.
In addition to these efforts, there was a measureable increase in the number of articles appearing in scholarly journals about the Korean experience.  However, given the magnitude of Korea's ICT-fueled development, one might have expected a dozen doctoral dissertations and at least half that many books to appear over the past decade and a half.   The story of why such research was not undertaken and published in English is a complex one involving lack of Korean language and area expertise on the part of Western scholars, coupled with a lack of incentive for leading Korean scholars to publish in English for a world academic audience.
However, I stand by my argument.  One of the first reasons for co-authoring Digital Development in Korea, was that there were no other books available that offered a similar treatment of this important topic!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Are Koreans Less Social than Other Nationalities? More on Social Networking

I haven't touched on the topic of social networking lately, but it is all over the news.   One set of articles that caught my eye were those that mentioned a new TNS study of social networking in 46 countries around the world.  A headline in the Chosun Ilbo declared "Koreans Among Least Social in Online Networking."  That caught my attention for the simple reason that "least social" is the last thing that would come to my mind to describe Koreans.  "Most social," perhaps, or "More social..."  According to the Digital Life report released by the British market research firm TNS, Koreans had an average of 50 friends in their social networks, ranking 44th among 46 countries studied.
Overall, the Digital Life study noted such broad trends as social networking sites overtaking e-mail in popularity and the the growing use of digital sources for news around the world.   It would be interesting to know how much of the first trend is due to the seemingly uncontrollable growth of spam and malware.
The suggestion that Koreans are "less social" may have to do with the structure of the study (were Western, and English language sites weighted equally with Cyworld in the study?), or it may simply require further explanation.   After all, most Koreans were experimenting with their own version of "social networking" via Cyworld about four years before Facebook hit the market in the U.S. The finding may simply reflect the close-knit family-classmate-friend nature of Korean interpersonal networks or the linguistic and homogeneity of the information culture here.    Comments on the TNS finding are welcome.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Note to those of you with e-readers

As a courtesy to present and future readers of this blog, I've just made it easier to link directly to the full text online or a PDF download of my 1995 book, The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea. Just click on the cover image at the right. The gadget was previously set up to go to my personal website and required two clicks to get to the actual Google page with PDF download capability.
A small, but hopefully helpful change.

The Korea Discount: Information Age Politics in Korea

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean war and the division of the peninsula into North and South Korea. Over the past six decades, the South has developed into a technologically advanced country and is one of the world's leading exporters. On a day-to-day basis, people living in South Korea don't think much about the possible outbreak of war, even after the recent Cheonan incident. However, the world's mainstream media--television, newspapers, magazines and the business press--continue to frame the Korean situation in terms of national division and the threat of war on the peninsula. Nowhere is this more evident than in the continued widespread application and acceptance of the so-called "Korea Discount." As reported in the Joongang Daily this morning, the global rating agency Standard and Poors reports that uncertainty surrounding North Korea’s power transfer is weighing on South Korea’s sovereign credit rating because of the possibility of war and the potential for huge unification costs.  “Significant uncertainties remain from a possible succession in the near future in North Korea,” Standard & Poor’s (S&P) said. “We continue to view instability as an important constraint on the creditworthiness of South Korea.”
The credit rating agency said the South Korean presidential council estimated earlier this year that sudden unification could cost the country $2.14 trillion by 2040 and raise government debt to 147 percent of gross domestic product (GPD) in that year, compared with the government’s estimate of 36 percent by the end of this year. It would be interesting to see an estimate of how much the "Korea Discount" has cost South Korea over recent decades in lost foreign direct investment or other costs directly related to its application.
Moreover, the Korea discount is really only information that estimates the probability of future conflict or economic burdens on the Korean peninsula. As such, it illustrates the power of information, created by the mainstream and financial media and disseminated instantly via the internet. From a certain perspective, one might say that the most stable thing on the Korean peninsula for almost sixty years now has been the nation's division.  How does one really estimate the possibility of a peaceful or gradual unification of Korea versus a sudden, disruptive one?  The nature of the "Korea discount" and its real, empirical meaning and value deserve much more attention in era of information age politics. Perhaps some of you who occasionally read this blog can shed more light on the topic. Comments are welcome.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Intel to Invest $20 million in Korean WiBRO Venture

