Monday, December 23, 2013

Korean Patterns of mobile internet use

A short article in the Korea IT Times headlined "Koreans access mobile internet for about one and a half hour a day" caught my eye and led me to the original Korean language report (2013년 모바일인터넷이용실태조사, 2013 Survey on the Status of Mobile Internet Usage) on a new survey by the Korea Internet and Security Agency (KISA).  The report contains some interesting detail on recent trends, with implications for the shape of future networks.
Among the interesting findings of the survey are that users on average access the mobile internet 12.3 times per day and that 95.5 percent of users employ a smartphone to access the internet.  The small minority of people (4.2%) who still use 3G feature phones only access the mobile internet 3.5 times per day, and users of smart tablets access it only 3.3 times a day on average.  The dominant trend is toward usage of smartphones.
The data on locations where people most often use the mobile internet is summarized in the bar graph above (click to see a full size version of the graphic The translations from Korean of the title and bar labels are my own.)  While the most common location for using the mobile internet is the home, the chart underscores the highly mobile nature of Korean society today.  Communication while "on the move" in buses, trains, subways or cars ranks second, followed by parks and outdoor locations, then coffee shops, restaurants and shopping malls.  Incidentally, Seoul now has the highest density of coffee shops in the world, a trend that started with Starbucks entry into the local market in 1999.
Although usage of LTE is rapidly increasing, the single most common method of accessing the mobile internet in South Korea today is by a WiFi (referred to in the survey as Wireless LAN) connection, as shown in the second graphic.  Nearly three quarters of all respondents in the nationwide survey reported using WiFi.  WiBRO, the mobile WiMax standard developed by Korea and launched here before LTE became commercially available, is still being used, but constitutes a small percentage of overall usage. A breakdown WiFi users in the survey (click to see a full size version) shows that it is an extremely important means of access, led by home usage and use while traveling or commuting.

Not surprisingly, the survey also shows that people in the younger demographic groups make the heaviest use of mobile internet.  Overall the top three reasons (each cited by more than 90% or respondents) for using the mobile internet are 1) to obtain data or information including search, 2) for communication including instant messaging and 3) for leisure including music, television programs and games.  When it comes to television, of course, most smartphones in Korea are equipped to receive digital multimedia broadcasting which is advertiser-supported and free to the user.
Too conclude this data-packed post, I offer another chart, compiled from a recent Korean language report (무선테이터 트래픽 월별 통계, Mobile Data Traffic Monthly Statistics) published by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning. (NOTE:  these data only measure WiFi traffic through the networks of the major mobile service providers and do not include home WiFi use).  It shows the exponential increase in data traffic currently underway with the spread of LTE service (the green line). Note that WiFi service by the three main mobile service providers, although at much lower levels of data, is also on the increase, while data flowing over the older, 3G networks is steadily decreasing.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

What do North Korea and the Samsung Galaxy S4 have in common?

Google's Zeitgeist 2013 report is out, showing that Nelson Mandela was the top trending search globally.  Here in Korea, the report is getting press attention because both "Samsung Galaxy S4" and "North Korea" appeared among the top ten trending search items worldwide during the year.
What makes this so interesting?  One year ago this month, I did a post entitled "Visualizing Korea's National Image," which compared searches for "Korea" and "North Korea" with those for "Samsung" and "LG."  That post contains two embedded line graphs from Google Trends and is worth re-reading since it bears on the current situation.  The embedded graphs have automatically been updated by Google through late 2013.  (see other posts on national image here)
In light of South Korea's great concern with its national image, especially during the Lee Myung-bak administration which established the Presidential Council on Nation Branding, global search activity this year underscores two powerful realities.  One is that military actions or other provocations by North Korea will attract international interest and attention regardless of what the South Korean government may do.  The other is that South Korea's leading companies, led by Samsung, do not emphasize in their marketing communications that they are based in Korea.  In fact, there is considerable evidence that, all around the world, a significant proportion of consumers are unaware that Samsung is a South Korean company.  Last year, for example, consumers in China staged a demonstration at a Samsung outlet, thinking erroneously that it was a Japanese company.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Google maps and Korea's urgent need to update internet regulations

The current South Korean regulations that make it impossible for smartphone users to utilize all the features of Google Maps in South Korea were written for an earlier, industrial era and may even be a product of the long Cold War.  While the Cold War came to an end around most of the world, it tragically lingers here on the Korean peninsula in the form of national division and the continuing military confrontation at the DMZ.  However, thanks to the digital information revolution, smart phone users from all over the world are rapidly adopting a variety of mobile, cloud-based services, one of which is Google maps.   In a pioneering effort that sheds valuable light on a country little known to the outside world, Google has even published a crowd-sourced map of North Korea. As Jayanth Mysore,Senior Product Manager for Google Map Maker wrote on the Google Maps blog "The goal of Google Maps is to provide people with the most comprehensive, accurate, and easy-to-use modern map of the world." A community of citizen cartographers built the map of North Korea over a few years and it was published in January 2013.
Ironically, citizens of South Korea, despite having access to the world's fastest and most advanced mobile communication networks, cannot utilize the advanced features of Google Maps to get around, find places and otherwise utilize location based services.  Why?   As reported by The New York Times in October, "Travelers who want to go from Gimpo International Airport to the Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul cannot rely on Google Maps. Google Maps can provide directions only for public transport, not for driving, to any place in Korea. Anyone crazy enough to try the journey on bicycle or on foot, directions for which Google Maps provides elsewhere, will be similarly stymied." The article further notes that "South Korean security restrictions that were put in place after the Korean War limit Google’s maps, the company says. The export of map data is barred, ostensibly to prevent it from falling into the hands of South Korea’s foe to the north, across the world’s most heavily fortified border. Google and other foreign Internet companies say the rule also prevents them from providing online mapping services, like navigation, that travelers have come to rely on in much of the rest of the world."
Earlier this year the Park Geun-hye administration announced plans to ease some of the internet regulations that affect Google Maps and other online mapping initiatives.  However, according to a recent report in The Korea Times, that is moving along slowly.
What lawmakers and policymakers in South Korea need to realize is how much harm is already and prospectively done to its economy by the use of regulations that, while well suited to an earlier era, appear anachronistic today.  In less than two months, the Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi and they are being billed as the first "bring your own device" Olympics, with an unprecedented investment in mobile communications infrastructure.   At the closing ceremony of the Sochi Olympics the torch will be handed over to representatives of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics and over the ensuing four years world attention will increasingly be focused on South Korea as the host.  The number of international visitors to Korea will increase as the 2018 Games approach, and most of these people will be carrying smart phones with the expectation that the most advanced features of those phones, to which they've become accustomed, will work.  The time to update internet regulations to avoid embarrassment is now.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Korea's ICT-led development: some persuasive evidence

