Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Communication Theory of Korean Unification

This post was prompted by an article entitled "Five Theories of Unification," by Victor Cha of Georgetown University who also holds the Korea Chair at CSIS.  It appeared in The Korea Joongang Daily and in a slightly different form on the Korea Chair Platform.  The article briefly sketches five possible perspectives on unification that correspond roughly to different periods in Korean history and different presidential administrations.   However, readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that I found another very persuasive perspective on Korean unification missing from Professor Cha's analysis, and that is the communication and network theoretic point of view.  (Check out my prior numerous posts on this topic here.)  My hunch that something was missing in the five theories was confirmed by viewing President Park Geun Hye's historic speech in Dresden earlier this year, where she laid out her three-point agenda for Korean unification.   The accompanying YouTube video contains the Arirang Television live broadcast of her speech, with simultaneous translation in English (the speech begins at 35:44 of the video, should you choose to view it here).
As I've discussed in earlier posts, communication is in many ways the essence of the unification problem, both in terms of digital network infrastructure for modern mobile broadband and in terms of human communication across what President Park described in her speech as a "wall of distrust" and a "socio-cultural" divide that has grown on the Korean peninsula over the past 70 years.
I also found it highly significant that President Park chose the Dresden University of Technology for her speech, which she began with reference to a Korean saying that "the impact of education lasts for generations and beyond."  She followed that by noting that she herself had majored in electrical engineering and that she firmly believed science and technology were the key to unlocking a nation's growth.  "This is why I established the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning early in my presidency and this is also precisely why I have been highlighting the importance of building a creative economy."
All of the three main points in President Park's Dresden speech involve strong elements of human communication of different sorts, ranging from reunification of divided families, to building telecommunications, transportation and other forms of infrastructure.   Communication is arguably, as Wilbur Schramm wrote years ago, the "fundamental social process."  As Korea's continued tragic division shows, it is also central to politics and economics.  Finally, it is an essential ingredient in education at all levels, underscored over the past several years by the rapid rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs).  Near the conclusion of her speech, President Park envisioned a day when young students from North and South Korea (like those in her audience at Dresden University of Technology) would study together side by side on a unified Korean peninsula.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Korea's largest internet companies in global context

The Economist published a nice infographic recently that shows the top three internet companies in a number of countries, ranked by peak market valuation.  (click on the graphic here to see the top part of the infographic, or click here to go directly to the full, interactive infographic)  South Korea ranks fifth on the graphic, which is remarkable given the much larger population of three of the other four countries ahead of it. The three largest internet companies in Korea, in rank order, are Naver, Nexon and NCSoft.  Naver, of course, is a Korean language "search" portal, while the other two companies specialize in online games.
The data for The Economist infographic and article came from the World Startup Report, a not for profit organization.  Another graphic published by that organization helps to put the size of Korea's internet companies in global context. (click on graphic to see a full size version)  As noted by The Economist, Google is larger than the peak value of the companies in all other 48 countries combined.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Data localization is no solution for Korea's security, privacy concerns

The Korea Joongang Daily today has an excellent short article by Bert Verschelde of The European Center for International Political Economy.  He points out that, in the wake of Edward Snowden's NSA revelations, some governments around the world have moved toward regulatory restrictions on data, "such as data localization--the requirement that companies store and process data within the country in which they were collected."  He further notes that "While calls for increased online data security are legitimate and warranted, recent customer information leaks in Korea’s financial sector show that restricting where data is stored is problematic. Storing data within the borders of one country is not only ineffective against foreign surveillance, data security experts say it increases the chance of data breaches and abuse. When data is mandatorily stored within borders, it creates a tempting “honeypot” for criminals to target." Furthermore, the article argues that forced local storage of data can have a harmful effect on the economy enforcing it.
Simulations by his Center show that "...Korea’s economic growth would be severely stifled by an expanded, or economy-wide data localization measure. The impact of data localization across all sectors is estimated to be equivalent to 1.1 percent of Korea’s GDP in 2014. In real terms, this is equivalent to a loss of roughly $13 billion. In addition, investment in Korea would drop by 3.6 percent, causing its economy to pass up roughly $180 million in foreign direct investment."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