As reported by Reuters and other media outlets, Intel will invest $20 million in a wireless broadband joint venture with Samsung Electronics, Korea Telecom, and Korea's National Pension Service.  The joint venture was announced last May by KT, with capital of $280.9 million.   It will expand South Korea's mobile WiMax coverage to 82 cities by March of next year, covering 85 percent of the nation's population.
The expansion is part of KT's effort to cope with surging data traffic following introduction of Apple's iPhone in late November of last year.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Google's Transparency Report and Government Requests From Korea

I noticed a bump up in traffic to this blog over the past few days and then found that R. Elgin had called this a "neat blog" in a post over at The Marmot's Hole.   Thank you for that!   In the same post he noted a Joongang Ilbo report about the Korean government's requests for information from Google.  I'd seen the same article and this prompted me to look more closely at Google's transparency report.
During the first half of 2010, according to Google's data, the Korean government requested the removal of web content 38 times, involving a total of 8,549 items.  The Google report indicates that 100 percent of the removal requests were "fully or partially complied with."  As reported in The Korea Times, the number of removal requests was the largest in Asia and the sixth highest worldwide.
Why so many removal requests from the Korean government?  The vast majority of such requests, according to Google Korea, are for removal of URLs that contain personal information in the form of Korean resident registration numbers (RRNs), which contain date of birth, gender, registration region, and registration order.
The Korea Times article also noted that Google's transparency report did not disclose similar data for China because, according to Google "Chinese officials consider censorship demands to be state secrets, so we cannot disclose that information at this time."  

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Rapid Diffusion of Smartphones in Korea

The Joongang Daily carried two articles today that underscore important aspects of the transformation taking place in mobile communication, here in Korea as well as globally.  The first article noted that the recent Chuseok holiday led to a surge in the downloading of smartphone applications. Applications for road navigation, expressway traffic congestion and charye, the Korean ancestor veneration ritual, topped the popular application list during the holiday period. The same article noted that smartphone users in Korea currently number three million, a figure that is expected to double by year's end. I expect that may be a conservative estimate. Just think of how many family members and relatives had a chance to see the iPhone or Android phones in operation over the Chuseok holiday! That sort of exposure probably represents the most powerful form of sales promotion for these devices here in Korea.
A second article described the parts bottleneck that is being faced by the manufacturers of smart phones. As shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a larger version), industry forecasts in the spring of 2009 significantly underestimated the worldwide growth of demand for smart phones.  Consequently, such parts as the organic light emitting diode (OLED) screens are in short supply.  The manufacturing process for such parts bears many similarities to that for semiconductors and requires long lead times to build fabs and ensure adequate capacity.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Korea's Mobile Broadband Revolution: Some Market Projections

Pyramid Research recently came out with a report that includes projections for South Korea's communications market revenue through 2015.   The accompanying bar chart (click on the graphic to see a larger version) summarizes their projections.  Not surprisingly, fixed voice service is projected to decrease, while fixed VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol, as in Skype) is projected to increase significantly by 2015.  Mobile data, the green portion of each bar, is projected to show the greatest increase through 2015.  This segment of the market essentially refers to mobile use of the internet via Apple's iPhone, Android handsets and other devices.  Of course, it include mobile use of Skype, which should come naturally to those who already use it as a fixed VOIP service on their computers at the office, in the home or elsewhere.
The main trend represented in the graphic included here is that broadband internet is going mobile!  I would be surprised if mobile data services don't grow even more than Pyramid predicts.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Net Neutrality: The View From Korea