The Korea Herald published an infographic yesterday that represents South Korea's trade balance in ICT and non-ICT industries over the past fourteen years. (click on the image to see a full size version of the graphic)  The trade data provide empirical support for the idea that the ICT sector is the engine driving this nation's remarkable socio-economic development in recent decades.  The role of that sector looms even larger when one considers that information and communication technologies are what economists refer to as general purpose technologies (GPT), whose impact is felt in all sectors of the economy and society.  These technologies also enable the pervasive processes of digital convergence that have made ICT an important component of innovation and productivity in all industries.
Whether intentional or not, the choice of an Apple to represent South Korea's ICT strength is interesting as it may trigger various associations, including those with the company of that name.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Smartphone use in Korea now exceeds use of desktop PCs

An article in today's Joongang Ilbo announces that "Your smartphone eats up more time than PC."  As reported in the article," The Korea Information Society Development Institute said in a report that Koreans spent an average of 66 minutes a day using their smartphones last year, up 43 percent from a year earlier. The amount of time spent on desktop PCs was 61 minutes; the first time smartphones overtook PCs in daily usage in Korea."
The KISDI report was based on a survey of about 10,000 people nationwide by Korea Media Panel Research.   It also noted that "Users spent most of the time on their smartphone making or receiving phone calls, but that portion dropped from 44.2 percent in 2012 to 34.7 percent this year. The second-largest amount of time was spent on text messaging and messenger services, with its percentage nearly doubling to 26.2 percent from 14.8 percent in 2012. Due to the popularity of messenger services like KakaoTalk, text messaging through telecommunications providers plummeted from 19.7 percent to 7.3 percent. The time spent on playing games rose sharply from 2.9 percent to 7.6 percent, while online searches jumped from 4.3 percent to 7.3 percent."

Monday, December 9, 2013

The New Yorker on Korea's digital culture

In its November 25, 2013 edition, The New Yorker published a Letter from Seoul, entitled "The Love App:  Romance in the world's most wired city."  The article was written by Lauren Collins, a staff writer for the magazine, who visited Seoul last August during her research for the article.  I was fortunate to have an opportunity to meet with her during the visit. Those of you with access to the magazine via subscription or through your library may want to read this one as it provides interesting detail on the continually and rapidly evolving digital culture here in South Korea.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Korea's lead ICT exports: Networks, chips, displays and mobile devices

In Digital Development in Korea:  Building an Information Society, my book with Dr. Oh, Myung, we describe the rather desperate circumstances Korea found itself in back in 1980.  The political situation, the economy and a continuing malaise in the nation's electronics sector were all big problems.  In the midst of those circumstances, a new group of young technocrats, led by the Stanford-trained economist Kim Jae Ik chief economic secretary to the President in the Blue House, made four key policy choices. They involved electronic switching, the semiconductor industry, the start of color television broadcasting and the separation of the telecommunications business from the Ministry of Communications which allowed, among other things, the private sale of telephone handsets.
Several news reports about Korea's ICT sector today underscore just how farsighted those 1980-81 policy decisions were.  Historically and technologically they led directly to South Korea's dominant position today as a manufacturer and exporter of networks, chips,displays and mobile devices.
Based on data from the Korea International Trade Association, The Korea Herald published an "Export outlook by industry" infographic (click to see a full-size version)that projects semiconductors will be Korea's leading export next year, while displays and wireless communication devices are also expected to continue as major export categories.
As reported in The Joongang Daily,"Nearly half the mobile dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chips shipped in the world are made by Samsung."  As shown in the accompanying graphic, Samsung and SK Hynix together account for nearly three quarters of all the mobile DRAM chips shipped worldwide.  The article contained some other interesting detail. "Samsung started mass production of 3GB mobile DRAM chips in July, the first company to do so. Many of the smartphones sold this year use 2GB mobile DRAMs. IHS iSuppli predicted that the global mobile DRAM market will be $9.97 billion this year, up 42 percent from last year, and that it will grow 53 percent next year to $15.3 billion. The demand for mobile DRAMs is expected to surpass that for DRAMs for PCs as soon as next year."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Korea and the U.S. Hold Inaugural ICT Sector Discussions

Although they went unnoticed by most of the mainstream press South Korea and the United States held a long-overdue round of high-profile talks in November in Washington, D.C. aimed at promoting bilateral cooperation in the ICT sector. As reported by Yonhap News, "The ICT Policy Forum is a fruit of summit talks between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington in May."
In a joint statement released by the U.S. State Department, the two sides said "ROK (South Korea) and U.S. government and industry representatives held extensive deliberations and reached a broad consensus on a range of policy and regulatory issues, including cooperation on the creative economy, collaboration on ICT policy that promotes innovation and fosters the global and open nature of the Internet, cyber security, and joint responses to international policy discussions."
South Korea was represented by Vice Minister Yoon Jong-lok at the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP). His American counterpart was Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda, coordinator for international communications and information policy at the State Department. In a speech at the Heritage Foundation that preceded the forum, Yoon emphasized that digital cooperation will play a pivotal role in the Seoul-Washington alliance in the coming decades. That portion of his speech is in the accompanying video.
I believe Vice Minister Yoon's observation about the future of the U.S. Korea alliance is correct.   I also think that it suggests the clear need to broaden the ICT-sector policy discussions between the U.S. and Korea to include corporate, public/NGO and academic stakeholders along with the two governments and their respective agencies. The creation of a more broadly based civic and corporate network can only enhance the bilateral government links.  It also just makes sense to leverage the possibilities for policy collaboration that are inherent in the increasingly powerful and pervasive digital networks.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

LTE users now in the mobile majority

It is now official.  More than half of all South Korea's mobile phone users now subscribe to LTE services.   This was not surprising as South Korea has led the world in the rate of LTE adoption, as shown by the accompanying graphic.
As reported by The Joongang Daily, "The growth of the LTE service comes with the decline of 3G, the previous standard for wireless communications. According to the ministry, 3G subscribers accounted for 48.6 percent of mobile phone users in Korea in January, the first time they went below 50 percent. In October, 3G subscribers numbered only 19.73 million, or 36.3 percent of mobile phone users. As for the slower 2G service, SK Telecom had only 4.04 million subscribers and LG U+ 4.03 million subscribers in October. KT ended 2G service in January."

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Do Koreans enjoy Internet freedom?

