Friday, May 29, 2015

Government to open mobile market to a new, fourth player

As reported widely in the local press, including the Korea Joongang Daily the Korean government has decided to allow a fourth player into the mobile telecommunications market.  According to the article,"The government Thursday introduced a plan to allow a fourth telecom into the Korean mobile telecommunications market, which has been dominated by SK Telecom, KT and LG U+. The government said an additional player will trigger competition and lower monthly telecom bills." The Korea Joongang Daily went on to note that "Cutting back household spending on telecom bills was one of President Park Geun-hye’s election pledges in December 2012. “Looking at overseas examples like France, Spain and Japan, those countries succeeded in reducing household telecom bills by up to 43.9 percent last year, when compared to the past when there was no new carrier,” said Cho Gyu-jo, director of the ICT Ministry’s telecommunications policy division." (click on the accompanying graphic to see a full size version)
Not surprisingly, the government's announcement of this move was opposed by the three existing carriers, who argue that competition is already overheated and that the addition of another carrier is only likely to increase such competition.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

North Korea hopes for investment from the South

A very interesting investigative piece appeared a few days ago in the Korea Joongang Daily. (click on the graphic to see a full sized version) Entitled "Pyongyang hopes for investment from the South," it noted that "Several informants told the JoongAng Ilbo that North Korea is hoping that major South Korean conglomerates will set up manufacturing plants and other operations in North Korea. “High-ranking North Korean government officials and businessmen said they are hoping that South Korean conglomerates would invest in North Korea’s regional and industrial complexes,” Han, a Korean-American who wished only to be identified by his family name, told the JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday after holding a meeting with a North Korean official at the Ministry of External Economic Affairs in Pyongyang last month."
As shown in the accompanying graphic, North Korea reportedly wants South Korean companies to invest in its infrastructure.  Curiously, only one of these projects involves the ICT sector, per se, and that is a hoped-for electronics complex north of Pyongyang.
The article also notes the obvious need to establish some political stability in the North, if there is to be significant investment outside of Kaesong by leading South Korean firms.  It concludes by noting that "South Korean business groups are urging the government to push forward economic cooperation with North Korea as they are feeling some competitive heat, including from China and Japan, which have shown interest in advancing into North Korea’s . “It would be too late if South Korean companies advance into North Korea after the relationship between the two Koreas improves,” said Lim Eul-chul, professor at Kyungnam University. “We have to keep in mind the fierce competition with China, Japan and Russia.” "

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Big data hub in Chuncheon at Kangwon National University!

My first university teaching job started eight years before I earned the Ph.D. in communication at Stanford University and began teaching at the University of Texas at Austin. The job came to me as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Korea, assigned with my "K-16" cohort colleagues to teach English as a second language in universities throughout Korea. My assignment was to teach in the English Education department at Kangwon National University in Chuncheon.
Given all that transpired since that early experience in Korea, you can only imagine my pleasant surprise to learn that Kangwon National University, with support from Naver and the government, has established a "big data hub" on its campus. As reported in the Korea Joongang Daily, "According to the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning on Monday, Naver opened the nation’s 10th creative economy innovation center in Chuncheon on Monday along with a start-up fund worth 105 billion won ($96.2 million) dedicated to foster start-ups specializing in big data. The center occupies two buildings on the Kangwon National University campus in Chuncheon with about 1,270 square meters (13,670 square feet) of space. Start-ups can move in and work with the university’s entrepreneurship support center."
As shown in the accompanying photo from, President Park Geun-hye attended the opening of the new center in Chuncheon (click to see a full-size version of the photo).  In the article, she is quoted as saying "In the past, Gangwon-do supported Korea's industrialization with its natural resources, such as minerals, but from now on, it will help the Korean economy leap ahead with new resources, like big data," said the president. "Big data, as important as petroleum was in the 20th century, is the new capital for a creative economy. It creates added-value and jobs that require creativity and new ideas, with very few physical resources."  Those remarks by President Park are yet another indicator that she has a deep understanding of digital convergence and the underlying dynamics of the digital network revolution.
As a young American Peace Corps Volunteer, I taught at a provincial university that was at that time a relatively small one, based on agriculture and related departments.  At the time, I was incapable of imagining what might happen to this nation, thanks to its investment in education, and consequently its ability to harness the power of the digital network revolution!  My deep and sincere congratulations to the people in Gangwon Province, Chuncheon and Kangwon National University, who made this transformation possible.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Google opens its first Asia startup campus in Seoul

In a possible sign that Korea's venture start up ecosystem has reached a tipping point, Google yesterday opened the doors of  Google Campus Seoul in Daechi-dong, part of the affluent Gangnam district.  It is the first such campus in Asia, and follows establishment of campuses by Google in London and Tel Aviv.   Google also plans to open campuses later this year in Madrid, Sao Paulo and Warsaw. The Arirang TV report embedded with this post provides a glimpse of the new Google Campus in Seoul.