More than two years ago I wrote a post for this blog on the topic of "Net Neutrality and Conceptions of Cyberspace."  You'll forgive me for not following all of the twists and turns of that debate in the United States, including failed efforts by the F.C.C., court rulings and the joint statement on net neutrality by Google and Verizon.  You see, living in Seoul, one might as well be on another planet when it comes to debating net neutrality.  Consider the following:
  1. As I noted in my earlier post, something approximating net neutrality was part of South Korea's efforts to build a modern telephone network, starting in 1980.  The experience here with a massive telephone service backlog and the social divisions it exacerbated made the goal of universal, equal service for all Korean citizens a non-debatable issue.   From the beginning, Korea set out to build an "information welfare society" (정보복지사회) in which services and the tolls charged for them would be the same for residents of farming and fishing villages as for the residents of Seoul.
  2. Korea never let up on its commitment to building and improving network infrastructure.  When U.S. Vice President Al Gore spoke about the importance of "information superhighways" in a 1994 speech at UCLA, the Korean government picked up on that terminology and implemented the Korea Information Infrastructure project in 1995, which gave it some of the world's most advanced fixed broadband networks in the world within a decade.  Also in the 1990s Korea became the first nation in the world to commercialize CDMA for mobile telephony, giving consumers here the potential to access broadband internet while on the move.
  3. As readers of this blog will know, actual use of mobile data services in South Korea remained very low (around 10 percent of mobile phone subscribers) until the arrival of Apple's iPhone in late 2009 and the shock it created.  Unlike the U.S. where AT&T's networks at first could not handle the data traffic generated by iPhone users, Korea had mobile networks in place with plenty of excess capacity and the big debate here in 2008 and 2009 was about how to increase consumer's use of mobile broadband services!
  4. Korean citizens today not only enjoy uniform rates for roughly equivalent services nationwide, but they also have developed some of the world’s highest standards for service. Most installation of telephone, broadband internet or other communication service is done on a same day basis.If problems arise with consumer electronics products, after-service (AS) is very efficient.  In response to high consumer expectations for after-service, Apple has had to revise and upgrade its AS policies here.
  5. In short, from the vantage point of someone living in South Korea, the net neutrality debate that is so heated these days in the United States seems misdirected.  If the U.S. had, like Korea, made a long term and consistent commitment to building information and communication infrastructure, along with citizen awareness of how to use these resources, the situation might be entirely different. Indeed, the general direction of ICT technology continues to be toward greater computing and communications capacity at lower costs. This basic trend, as expressed in Moore's Law, is at the heart of the information revolution. Consequently, the longer term prospect all over the world, is for an information culture in which information flows freely and abundantly, without restriction for lack of vision, commercial greed or whatever other reasons might be given.
I'd like to challenge readers to point out what, if anything, is wrong with this picture.   Enjoy.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mobile Phone Subscribers Outnumber People in Korea

It finally happened.  The number of mobile phone subscribers in Korea now outnumbers the population.  This is a trend that arrived several years ago in some other countries which allowed a single individual to have multiple mobile subscriptions by swapping SIM cards.  As reported in the Chosun Ilbo, the number of subscribers to wireless communications services totaled 50.05 million as of September 8th, while the nation's population was estimated at 48.88 million.
With the arrival of smart phones, tablets and notebook PCs, the trend toward more than one mobile service is likely to continue.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Digital Development in Korea: Building an Information Society

Now that Dr. Oh and I have delivered the manuscript of our new book to Routledge for production, I'm pleased to share some additional details.  As we explain in the book's Preface, this collaborative project came about because of our common interest in the role of ICT in South Korea's development over the past three decades.  Routledge has updated its web site with information about the book, including the following:
An Overall Description
Reviews (excerpt from Foreword )
Author's Biographical Notes
The book is on schedule to be published in February of next year.

iPhone 4 Arrives in Korea

As reported in the Joongang Daily and other papers, the arrival of the iPhone 4 in South Korea was greeted by long lines of customers.  (click on the photograph to see a larger version).  Although Samsung's Galaxy S and other smartphones are present in the Korean market, they still do not have the sheer number of applications that Apple's platform supports.  It seems likely that the iPhone will continue to drive the mobile revolution here, and worldwide, until Android phones catch up on the application side of things.
In an encouraging note, KT is taking the iPhone 4 introduction as an opportunity to promote its expanded services for expatriates in Korea. With the growing number of foreigners in the country, KT said it will provide special services for expats in Korea. The mobile carrier opened a twitter account ( that offers advice in English on the use of the iPhone 4 and KT’s other services. In addition to the permanent expat community in Korea, KT and the other mobile service providers should be explicitly targeting more of the marketing toward tourists and business visitors, who may want to use state-of-the-art mobile services during short stays here!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Korea to Develop "Software Maestros"