The headline of a recent article in The Korea Times says it all by posing the question, "Do Koreans enjoy Internet freedom."  For several reasons, the answer appears to be "partly."  For example, the most recent report by Freedom House, Freedom on the Net 2013 ranked the internet in South Korea as only "partly free," mainly because of the blocking of certain political or social content.  The report noted that political tensions with North Korea are a significant motivation for online restrictions.  It also reported that the Constitutional court in August of 2012 declared that section 44(5) of the Information and Communications Network Act which required users to verify their real names before posting comments on major domestic websites was unconstitutional.  However, other laws mandating real-name registration in specific circumstances remained in place.  Censorship of the internet in South Korea is carried out by the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC), which was established in 208 to maintain ethical standards in broadcasting and internet communications.  As reported by Freedom House, "A team of 20 to 30 monitoring officers flag possible offenses, including obscenity, defamation, and threats to national security."
In general, the findings of the latest Freedom House report on internet filtering in South Korea mirror those of The Open Net Initiative.
There is more in The Korea Times report, including the continued widespread requirement that Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Active-X be used for banking and financial transactions.

Monday, December 2, 2013

ICT Deregulation in Korea?

One of the profound ironies of Korea's nascent information society is that it possesses the world's most advanced digital network infrastructure, but at the same time maintains outdated laws and regulations that seek to restrict public use of that infrastructure.  As pointed out in an article published today by Business Korea, this poses a serious problem for the Park Geun-hye administration in its efforts to promote a creative economy.  More specifically, the government's outdated regulatory policies have resulted in what the article calls "reverse discrimination" against local firms.
The second paragraph of the article reads as follows.
"The purpose of the first Internet industry deregulation plan is to get rid of restrictions that cause reverse discrimination or shrinkage in industrial activities and address the flaws of the government’s current regulations such as the Real-name Internet System and the Recommendation for Internet Search Improvement. The Real-name Internet System, put in force back in April 2009, has resulted in a collapse of local video websites while anonymity-based YouTube increased its market share in Korea from 2% to 70% during the same period."
The real-name system is only one of several major internet regulatory laws that seem to work at cross purposes with the current government's overall policy.  More on this topic in future posts.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Korea's global ICT diplomacy: Standards and interoperability

Anticipation is already building for the 2014 ITU Plenipotentiary Conference that Korea will host in Busan from October 20-November 7 of next year.  The conference resonates strongly with the policy priorities of the Park Geun-hye administration, centered on building a creative economy by leveraging science and technology, including the nation's advanced digital networks.  The administration's emphasis on digital convergence involves all major industries and sectors of the economy and society. In the international arena, this nation is redoubling its efforts to assist developing countries in the use of ICT for development and is also seeking to play a stronger leadership role in the global development of digital networks.
As reported in the Korea IT Times, the 2014 Plenipotentiary conference will cover a wide range of issues. These include, among others "1. coordination of international telecommunications rules 2. decisions on space asset registration systems, designed to fast-track the use of space assets and the provision of financial resources needed for acquired space assets 3. ICT’s convergence with other industries (an agenda item to be presented by host South Korea) 4. the Internet of Things (or IoT), the attention-grabbing technology viewed as the key to the future of the mobile ecosystem 5. the need for stepped-up international cooperation in the protection of major information communications infrastructures." In addition, at next year's meeting a Korean candidate, Lee Chae-sub, is in the running for one of the ITU's top leadership positions, a four-year term as director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T). Lee, who is currently working as a researcher at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, the nation’s top tech school, has also been serving as the chairman of ITU-T SG 13, a study group linked to the U.N. agency, since 2009. In this era of increasingly dense digital networking all around the world, much of it mobile, standardization has taken on added significance.
The Korea Herald quoted Lee as saying "Korea is now in a position to lead the world’s ICT industry. It is not a follower anymore." He added that "In order to achieve the goal of narrowing the digital divide between advanced nations and less-developed ones, Lee said that collaboration is necessary between mobile makers and ICT firms such as Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, Apple and Google in enhancing interoperability. Even though it is important to feature unique technology with each new device, companies should abstain from distancing themselves from other players by focusing on developing exclusive technology, he said, and a higher priority should be given to interoperability. Interoperability among devices is critical, and even more so in less-developed and developing nations, where incompatible technologies among devices and networks could impair efficiency and effectiveness.
There is perhaps some irony in Korea's position on interoperability and standards in advance of ITU 2014 if one considers the role that its own WIPI (Wireless Interoperability Protocol for the Internet) standard played in preventing the Apple iPhone from entering the Korean market for over two years after its introduction in the U.S. in 2007.  In other words, international standards and interoperability are needed, but major countries and companies may not always agree on which ones should be adopted.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Korea's borders in a borderless world

As Manuel Castells argues , "The network society is a global society because networks have no boundaries." While that may apply in cyberspace, the question of boundaries or borders in real, physical space is another matter. An article in today's Joongang Daily describes the outcry as China announced a new air defense zone. From Korea's perspective, the problem is that it's northeastern boundary overlaps with the Korean island of Ieodo, as shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full size versions). The article noted that "Seoul and Beijing have disputed the sovereignty of Ieodo, also known as Socotra Rock, a group of underwater reefs located 149 kilometers (92 miles) southwest of Korea’s southernmost Mara Island in the Yellow Sea. Effectively controlled by Korea, Ieodo is located 287 kilometers from China’s eastern Yushan Island in Zhejiang Province. “We regret that China’s Air Defense Identification Zone overlaps with ours,” said Kim Min-seok, the spokesman of the Defense Ministry, “and we will negotiate with the Chinese so that this measure does not impact our sovereignty.” According to the Joongang Daily article, "Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang responded at a briefing yesterday saying that he hopes China and Korea, as “friendly, neighboring countries, can solve the issue through dialogue and communication, and keep peace and security.” Qin added: “Ieodo is a rock submerged under water and so it is not considered disputed territory.”"