SK Telecom to jointly study 5G networks with Ericsson

One theme that emerges from prior posts on this blog (do a search for "speed") is that "speed matters" when it comes to broadband networks, both fixed and mobile.  Consequently, the recent announcement that Ericsson (click on the press release graphic to see a full size version) had achieved speeds of 5 Gbps throughput in a lab test made big news, especially here in Korea which prides itself on having the world's fastest and arguably most advanced broadband networks.  5G networks are expected to be about 1,000 times faster than existing LTE networks.
Today, as reported in The Korea Joongang Daily, SK Telecom announced that it had signed an agreement with Ericsson to jointly study future 5G networks.  As noted in the article, "The companies will study the next generation Small Cell, ultra-wideband technology, ultra-low latency transmission technology, which lowers data transmission delay times to 1 millisecond, and FDD (Frequency-division duplexing) and TDD (Time-division duplexing) convergence technologies, which are essential for the evolution of 5G. In LTE and LTE-A services, the data transmission delay time is around 10 milliseconds."  What the article did not stress is that Japan's NTT Docomo is also cooperating with Ericsson and that the laboratory demonstration was of "pre-standard 5G technology."   For these next generation mobile networks, agreement on international standards will be a critical matter.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

ICT-driven development in Korea and China

As reported in The Korea Joongang Daily, the leaders of China and Korea this week attended the largest business forum ever between the two countries.  Not surprisingly, the ICT sector was a central focus of the discussions.  The article quoted President Park Geun-Hye as follows: “The two countries’ economic cooperation should be shifted from the manufacturing industry to services, energy and other new industries. Joint efforts on global issues like energy, the environment and climate change should continue, too."
The Chinese leaders comments included a remark that “With a long-tern perspective, we should establish China-Korea free trade zones. The two countries can build joint industrial zones to increase cooperation on new energy, materials, telecommunications and the environment.”   Remarks by leaders of Samsung Electronics, LG, SK Telecom and other ICT sector firms were also prominent.  An executive of Baidu commented that “The future of the Internet will become a common issue for the two countries.” Of course, questions about internet governance will be a prominent feature of the ITU Plenipotentiary conference hosted by Korea this fall in Busan. Reading the entire article, it seems apparent that China has taken careful note of Korea's ICT-led development in recent decades and wants to follow suit.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Korea's prospects in the robotics industry

A number of ICT sector companies, including Google, Softbank in Japan and European firms are moving into robotics.  South Korea is also a leader in this race, as described in an report published by the Korea Joongang Daily.  In many respects, this is a natural outgrowth of developments in digital broadband networks and consumer electronics. The new digital and highly mobile networks that are transforming life around the world are naturally connected to all kinds of sensors and the growing "Internet of things."  Anyone who has accessed images from a webcam or surveillance video camera, used a small robot to clean floors in an apartment, or controlled a thermostat remotely via their smart phone, can easily imagine the convenience and value of  controlling an intelligent robot from a distance.
For Korea the move toward networked and service robots it is also a response to the overall demographic trend toward an older society.  As shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full-size version), the greatest growth in the robotics industry here over the past several years is for personal service robots, in anticipation of a large market in the provision of personal services for elderly individuals.
The article provides a nice overview of some current developments in the robotics industry here and gives a sense of where South Korea fits in the global picture.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Samsung electronics earns 10% of its income in Korea

As reported today in The Chosun Ilbo, Korea's domestic market accounts for only about 10 percent of the income earned by Samsung Electronics in 2013, according to the company's most recent sustainability (annual) report.  That marked a 22 percent decline from a year earlier and a company spokesperson said the decline was due in part to a saturated smartphone market in Korea.  The report also indicated that Samsung Electronics has twice as many employees overseas as in Korea. According to The Chosun Ilbo report, "In 2011, Samsung had 119,753 employees on its overseas payroll and 101,973 in Korea. But in 2013, there were 190,486 overseas compared to 95,798 here."