Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Network Neutrality Debate Sharpens in Korea

As readers of this blog will know, the network neutrality debate seemed irrelevant to South Korea's situation for many years now. I've published several posts on this topic. One of them, back in 2008, suggested that the network neutrality debate in the U.S., seen from the perspective of a resident of South Korea, seemed out of touch with the times.  Another post, in 2010, elaborated on the earlier one.
Today, an update seems appropriate, primarily because of the surging increase in use of data services here in South Korea following arrival of the iPhone in late 2009, and Android devices the following year.   A report in the Korea Joongang Daily questions whether the network neutrality principle is now at risk in Korea.
As reported in the article, Korea’s telecom companies claim they are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain network neutrality, or the principle that Internet service operators should not discriminate between Internet traffic.According to sources in the industry, SK Telecom, KT and LG U+ - the country’s three telecom companies - recently delivered an official document to the Korea Telecommunications Operators Association (KTOA). The document stated their belief that smart TV makers and Web portals should be charged according to usage. “We have reached an agreement demanding payment for how much they use the networks, and [in return] we take charge of the network operations and quality management,” a source said. The KTOA was expected to officially comment on the matter soon.Companies already pay to use the networks, even with the current system, but the charges are lower and levied without discrimination based on usage. This means that a corporation that eats up 100 gigabytes and a personal user that requires only 1 percent as much data pay identical fees. And this was precisely what the telecom firms were complaining about. The full article is worth reading and the issue is definitely worth following.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Milestone: KT to halt investment in fixed-line network

As reported in The Korea Times, KT has publicly announced an historical milestone of sorts. It is ready to pull the plug on fixed-line telephony, which continues to be exposed as a decaying business model due to the rise in mobile and Internet communications. Company officials said the firm will no longer invest in its telephone network, while diverting spending to exploit the popularity of smartphones and other mobile Internet devices. The mainstream emergence of voice over Internet protocol services (VoIP), which allow carriers to provide cheaper voice rates than conventional fixed-line services, is also quickening the retirement of the latter.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

S. Korea Loses Top Broadband Speed Ranking? A Note on Misuse of Statistics

Akamai has released its latest State of the Internet report, this one for the second quarter of 2011.   As readers of this blog will know, I've periodically commented on and linked to these reports, as they are one valuable source of empirical data about the speed of broadband internet connections in countries around the world.  However, as with all statistics, they can be either used or misused.
One of my alerts sent me to an article on ReadWriteWeb entitled "S. Korea Loses Top Spot According to Akamai's State of the Internet Report."  This was news to me, so I decided to read the new Akamai report.   In fact, it shows that, on average, South Korea still has by far the fastest average broadband internet speed in the world.  Indeed, the headline, as it stands, is an example of misleading journalism.   As shown in the graphic to the left, taken directly from the Akamai report, the average download speed in South Korea during the second quarter of this year was 13.8 mbps, far higher than that of the Netherlands, at 8.5 mbps.   Note that Korea did experience a year-on year decrease in average download speed of over 17 percent.
What the ReadWriteWeb article seized on for its headline was a small section of the Akamai report devoted to what is called "global high broadband connectivity," devoted to an analysis that looks only at connections at speeds higher than 5 mbps.  On this one particular measure, the Netherlands recorded a 40% year on year increase, so pulled out ahead of Hong Kong and South Korea, which ranked second and third, respectively.   Clearly the headline used is misleading, given that Korea still appears at or near the top of virtually all the tables presented in the Akamai report.
If you've read this far, go ahead and link to the ReadWriteWeb article, but only to see a blatant example of misuse of statistics!

Apple-Samsung's Litigious Patent War

ComputerWorld has an account with some interesting detail on one of the legal cases in the ongoing patent war between Apple and Samsung. The article notes that, in order to assert its design patent claim, Apple must successfully convince the judge to reject any examples of "prior art" Samsung's legal people might present to the court. In 1994 Knight-Ridder developed a tablet prototype that many people think may invalidate Apple's iPad patent.

While this patent war may be interesting for the legal profession, it has gotten out of hand.    How, for example, can you patent what I call the "clip-board" form factor?   It seems to me that all note-pad devices are variations on the old clip-board, although they come in various sizes.  They are all becoming thinner, and lighter in weight, and in the process more appealing to human beings who have used clip-boards and small notebooks for ages.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Key Parts of iPhone 4S are "Made in Korea"

As noted widely in the press and in an earlier post here, the most valuable parts in the iPhone 4 were made by Korean companies.  Now, as reported in the Donga Ilbo, that pattern is continuing with the iPhone 4S.  As reported in a teardown analysis by iSuppli, the phone's NAND flash memory is manufactured by Hynix, while the application processor, the brain of smartphones, is Samsung`s dual-core A5 processor. iSuppli said "die mark" on the product show that Samsung manufactured it. Though the A5 chip does not have the Samsung logo, it holds Samsung`s pattern on its surface as discerned by experts. Before the release of the iPhone 4S, foreign media said Apple changed its main supplier for the A5 chip to the Taiwanese chip manufacturer TSMC. TSMC, however, was unable to meet Apple’s demand in quality and quantity, experts said.