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mainstream press and academic attention to China, Korea and Japan

I'm working on a paper with a Korean colleague for the annual conference of the Pacific Telecommunications Council next January in Honolulu and was just making a point about the limitations of much Western scholarship when it comes to an in-depth analysis of Korea.  Quite simply, my hypothesis is that scholarly literature, like the mainstream press, carries so much more information about China and Japan, that it becomes easy for researchers to conflate characteristics of those countries with Korea.   This results in egregious errors, like the one in the ITU’s otherwise excellent Broadband Korea: Internet Case Study report, published in 2003 and widely disseminated via the internet. It suggested that the Korean alphabet, Hangul, weighed against ICT development because it was pictographic and not easily suited to computerization. In fact, the opposite is true as Hangul is nearly perfectly phonetic and an important factor that accelerated computerization in Korea.
Google Trends provides a measure of search activity worldwide which presumably correlates highly with mainstream press attention.  So I decided to test my hypothesis using this tool, and it resulted in the above line graph.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The internet era military-industrial complex

I show students in my undergraduate class at KAIST an excerpt from U.S. President Eisenhower's famous farewell speech from the White House oval office in which he warned Americans about the dangers of an overly large military industrial complex.   An article in the Joongang Daily today reminded me of the contemporary relevance of Eisenhower's admonition.  Entitled "Battling for IT-military market share," it provides an interesting glimpse into South Korea's prospects for a share of the growing defense-IT convergence market.
As noted in the article,"Tanks, missile launchers and jet fighters overpowered the latest Samsung Galaxy smartphones and tablet PCs during the biennial Seoul International Aerospace and Defense exhibition late last month at Kintex, Gyeonggi. But in the not-too-distant future, such diminutive consumer electronic devices may pack more military might than all that massive hardware, and Korea’s high-tech top guns are aiming for a share of the profits in a growing international defense-IT convergence market estimated at $160 billion in 2012 and projected to be $432 billion by 2017, according to a Korea Evaluation Institute of Industrial Technology study last year."
The article also contained a bar chart that graphically shows how dominant the U.S. is in the international defense market. (click to see a full size version).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Transportation and ICT in the Seoul national capital area (수도권)

The national capital area (called sudogwon in Korean) that stretches in all directions from Seoul and includes the administrative districts of Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, is the third largest urban area in the world, behind Tokyo-Yokohama in Japan and Jakarta (Jabotabek).  According to the 9th annual Demographia World Urban Areas survey “An urban area (urbanized area agglomeration or urban centre) is a continuously built up land mass of urban development that is within a labor market (metropolitan area or metropolitan region). An urban area is best thought of as the “urban footprint” --- the lighted area that can be observed from an airplane (or satellite) on a clear night.”  That makes the accompanying satellite photos very interesting. (click to see a full size version of the graphic)  They were part of a study by Brown University researchers that empirically showed how light seen from outer space could reliably serve as a proxy measure for socioeconomic development.
I've been working with a prominent Korean colleague on a paper that addresses the changing roles of citizens, corporations and government in Korea's "smart cities."   Partly for that reason, an article in today's Korea Herald caught my eye.  It is entitled "Subway mirrors urban and national growth."
Included with the article was a graphic with some very interesting data compiled by the Seoul Metropolitan Infrastructure Headquarters. (click on the graphic to see a full size version)  The data show that indeed, the subway system expanded in parallel with Korea's economic growth.  It is currently the third largest urban subway system in the world in terms of number of passengers served, and fourth largest in terms of the number of subway stations.
The Korea Herald article does not contain any ranking for mobile digital network services in the different subway systems.  However, I'm sure that such a comparison would clearly show that the national capital area subway system around Seoul is the "smartest in the world." (see my earlier post on Seoul's cyber subways here).

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Changing smartphone preferences in North Korea

Radio Free Asia just published a report that provides a fascinating glimpse into growth of mobile communications usage in North Korea, specifically focusing on smartphones.  Although anecdotal, I believe the information contributes to my argument, in earlier posts (e.g. here), about the "digital dilemma" facing North Korea's government.  The report, entitled "North Korean traders scramble for smartphones from the south," included some interesting details, including the following excerpt.
"The traders seek South Korean smartphones such as Samsungs and LGs, which cost double the price of similar Chinese-made models, so that they can type and text in Korean and because they believe the devices provide better quality reception, the sources in North Korea said. Chinese cell phones smuggled into North Korea, which operates a restricted domestic cell phone network that does not allow international calls, have long underpinned a thriving illicit border trade between the two countries. The foreign phones are banned by Pyongyang, but North Koreans use them covertly to connect to Chinese reception towers near the border and organize deliveries and payment for goods. Now, preferences for phones made by globally popular South Korean electronics giants such as Samsung and LG indicate the traders’ taste in cell phones is becoming more sophisticated."
Even at double the cost, the South Korean-made smartphones are attractive.  The article went on to note that "Chinese dealers often provide cell phones for the North Korean traders they work with to facilitate their operations. One Chinese dealer surnamed Liu said the five North Korean traders working under him were pestering him to replace their Chinese-brand phones with Samsungs or LGs."
Furthermore,"Since August, North Korea has had its own smartphone, the AS1201 Arirang, which works in the Korean language, according to announcements in state media. But the state-produced device is made for use on the domestic network Koryolink, which does not allow international calls or access to mobile Internet."

Korea's National Information Society Agency signs MOU with Open Data Institute

As reported by Asia Pacific FutureGov, Korea's National Information Society Agency has signed an MOU with the Open Data Institute, a NGO based in Britain.  The MOU seeks to promote cooperative initiatives in the area of open data, including the following:

  • Sharing open data best practice, including policy, laws and regulations, case studies, technology, standards, and big data
  • Development of training programmes 
  • Joint projects in the field of open data 
  • Support for open data driven businesses including start-ups 
  • Development of open data related technology 
  • Open data workshops, exhibitions, and other events 
  • Cooperation in international organisations including the Open Government Partnership
This seems like a good partnership as the NIA has been the lead government agency for South Korea's e-government initiatives, a field in which this nation is a recognized world leader.  Open data, big data and data visualization are at the heart of efforts to develop smart cities and smart government at all levels.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Korea's ICT exports hit a new monthly high

As reported in the Joongang Daily, South Korea's ICT exports in October topped $16 billion for the first time in history. The article noted that "The country sold $2.9 billion worth of mobile phones last month, 30.5 percent more than in September, and $730 million in digital televisions, up 33.3 percent. Exports of semiconductors stood at $5.3 billion and printed circuit boards at $2.7 billion each. Lithium-ion batteries contributed to the growth with $440 million in exports."
It also reported that "The global market share of Korean mobile phones was 39.9 percent. Semiconductor exports increased for the 13th straight month on surging demand for memory chips. As demand for memory chips jumped due to increased use of smartphones, exports of the products soared 43 percent to $2.3 billion last month."