In an effort to boost the nation’s lagging software industry, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy selected 100 young trainees to be part of its first “Software Maestro” nurturing program.The ministry’s move comes amid concerns that the country’s industrial focus has been on hardware industries such as semiconductors and liquid crystal displays at the expense of its software industry. In 2009, Korea’s market share of the global software market was just 1.8 percent, or $17.8 billion, according to recent government figures. The share of software exports was even lower, taking up only 0.8 percent of the total global pie.
Additional information on the new "World Best Software" Program are contained in an article in the Joongang Daily.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Korea's IT Exports Continue Their Year-on-Year Surge

The volume of Korea's information technology exports continued to increase, year-on-year, in August.   As reported by the Joongang Daily, exports last month were 26.4 percent higher than August of last year at $13.4 billion.
The increase was mainly due to exports of semiconductors and display panels. Shipments of semiconductors increased 64.9 percent to a record $4.7 billion, mainly led by the improved memory chip industry. Exports of display panels also jumped 25.4 percent to $3.2 billion as product demand was high, especially in China, Hong Kong and the European Union.
Meanwhile, the export of cell phones decreased 18.4 percent in August to $1.8 billion, due to a drop in export unit costs, increased overseas production and low demand for ordinary cell phones. Though smartphones are gaining popularity worldwide, local manufacturers started releasing devices relatively recently.
So, Korea remains an IT export powerhouse for the time being, but the decrease in mobile handset exports is clearly an important indicator of developments in the global marketplace and Korea's place in it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

North Korea's Software Industry

Although the digital divide between North and South Korea may be the largest in the world by many measures.  However, as with most generalizations, there are exceptions to the rule.  In the case of North Korea, one of these may be found, somewhat surprisingly, in the are of software and programming.  Bloomberg reports that programmers for North Korea's General Federation of Science and Technology developed a 2007 mobile phone bowling game based on the 1998 film "The Big Lebowski," starring Jeff Bridges, as well as "Men in Black: Alien Assault."
North Korea's growing software industry is championed by Kim Jong Il and contracting with North Korean companies is legal under United Nations sanctions unless they are linked to the arms trade.  Volker Eloesser, a founder of Pyongyang-based Nosotek, notes that the technological education of graduates from North Korean universities has become significantly better.  North Korea’s information technology push began in the 1980s as the government sought to bolster the faltering economy.
Today Nosotek advertises itself as "the first western IT venture in DPRK (North Korea).  Its web site expands upon this as follows:

  • In DPRK, software engineers are selected from the mathematics elite and learn programming from the ground-up, such as assembler to C#, but also Linux kernel and Visual Basic macros. 
  • Among them, Nosotek has attracted the cream of local talent as the only company in Pyongyang offering western working conditions and Internet access. 
  • In addition to the accessible skill level Nosotek was set-up in DPRK because IP secrecy and minimum employee churn rate are structurally guaranteed.< Nosotek sells direct access to its 50+ programmers jointly managed by western and local managers. 
  • Services can be invoiced through a Hong Kong or Chinese company. 
  • Benefit from North Korea's opening, outsource to Nosotek.
From the government's point of view, the activities of such companies as Nosotek is no doubt appreciated since they generate foreign exchange.  However, as noted by Andrei Lankov, a North Korean expert based in Seoul, "These activities help to fund the regime, but at the same time they bring knowledge of the outside world to people who could affect change."  The dilemma facing North Korea, a subject of earlier posts (and also this one), seems to be growing and not diminishing.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Korea's Response to Google and Apple

To readers of this blog, please know that I'm still alive and well.  It is just that I've been a bit busy with other things at work and at home and have not been able to post much in the last several weeks.  However, I have been following the press and the trade publications that cover South Korea's IT sector and cannot help but comment on the overall response to the popularity, worldwide and in Korea, of products being sold by Google and Apple.
Today, for example, The Korea Times carried a report that LG was about to unveil the "1st Smart TV."  This would be a television set equipped with "Netcast 2.0" for web-connected televisions.  This move by LG was clearly a response to moves by Apple and Google, along with its Korean arch-rival Samsung.
The situation is somewhat similar with smart-phones and notepad sized devices.  Samsung and LG are scrambling to come out with their own devices that might compete with Apple's iPhone and Android-based digital devices.
What is the common denominator in all of the reports I'm reading? It is simply that South Korea is still heavily reliant on the manufacture of communications hardware, rather than content or software.  It is the latter that not only makes up the bulk of the global ICT market, but also represents the major hurdle for Korea to continue its remarkable advance as an "IT Powerhouse" or a knowledge economy.  The transition to greater emphasis on software and content in Korea has begun, but it will be a long-term challenge for the country to succeed.  This challenge will be the subject of future posts.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