Friday, October 21, 2011

KT Introduces Toddler's Robot called "Kibot"

Some time ago I did a couple of  blog posts here , and here, about the Korean government's use of robots to teach English in the nation's elementary schools.  Now KT has taken a page from that book and introduced a new educational robot to the home market in Korea.   See the post on my Internet Age Education blog.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Unification Broadcasts Draw Criticism from North Korea

The Chosun Ilbo carried a report with an interesting bit of evidence about how information gets form South Korea to North Korea these days. North Korea has called on South Korea to halt its broadcasts on unification, saying they are insulting and provocative. North Korea's government-run news agency KCNA, in an article Friday, denounced the South's Unification Ministry for launching broadcasts, which it said were meant to tarnish the communist country. The article quoted the North Korean committee which handles inter-Korean affairs as calling the move a grave provocation. South Korea's Unification Ministry, which is in charge of relations with North Korea, recently launched weekly television broadcasts and daily online radio broadcasts to try to raise public awareness on potential unification with North Korea.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Crackdown on Pro-North Korea Web Sites?

As reported in the Joongang Daily, prosecutors have said they would begin a large-scale crackdown on pro-North Korea online activities by South Koreans, saying they constituted anti-state conduct that went beyond the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression. The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office said it would hold a meeting next month with the National Police Agency and the Korea Communications Commission to discuss countermeasures against the online activities. According to a recent report by the Korea Communications Commission, 122 Web sites based overseas were found to be engaged in pro-North activities by South Koreans. Seventy-eight of them were blocked in the South, but 44 were still accessible, the report said. Currently, there is little legal basis to sanction the activities of those Web sites, but prosecutors said they were considering pressing charges of disseminating enemy-benefiting materials, a serious crime under the National Security Law, saying they considered the activities to be serious enough to rock the foundations of South Korea.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Future Screens

I've been fascinated with television, and in particular the power of the live visual image, ever since my graduate students days at Stanford.   I chose to study U.S. network television coverage of international affairs for my doctoral dissertation, which led to my first book, Television's Window on the World: International Affairs Coverage on the U.S. Networks.
One big key to the future of television news and all other human communication will be new screen technology. Korea is the world leader in manufacture and exports of television sets, mobile handsets and screens generally.
Today, the Joongang Daily carried two articles that provide interesting insight into the intensely competitive realm of screen technology as it is being pursued by two of Korea's leading companies, Samsung and LG.
The first article dealt with the release of LG's new Optimus LTE, which became available earlier this month in the Korean market, and was entitled "Our screens beat Samsung's, says LG."  The second article described a breakthrough by researchers at Samsung that may help to turn windows into large screens. Samsung Electronics said that its researchers reported a breakthrough in light-emitting diode (LED) technology that will allow production of ultra-large advanced display panels on ordinary glass such as window panes. Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology succeeded in fabricating nearly single crystalline gallium nitride (GaN) on amorphous glass substrates, a milestone that will enable production of super-sized LEDs using glass substrates, Samsung said. “In ten years, window panes will double as lighting and display screens, giving personality to buildings,” said a Samsung researcher who was part of the project.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Note on Dated, Inaccurate, Misleading Reporting!!

Readers of this blog will know, from my weekend post, that Korean traffic to  Facebook has finally caught and overtaken Cyworld, according to statistics provided by Rankey.  Apparently this word has not reached two reporters at the Joongang Daily, who today published an article entitled "Google, Facebook Flop in NE Asia."  The article refers to a "recent report" by Mashable.   I recommend you  read the Joongang Daily article only to see how uttlerly misleading dated information can be.  As I frequently link to articles from the Joongang Daily, readers will know that this one is an exception to their generally good reporting.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Facebook traffic in Korea surpasses Cyworld!

I was somewhat surprised to read in The Korea Times that, for the first time ever, as of August  2011, traffic to Facebook exceeded that to Korea's homegrown Cyworld.  Social networking in the form of Cyworld had been introduced in Korea a full half decade before the invention of Facebook in the United States, and it became the most popular such service in Korea for many years.   All of that began to change around the time the iPhone finally made it to the Korean market, near the end of 2009.  The Korea Times article provides some useful background on why the shift has taken place.
The accompanying line graph, from Rankey, (click to see a larger version) shows the dramatic shift in visitors to Cyworld (blue line) versus Facebook (red line) from January of 2010 through August, 2011.