Sunday, November 10, 2013

South Korea's "Microsoft Monoculture" and internet security embarrassment

I have been posting since 2009 about the problems of South Korea's over-reliance on Microsoft software and in particular its legally mandated use of Active-X for online banking and financial transactions.  See this post from 2009.   Better yet, use the search box at the right and search this blog for "Active X"  You'll quickly get the picture.
The story has begun to attract informed attention and analysis from the international press.  If you doubt this, I recommend you read the November 5, 2013 article in The Washington Post by Chico Harlan.
This matter has now become a major embarrassment to the government of South Korea, which rightly prides itself on its world-leading digital networks, e-government and many other aspects of the information society it continues to build.  However, when it comes to online banking or other secure transactions, its reliance on a completely outdated law is simply another symptom of the nation's relative weakness in software versus hardware for the information age!
Comments on the situation and what Korea might do to remedy it are welcome.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A river of haze from China descends on Korea and Japan

The Chosun Ilbo English edition this morning ran a column entitled "Pollution from China is an International Problem."  I'll say, just take a look at the accompanying photo by NASA's Aqua satellite, taken in early March of this year. (click to see a full size version)  It shows a river of haze blowing across eastern China, Korea and Japan.  Photographs like this deserve to be given much wider circulation, so I'm doing my small part via this blog.
There are a number of global problems to be faced these days given the global scale of manufacturing, trade, and urbanization, but the air pollution problem in China is literally deadly.  The news reports from Harbin earlier this fall underscored the severity of the problem.   It is one that all the nations of Northeast Asia need to tackle soon, starting with the major sources of the fine particle pollutants that are so harmful--China.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

1st ministerial forum on broadband development in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2013 has published some coverage of the 1st Ministerial Forum on Broadband Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2013 at which I gave a keynote presentation.  I covered this in an earlier post, but has a few photographs of the actual event.  Click on the accompanying photograph to see a full-size version.

Schmidt: hangul (한글) "in line with Google's mission"

Google chairman Eric Schmidt was in Seoul yesterday and, although he met with Samsung executives, perhaps the most important activity during his visit was a visit and press briefing at the Hangul Museum being built at the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan, central Seoul.  As reported in the Joongang Daily, "Schmidt held a press conference yesterday morning at the museum to announce a set of new partnership programs to help expand the user base of Hangul, Korea’s written language, including developing a Web program for learning it. Schmidt said King Sejong’s purpose in creating Hangul, which was to provide Korean people with a language essay to learn and use, is in line with Google’s mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”"
Google has already made some effort to publicize hangul to the world, including its use on Google's main search page on Hangul Day, a national holiday here in Korea, as shown in this 2011 post.  However, it can and should do much more, for several reasons.
Some years ago, a poll of academic experts on Korean culture published in the magazine Koreana showed that hangul was considered to be Korea's greatest cultural achievement.  A similar poll of the Korean people would no doubt produce similar results, as hangul is widely considered to be this nation's crowning cultural achievement.
Moreover, as I noted in a 2009 post, hangul has the following characteristics (I've updated the list slightly here to account for recent developments).

  • Because it is so scientific and phonetic, it was an important factor in accelerating the uptake of computers, mobile phones and all sorts of digital electronic devices here. 
  • It is possible to type much faster on a hangeul computer keyboard than on a qwerty English keyboard--much faster! This principle applies to smartphones and tablets as well. 
  • Because Hangeul is alphabetic, it was conducive to the rapid development and growth of the graphics industry, which began back in the 1980's. Some of us remember when there were no Korean fonts, only hand calligraphy. 
  • Literacy is an essential requirement for the information society and Hangeul helped promote it in Korea. For years now, South Korea has had near-universal literacy.
Despite the above realities, a 2003 report by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) entitled Broadband Korea: Internet Case Study, got it completely wrong.  In Section 1.2 of the report headed "What explains Korea's success," it claimed that "Another factor seemingly weighing against Korea’s ICT development islanguage. Koreans have their own language. Therefore, the country cannot easily leverage the vast amount of content developed in more widely spoken languages. The Korean alphabet, known as Han-gul, uses a pictographic font that is not ideally suited to computerization."  This blatant mistake in the ITU report is symptomatic of a larger problem, that treatment of Korea in the mainstream media around the world (and this carries over into internet content!) tends to be overwhelmed by the much larger volume of information about China and Japan, Korea's two larger neighbors.  Nowhere is this more evident than in efforts by the current Japanese government to claim that Dokdo, the Korean island in the East Sea, is part of Japan.   More on that in a future post.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Curved phones or build your own?

LG has followed market-leader Samsung by launching its own curved smartphone.  As shown in the accompanying  graphic, the LG phone is slightly curved along the length of the phone rather than its width, as is the case with Samsung's curved phone.  Also, as reported by the Chosun Ilbo, the new LG phone includes not only a flexible display, but also a flexible battery which represents a significant technological advance.
Coincidentally, today's English edition of the Chosun Ilbo also contained a story about the announcement on Monday by Google-owned Motorola of Project Ara.   The official Motorola Blog describes the project as follows: "Led by Motorola’s Advanced Technology and Projects group, Project Ara is developing a free, open hardware platform for creating highly modular smartphones. We want to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software: create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines.Our goal is to drive a more thoughtful, expressive, and open relationship between users, developers, and their phones. To give you the power to decide what your phone does, how it looks, where and what it’s made of, how much it costs, and how long you’ll keep it."  To achieve these goals, Project Ara has teamed up with Phonebloks, an effort described in the following video.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The brain to computer interface: the future of user interfaces?

Digital communications technology is developing at a breathtaking pace, and one area in which we're likely to see big changes is in the user interface with computers.   Most of us are still accustomed to keyboards, but smartphones and tablets have already begun to change that with touch screens, voice recognition and smart stylus input.   However, as reported by the Samsung Economic Research Institute, advances in brain to computer interface (BCI) technology may soon change all of that.  BCI is gaining momentum as a next-generation technology for everyday needs.
As shown in the accompanying diagram, in a BCI system, a brainwave is read and converted into a digital signal that is processed and converted into some sort of physical action or application.  The variety of actions/applications that might be developed in the future seems to be limited only by one's imagination.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

GE Chairman lauds Korea's information technology infrastructure

The Chairman and CEO of General Electric (GE) has been in Korea, meeting with President Park Geun-hye and with industry counterparts at Samsung.  Some of his comments are quite interesting.  As reported by the Korea Times, at a Friday press conference he called Korea "...the heartbeat of the world and a healthy place to invest."
Immelt also had some comments to make about conglomerates, at a time when Korea's family-controlled chaebol business groups are coming under criticism.  As noted in the Korea Joongang Daily,"Immelt said that people might have legitimate concerns about the conglomerates both in the United States and Korea, but he said that a company can be good at multiple areas while creating better efficiency and value. He said new corporate success stories like Google and are also expanding to become “their own form of conglomerate.”"
He also said that "..the Korean government’s creative economy initiative will increasingly put Korea in value-added areas. He said the initiative gives GE a sense of where to invest further in Korea.For instance, the Korean economy has the best information technologies infrastructure of any country that we compete with in the world,” he said, citing the industrial Internet as an example."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Government leadership in Korea's ICT-led development