North Korea using Twitter and YouTube

The New York Times carried an interesting article today on how North Korea is using Twitter and YouTube to bolster its propaganda efforts.  During the last month, a series of video clips have been posted to YouTube, brimming with vitriol and satire against leaders in South Korea or in the U.S.  During the past week, North Korea also began operating a Twitter account under the name uriminzok or "our nation."
A spokesman for the National Unification Ministry in Seoul said “It is clear that these accounts carry the same propaganda as the North’s official news media, but we have not been able to find out who operates them." The two Koreas agreed to stop their psychological war after their first summit meeting in 2000, but the situation has changed following the sinking of a South Korean warship in the West Sea earlier this year.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mobile Communication Reportedly Grows in North Korea

The Korea Times reported the other day that cell phones are becoming more popular in North Korea, and the article included some recent data.  The number of North Koreans with a state-approved cell phone reached nearly 185,000 as of the end of June, operator Orascom Telecom said Thursday, as more citizens have mobile access after a recent government expansion of services. Egypt’s Orascom, which operates the mobile operator Koryolink in partnership with the North Korean regime, said in a first-half report that services have expanded to several cities other than Pyongyang and that 184,531 subscribers had signed up as of June 30.
Although 60 percent of North Korea's citizens now technically have access to mobile communication, the network reportedly excludes cities near the border with South Korea because authorities fear the proximity could allow cross-border communication.  According to Orascom, foreigners, middle class people and young people are all taking advantage of the service.  However, according to Radio Free Asia, North Koreans have to pay a steep price to go mobile.  Customers must pay the equivalent of $250 for a phone, in addition to high-priced pre-paid minutes.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Some Context for the Police Raid on Google Korea Offices

Press reports provide additional context surround the policy raid on Google Korea's offices, as noted in my previous post.  As reported in The Korea Times, the raid here was unexpected, as the company had been talking closely with the Korea Communications Commission on how to handle the data it had collected.  Talks with the KCC were reportedly focused more on retrieving the data than on destroying it and the police raid came as a surprise.  Korea is one of about a dozen countries, including the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Britain and Australia, that are investigating whether Google broke their privacy laws in pushing out he localized versions of street view.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Police Raid the Office of Google Korea

As reported in most of the local media and in The New York Times, Korean police raided the offices of Google Korea on Tuesday as part of an investigation into whether the company had illegally collected and stored personal wireless data.  The search company is already facing lawsuits and investigations in several countries in connection with private wireless data collected for its Street View service.From late last year until May, Google Korea dispatched cars topped with cameras to cruise around the country to photograph neighborhoods before the planned introduction of Street View. The police suspect that those cars might have illegally captured and stored personal data from wireless networks while they were mapping streets, a statement by the Cyber Terror Response Center of the Korean National Police Agency said. Google said it would cooperate with the investigation. This is a story that bears following, especially since Google is already facing investigations and questions in several other countries on this same issue.

Monday, August 9, 2010

iPhone App is a Step Toward Korea's Smart Grid

I've commented in earlier posts on Korea's smart-grid pilot project in Jeju.  Now, in an interesting related development, the Korea Power Exchange has released an app for the iPhone.  Reportedly, this makes Korea the first country in the world (certainly it is one of the first) to put real-time data on electric power supply and consumption on the mobile internet.  The English application is quite well done and very informative.  I assume the Korean side of the service is, if anything, even more informative.   In addition to tracking current electricity supply and demand levels, the service has historical data, future projections, information on electricity pricing and more.  It has a very nice explanation of the future changes coming to the market for electric power here and around the world with the advent of the smart-grid era.