The Challenge to Innovate in Korea

The death of Steve Jobs has prompted an outpouring of journalistic efforts, all around the world, to explain innovation, especially the sort of innovation that characterized his tenure at Apple.  The Korea Joongang Daily carried an article questioning whether the death of Jobs would have a deep impact, or whether business would continue as usual.  However, that article addressed the global market for smartphones and the patent litigation between Apple and Samsung, failing to get to the more significant issue of how Korea can make the transition from hardware exports to software and services creation.  The latter is really the sort of innovation that this nation requires at this juncture.  As illustrated in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full size version), the success of Apple, and Android has more to do with the software and applications, or the new communication ecosystem, than with hardware.  Therefore, an opinion piece by Tom Coyner, also in the Korea Joongang Daily, caught my eye. His piece zeroes in on the persistent lack of lateral cooperation between organizations and departments that characterizes Korean business, government and the academic sector to this day.  Tom therefore uses the term "silo innovation" to describe Korea's approach to innovation.  This reminded me of an exchange I had with Horace G. Underwood, several years after my Fulbright year (1985-86) in Yonsei University's Department of Mass Communication.   I was working on a research project that required inter departmental and multidisciplinary cooperation.   Horace wrote to me that I should remember that Korea had very little history or tradition of lateral cooperation whatsoever.   Over the years since, I have been repeatedly reminded of the essential accuracy of  Dr. Underwood's observation.
The lack of lateral cooperation is deeply embedded in Korean culture, and the language itself, if used properly seems almost to work against innovation.  I still remember the first few days of my Ph.D. program in communication research at Stanford University.  Along with the other incoming graduate students, I greeted all of the faculty members in the Institute for Communication Research by their first names, a practice that would continue throughout the four year program.  Even in English, being on a first-name basis with well known scholars made an impression on me.  However, it is difficult to even imagine such a thing taking place in a Korean language conversation at a major university here in Korea or in one of Korea's major companies.
However, prospects for innovation are not that bleak.   Koreans have embraced the study of English and other foreign languages and many universities have adopted English curricula.  The change may be generational, but younger Koreans will, at some point, come to embrace communication patterns that foster good lateral communication and cooperative endeavors.  This, it seems is a challenge that must be met if Korea is to truly succeed at innovation.

Friday, October 7, 2011

My new blogging platform, "Internet age education"

Effective October 1, my blogging on the topic of global education and international educational exchange is taking place on a new platform,  Given the central importance of education to the information society, there is an inevitable area of overlap between these two blogs.   For that reason, I will continue to cross-link posts as appropriate, especially when they deal with the role of ICT in the transformation of education, or the important role of education about ICT and about the information society.
Please take a look at and send me your ideas for improvement!

Steve Jobs 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

The death of Apple founder Steve Jobs brought to mind something he said in his 2005 Commencement address at Stanford University. It was as follows:
"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
The full text of Jobs' commencement address is available here.
Better yet, view his entire address on the following YouTube video.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Google Translate and the Localization Issue

As readers of this blog will know from prior posts (e.g. here and here), I've been very interested for a long time in the powerful role of language and culture in shaping media behavior in Korea.  Preference for the Korean language is one of the big reasons that Naver continues to control such a large share of search, despite its limited scope when compared with Google. Today's alerts brought links to two very interesting sources.
The first is an article in The Independent by David Bellos entitled "How Google Translate Works."   Rather than trying to develop an algorithm to discover the meaning (syntax and vocabulary) of a particular passage, Google uses a statistical approach that leverages its vast collection of written language and translations of the same writings into many languages.  As Bellos notes,"It uses vast computing power to scour the internet in the blink of an eye, looking for the expression in some text that exists alongside its paired translation."  The entire article is well worth reading.
Another source is the Localization Industry Daily, published by Cloudwords.  That publication provides a number of interesting avenues through which to explore the burgeoning localization industry.    More on this topic in future posts.
It seems obvious that Google is leading the effort to develop machine translation, with some gratifying results. However, it is equally apparent that the industry has a long way to go and that its most difficult challenges lie here in Asia, given the difficulty of translating Asian languages to and from English and other Latin-based languages.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

KT to Nuture the Software Industry

As reported in The Korea Times, KT has announced new measures to support the growth and development of South Korea's software industry.  The article also summarizes some of the key changes in corporate culture within KT under the leadership of Chairman Lee Suk-chae.   It is well worth reading.