I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the Global e-Government Forum 2013 on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week at KINTEX in Ilsan, including chairing a panel entitled "Communication:  Enhancing democracy through online participation."  This post is prompted by a keynote address given on the second day of the conference by Chair and Emeritus Professor Ahn, Moon Suk of Korea University.  In it, he enumerated some of the major success factors leading to Korea's current status as a world leader in e-government.  I was pleased to see that he acknowledged the significance of the phonetic and very scientific hangul alphabet, along with the role of technocrats trained overseas, the shared vision of policymakers and opinion leaders, and the commitment of every president of South Korea.  This last success factor is something I stressed in my October 15 presentation to ICT ministers from Latin America and the Caribbean in Seoul, using the accompanying slide as an illustration. (click to see a full size version)  The blue line on the slide represents GNI/capita in current U.S.$ as reported by the World Bank.
Over the years since 1980, South Korea developed many plans, some dealing with infrastructure projects and others more broadly with informatization.  Among these plans, the two highlighted in blue on the slide deserve special emphasis.  The 1981 "Long Term Plan to Invigorate the Electronics Sector," comprehensively addressed what we now recognize as the ICT sector, years before that term came into common usage by international organizations.  It also addressed the question of financing from both public and private sources.   In 1996, the administration of President Kim Young Sam elevated informatization to the level of a top national policy priority, with the newly enlarged Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) given overall responsibility for guiding ICT sector industrial policy.
As Professor Ahn stressed in his keynote address, and as this slide illustrates for the period from 1980 to the present, every South Korean president has supported development of the ICT sector.  Remarkably, this included military governments and, after democratization both ruling party and opposition presidents.

Smartphone sales in Korea's saturated market

Not surprisingly, the diffusion of smartphones in South Korea, led by Samsung's Galaxy series, took place so rapidly that the market has already reached saturation.  However, as shown in the accompanying graphic, published by The Korea Times, (click to see a full size version) sales of smartphones in China are projected to soar, and are also expected to show healthy increases in the U.S. and India, according to a new report by Strategy Analytics.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Why the dark cloud over world TV market?

I've long been interested in the fortunes of Korea's television and display industry.  Digital displays and television sets form a major part of this nation's ICT sector, as noted in my previous post.  So the article in the English Chosun Ilbo headlined "Dark Cloud Hangs over Global TV Market" naturally caught my eye.  It reports on market research showing a drop in sales of flat panel TV sets.  It also notes plummeting prices and suggests that one reason for the decline " that this is a year when neither the Olympic Games nor the football World Cup are held, since they happen in alternate even years." While that may be one contributing factor in the short term, there are other more important reasons for the longer term trend. As shown in the accompanying graphic(click to see a full-size version)LED backlit LCD televisions began to dominate the market starting in 2010. However, another important trend took place in the market over approximately the same time period, namely the introduction of smart phones and tablets!  Indeed, as Andrew Tonner of Motley Fool suggests in a blog post "One of the interesting sides from the explosion of the global tablet market has been its negative effect for not only the PC market, which we've seen, but now also the TV market."  This would seem to be the main reason for declining TV sales this year, without discounting the absence of a globally televised sports event.   Coincidentally, it also helps to explain why the TV semiconductor market is growing, despite the decline in TV shipments. As noted by Digitimes, "Technologies such as wireless video connections, networking interfaces, multi-format decoders and LED backlighting have boosted the average semiconductor content in TV sets even as global TV unit shipments are forecast to decline by an estimated 3% in 2013."

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A bit of history: How 1980-81 decisions anchored Korea's ICT-led development

On Tuesday of this week I attended the 1st Ministerial Forum for Broadband Development in Latin America and the Caribbean at the Shilla Hotel in Seoul and delivered one of two keynote presentations.   The forum was sponsored by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning along with the Inter American Development Bank and was attended by ICT ministers and delegations from eleven Latin American countries.  The discussions during the day were wide-ranging and most interesting.  They forced me to think about many things, including the topic of this post.   I decided to finally create the graphic included here to illustrate the far reaching consequences of decisions and long-range planning.  In 1981, led by technocrats in the Blue House, experts from academia, industry and government drafter a "Long term plan to invigorate the electronics sector."
The slides I prepared for my presentation to the Ministers used the growth curve in South Korea's GNI per capita, based on World Bank data, as an illustration to show the tremendous economic and social development from 1980 to the present.   One of the points I made, but probably did not adequately explain, is how decisions made in 1980 and 1981 addressed the ICT sector, years before that acronym (ICT =Information and Communications Technology) came into widespread use.
As shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full size version) there were four key decisions.

  1. To develop and manufacture electronic switching systems through the TDX project.
  2. To enter the global semiconductor market, through the 4MB DRAM project.
  3. To begin color television broadcasting, which did not yet exist in Korea.
  4. To separate the telecommunications business from the Ministry of Communications by forming the Korea Telecommunications Authority (KTA), marking the start of privatization and deregulation.
In retrospect, each of these decisions anchored an important part of South Korea's export-led economic and social development.  The nation is now a major manufacturer and exporter of 1) advanced networks, 2) semiconductor chips, 3)color television sets and displays, and 4) mobile handsets and tablets.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Forthcoming article in Telecommunications Policy

My research paper co-authored with Professor Jaemin Park of Konkuk University will be published soon by Telecommunications Policy.  It is entitled "From developmental to network state:  Government restructuring and ICT-led innovation in Korea," and was based on a paper we delivered at the Pacific Telecommunications Council annual conference (PTC13) in January of this year.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Korea's youth the most "digitally native" in the world

The 2013 edition of Measuring the Information Society has been published by the ITU, and it contains an interesting new section on "digital natives."  The UN study uses the following definition.   "A digital native is defined as a youth, aged 15-24 inclusive, with five years or more experience using the internet."  Using this measure, 99.6 percent of South Korea's youth are digital natives, almost the same as Japan with 99.5 percent.  Several Scandinavian countries and Finland also ranked high and 95.6 percent of the youth in the United States are digital natives.
The accompanying graphic shows where digital natives are most concentrated in countries around the world (click to see a full size version).  The map is shaded according to a measure of digital natives as a percentage of the total population.  On this measure, South Korea ranked third in the world.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Flexible displays: Samsung announces Galaxy Round

Samsung has announced a new smartphone, the "Galaxy Round."  This will be one of the first smartphones to make use of flexible display technology, which is now being mass produced by LG.  The introduction of a curve into the design of the phone allows for several effects, one of which is demonstrated in the video below.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Is Samsung overly reliant on smartphones?