Friday, May 8, 2015

A perennial problem: naming ministries in English

As reported in The Korea Times and other local press, the government plans to revise the English names of some ministries in an effort to eliminate the confusion caused among non-Koreans from around the world by strange-sounding, grammatically incorrect or inaccurate English names.  The problem that the government seeks to address originates in part because of the government reorganizations that occur like clockwork every five years when a new president is elected in South Korea.  However, at the core of the matter is the simple linguistic reality that Korean cannot be literally translated into English, and vice versa.  Therefore, I read The Korea Times article and a similar one in The Korea Herald with a sense of surprise that the government is undertaking a task which is ultimately impossible to completely fulfill.  However, this is not to suggest that there is no room for improvement.  A case in point would be the influential Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) which was introduced by the Park Geun Hye administration in early 2013.  A number of my blog posts (review them here) dealt with the nature of the new ministry and public discussion of its official name name, which was not officially decided until early April 2013.  I even suggested that the English name for the new ministry might include "innovation."   If I were asked today to nominate an English name for the ministry, it would probably be Ministry of Science and Innovation.  I would argue that the term "innovation" implies both future and technology, and the "planning" is not needed in the English name since it does not appear explicitly in the Korean title for the ministry, as shown by the following literal translations of the words in the Ministry's Korean title.
미래 future
창조 creation
과학 science
부   ministry

Learning from Korea's world-leading mobile commerce

Given that South Korea has the fastest, most extensive mobile broadband networks and the highest penetration of smartphones in the world, it should come as little surprise that mobile shopping is rising exponentially here. (click on the accompanying graphic to see a full size version)  As noted in a recent report by the McKinsey Group,more than two thirds of South Koreans own a smartphone, "... compared with 47 percent of Americans, 57 percent of Australians, and 52 percent of Britons. South Koreans are also big users of their smartphones, with sales of goods purchased using mobile devices jumping more than fourfold since 2012 to about 10 trillion won, or $9.8 billion."  The mobile commerce market in Korea today represents nearly one third of all web-based sales.  Clearly, mobile commerce is one of many areas where Korea serves as an interesting test-bed for other markets around the world.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

All books e-books by 2015?

While doing a routine web search this afternoon, I ran across a 2011 article in the The Christian Science Monitor in which I was quoted to support the prediction that all textbooks in South Korea would be e-books by 2015. (click on the accompanying graphic to see a full sized version)  It is now 2015, so I am obliged to inform you that all textbooks in South Korea are not yet e-books.   I stand by my prediction, quoted in the article, that “South Korea’s transition to a totally networked society has profound implications for the publishing industry.” However, it appears that teachers, administrators and students at all levels of education have different preferences and fall into different segments when it comes to the digital transformation or disruption. Personally speaking, although I have written a number of academic books and monographs, I do not long for the smell and texture of high-quality paper, at least for my research-related reading. Instead, not possessing a photographic memory of what I wrote some years ago, I prefer the capability to search for words and phrases that an e-book provides, not to mention the added benefits of cloud based access to material as I move around our Incheon Global Campus, Korea, the Asian region, or the world. The printed books would simply be too heavy to bring along, and I don't mean intellectually heavyweight!

"Affordable" phone market grows!

As reported in the Korea Joongang Daily and other media, the market for "affordable" mobile phone service provided by mobile virtual network operators, experienced continued healthy growth last year. According to the Korea Joongang Daily article, "More users are flocking to thrifty phone providers that rent network space from Korea’s largest mobile carriers as the government regulation on subsidies for smartphones has caused phone bills to surge amid a tough economy. According to the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, the number of thrifty phone subscribers surpassed the 5 million mark, with its market share hitting a new high of 8.8 percent. The latest findings are based on records as of April 21." (click on the graphic to see a full size version)
"In 2011, the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) authorized smaller businesses to provide wireless communications services. Called mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), the smaller vendors offer telecom services that slash monthly phone bill by 20,683 won ($19.20) compared to regular service, the ministry said. That translates into savings of more than 240,000 won per year, 57 percent cheaper than the service offered by Korea’s largest mobile carriers - SK Telecom, KT and LG U+."
While affordable phone services initially appealed to older people, a younger demographic is currently turning to these services. "The Science Ministry cited subscribers to the cheaper service offered by Korea Post to highlight the trend. “Those in their 30s and 40s form 32.2 percent as of April 21,” the ministry said in a statement. “And the number has consistently increased.”"

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Al Gore on "The reality of the climate crisis and road forward for humanity"

I'm teaching a new course at SUNY Korea this spring on ICT for development (ICT4D), so the recent speech by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore as part of the Haas School of Business' Dean's Speaker Series at U.C. Berkeley caught my attention.  Two themes that run through my course are the challenge of environmental sustainability, on the one hand, and the possibilities presented by new digital networks and information and communication technologies (ICT) on the other.  Gore's speech in California was a sharp reminder that these two themes cannot be thought of separately.  The vantage point of the course I'm teaching is that of South Korea's recent experience of ICT-led development, since this country managed to harness the power of the digital network revolution more successfully than any other developing nation to date for socioeconomic development.  I strongly recommend the video embedded with this post.  The substantive part of his speech starts at about 11 minutes 30 seconds in.