The headline in today's English Chosun Ilbo jumped out at me because I've posted on numerous occasions (for example, see my post on "Slim Smartphones, IT Exports and the Creative Economy") over the years about South Korea's heavy reliance on hardware manufacturing and exports, versus software and services.   As the Chosun Ilbo article points out, analysts believe that Samsung's mobile division, which includes smartphones, accounts for 65 percent of total quarterly operating profit. "In turn, Samsung Electronics accounts for 66 percent of the entire Samsung Group's revenues. That means that slow smartphone sales could rattle the entire group badly. Experts warn that Samsung must come up with new growth engines for a time when the global smartphone market is saturated. Otherwise it could go the way of former rivals Nokia and Blackberry."
In the larger scheme of things, it is well to remember that the rapid advances in digital networks these days are creating a global market in which content is king.  Those companies that manufacture the hardware and components for networks will have a role, but two thirds or more of the total market will be in content, software and information-based services.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ben Huh seeks to reinvent global news

One of my alerts this morning brought news of Ben Huh, a Korean educated in journalism at Northwestern and an internet entrepreneur who seeks to reinvent the news for the age of mobile broadband networks.  The Ad Age Digital article led me to read more about his efforts.  I've been interested in how communication technology affects the news for a long time, at least since my doctoral dissertation and first book, Television's Window on the World, which examined how communication satellites and electronic newsgathering were shaping patterns of newsgathering and dissemination in the 1970s.  The advent of the internet and the spread of mobile digital networks have made the interaction between technology and the news even more interesting.
I'm going to look further into Ben Huh's efforts through his new company, Circa news and will be discussing this with students in my undergraduate class at KAIST on "Introduction to Mass Communication."  It is of interest to me that Korea was one of the first countries to experiment with citizen journalism, in the form of OhmyNews, in part because of its extensive and fast digital networks. The class I teach already includes a presentation by Andrew Gruen who worked with and studied OhmyNews as part of his doctoral dissertation research at Cambridge University.  Andrew is focusing, among other things, on the issue of accountability.   With the explosion of video and other information made possible by the new mobile broadband networks, there is certainly going to be demand for services like Circa that edit, select and format news in a mobile format.  Time will tell whether Circa is an important part of the solution or not, but the issue it addresses is important and should be of concern to citizens everywhere.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Future Ministry launches new "Creative Economy Town" website

The Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning has just launched a new "Creative Economy Town" website, as reported by The Korea Herald and other media.  The site, at is aimed at helping people with advice and information on how to flesh out their ideas and technologies into a business.  To date, the site is only available in the Korean language, but it looks interesting.  It definitely appears to be a step, here in Korea, toward open innovation through sharing in the Korean language.  Ultimately, how it relates to similar efforts in English and other languages will be interesting.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Korean Webtoon market to triple by 2015

A very interesting article appeared in The Korea Times, indicating the tremendous growth of Korea's domestic webtoons market, following the introduction of smartphones in 2009. The article stated that "Korea’s webtoon market will nearly triple to 295 billion won ($272 million) in 2015 with the wider use of smartphones and other mobile gadgets, compared to 100 billion won in 2012, said a report released by the KT Economic Research Institute." “One out of three Koreans connect to a website showing online cartoons almost on a daily basis, and an increasing number of moviegoers buy tickets for webtoon-based movies,” Kim Jae-pil said in the KT report. The KT Korean language report is accessible at if you register for membership. It contained the accompanying graphic (click to see a full size version) for which I translated the title and some labels.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Globalizing the Kaesong Industrial Complex: Telecommunications at center of discussions

News that North and South Korea have agreed to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex is making the rounds in mainstream media around the world, and the latest reports have made it apparent that agreement about the use of modern digital communications and the internet are at the center of discussions about stabilizing and globalizing the complex.  This is not at all surprising.   When originally established, the Kaesong Industrial Zone was located just across the DMZ north of Seoul, and close to the new Incheon International Airport and the nearby "ubiquitous networked city" of Songdo.  The Zone is shaded in pink on the accompanying map (source: Wikipedia, click on the map to see a full size version)  This choice of location was deliberate as the Incheon area was planned for development as a large seaport, airport and teleport complex.
In addition to the main issue of guaranteeing the safety of South Korean workers who enter and sojourn in the Kaesong complex, North and South Korean representatives are reportedly discussing internet access, mobile communication and the introduction of an RFID (radio frequency identity tags) entrance system for the complex.  According to The Hankyoreh,"In terms of mobile communication such as cell phones, one remaining technical problem is how to bridge the gap between the Orascom mobile communication method used in North Korea and the mobile communication method used by South Korean companies such as KT Telecom and SK Telecom."
Finally, it is striking that the Kaesong Industrial Region anchors North Korea's side of the DMZ in the West, while the Diamond Mountain resort complexes, also operated by Hyundai Asan, are just north of the DMZ on Korea's east coast.  It is more than mere coincidence that, in the current North-South negotiations, success with the Kaesong complex has been linked to discussions about reopening tours to Daimond Mountain.  Even without any agreement on co-hosting certain events in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, Diamond Mountain tours and skiing at the new Masik ski resort in North Korea could be expected to thrive in conjunction with the Olympics.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

"Building America's Information Superhighways: a brief review of US broadband policy"--September 6 presentation at APrIGF conference

Here is a link to my presentation, starting with the introduction by Professor Rhee.  I'll also share this via Twitter and Facebook.

Building America's information superhighways:  a brief review of US broadband policy

Presentation at the "Broader world of network:  giga internet" session of the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum, SUNY Korea Songdo, September 6, 2013 by James F. Larson, Visiting Professor, KAIST Graduate School of Science and Technology Policy.

The emerging world of giga-internet: the APrIGF conference in Songdo yesterday

Yesterday I spent the morning through mid-afternoon with participants in a giga-internet session at the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) in Songdo.  The presentation was organized by the National Information Society Agency under the auspices of the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning.   It involved presentations about progress in giga-internet infrastructure and policy in the United States(my presentation), Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea.
The entire APrIGF conference was streamed live over the internet from the gleaming new campus of SUNY Korea (한국뉴욕주립대학교). This was my first visit to the international campus section of the Songdo development, and I couldn't help but notice Yonsei University's large building complex right across the street from the SUNY Korea campus.  It is no easy thing building a new city from scratch, the "greenfield" as opposed to "brownfield" approach to creating a smart city, but clearly Songdo is on its way.
This morning, over coffee, I had a chance to view my own presentation, which is available at this hyperlink courtesy of Ustream TV.  My presentation, entitled "Building America's Information Superhighways:  A Brief Review of U.S. Broadband Policy," starting with the moderator's introduction, runs from about 8:43 to 31.22 on the online recording.  If you happen to view this presentation, comments are welcome.
For those of you with an in-depth interest in different national approaches to infrastructure, use and policies for ultra-fast, giga-internet, I recommend viewing the entire session.  It provides a rich, current glimpse into how leading Asian countries are approaching the challenge.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

North Korean participation in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics?

This morning while fixing my breakfast coffee I heard a story on YTN television news that dealt with the possibility of North Korea hosting a skiing event during the forthcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.   The story has also received coverage in the press, including The Korea Herald.  Reportedly, a North Korean member of the International Olympic Committee suggested that the Masik ski resort, now under construction in North Korea, could possibly hold Olympic events once it is completed.  Not surprisingly, this news elicited an immediate response from the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee indicating that it would be "impossible" to split Olympic skiing events with North Korea, according to rules in the Olympic charter. However, as The Korea Herald goes on to point out, the ultimate authority in such a matter is the International Olympic Committee IOC.  Furthermore, as with the Seoul Olympics in 1988, the IOC will undoubtedly take an active interest in the possibility that North Korea will not only participate but might take a more active role in the Olympics.  The negotiations between North and South Korea about possible co-hosting of the 1988 Seoul Olympics are discussed in some detail in my book, with Heung-Soo Park, Global Television and the Politics of the Seoul Olympics, which is available full-text on Google books (if you're interested, read the section on "The Negotiations with North Korea," pp. 178-182)
With the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics only a little more than four years off, it is not at all surprising that ideas about co-hosting are surfacing.  Consider the broader context in which North and South Korea are reportedly discussing ways to "globalize" the Kaesong Industrial complex, the resumption of reunion visits for divided families, and President Park Geun-hye's public embrace of the notion of a DMZ Peace Park.   I've posted earlier, including one entry in January of this year, on how these developments relate to the forthcoming Olympics.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Seoul's cyber subways

Yesterday I had occasion to make the one-hour trip from Daejon to Seoul by KTX, and traveled from Seoul Station to Yeoksam Station in Gangnam for my meeting and lunch appointment.  Although this is anecdotal evidence, I wanted to share my observations, especially with those of you who have not visited Korea.  In the first subway car, on Line 2 (the green line) most of the seats were full and all but two of three of the passengers were using their smartphones, most with earphones attached.  I observed the same thing on my return trip.   What accounts for this near-universal use of mobile networks on the Seoul Subway?   There are several factors including,

  • Some people are watching free digital multimedia broadcasting (DMB) television on their handsets, a common feature in South Korea since 2005.
  • Some consumers are connecting to the internet via an LTE or LTE-A connection, since penetration of these mobile technologies in Korea leads the world.
  • The major mobile service providers in South Korea (KT, SKT and LGU+) each offer their own version of data plans that allow subscribers free access to WiFi.
Of course, I enjoyed free Wi-Fi access to the internet on the KTX train while traveling to and from Seoul, and observed most people making use of the connection with their phones, tablets and notebook computers.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Connecting the next 5 billion people--Facebook's initiative

A new Facebook initiative, in partnership with Nokia, Ericsson, Qualcomm, Samsung, MediaTek and Opera, focuses on mobile communication and has the goal of making internet access available to the two-thirds of the world's population who are not yet connected. Reading about this in the local press (see for example, The Korea Herald report here), the one surprising thing to me was the conspicuous absence of Google in the list of partners.
The initiative is further described at its website, and in more detail in a Facebook whitepaper on the topic.   The whitepaper explains how the rough plan focuses on three important levers:
  • Making internet access affordable by making it more efficient to deliver data.
  • Using less data by improving the efficiency of the apps and experiences we use.
  • Helping businesses drive internet access by developing a new model to get people online.
  • Friday, August 16, 2013

    Q: Is Jeju Korea's answer to Silicon Valley? A: NO

    One of my alerts today brought news of a Forbes article with the headline, "Is Jeju Korea's Answer to Silicon Valley?"  The article caught my attention for several reasons.  Yesterday I met in Seoul with the former Assistant Mayor and CIO of the city, with whom I'm writing a paper on Korea's "Smart Cities" for next year's Pacific Telecommunications Council conference.  More immediately, I'm preparing a panel presentation on the topic of "innovation clusters in the creative economy" for a September international conference here in Daejon.  Finally, Korea is a highly urbanized country and the role of cities and urban areas in the growth of the nation's information society has long been a topic of interest.
    The Forbes article, while it has a catchy title, doesn't quite fit with realities on the ground in Korea.  For one thing, Silicon Valley not only grew up in an urban area, but it is home to many large companies, a host of research organizations and several leading universities with Stanford topping the list.  Although Daum has relocated to Jeju, it is unlikely to be followed by a large number of other Korean companies. Seoul is still the preferred location for corporate headquarters and for the nation's top universities. A second reason Jeju is unlikely to become Korea's Silicon Valley is that there are already competing innovation clusters that might lay claim to the title.  At the top of the list is the Daedok Innopolis right here in Daejon, the largest of several such clusters being nurtured by the national and local governments. Daejon is home to KAIST, Korea's leading science and technology university, along with several other national and regional universities.  Although KAIST is more frequently compared with MIT, it has an historical connection to Stanford University which nurtured Silicon Valley.   Daedok is home to hundreds of government and corporate research centers.  Furthermore, those not familiar with Korea who might read this should consider that Daejon is only a comfortable one-hour train ride to the center of Seoul via the KTX high speed rail service, making it in some ways an outer suburb of the city.
    According to the Forbes article,the proportion of the nation's venture capital that goes to Seoul-based startups has been increasing annually from 64.2% in 2009 to 72.4% in 2012, while Jeju received a paltry 1.6% last year.

    North Korea's Arirang smartphone appears to be a Chinese knockoff

    The announcement by North Korea that it had manufactured its own smartphone, named the Arirang, received a great deal of press attention over the past several days.  The phone is pictured in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full-size version).  However, I was not surprised to see a follow-up report in today's Chosun Ilbo indicating that, according to the Hong Kong daily Ta Kung Bao, the phone is actually a Chinese knockoff with a North Korean label.
    According to The Chosun Ilbo report, The BBC last Tuesday also quoted experts as suggesting that the Arirang smartphone is a Chinese product. Steven Millward, an editor of Singaporean IT website Tech In Asia said, "Possibly, the whole smartphone is made in China and only the final boxing is done in the rather sparse plant that Kim Jong-un toured."  The BBC and the Hong Kong newspaper appear to be onto something here.