Friday, August 28, 2015

A ray of light from the darkness of the Sewol tragedy? Korea's Public Safety LTE networks

As briefly noted in a short post last April, South Korea plans to build a dedicated, nationwide public safety (PS) LTE network by 2017.  To place this large project in context, one should remember, as this blog noted over several years, that South Korea since the turn of the millennium posses the most extensive, advanced and fastest broadband networks in the world, while countries like the United States are still struggling to coordinate the efforts of localities, states, the private sector and the federal government to plan for and implement a nationwide broadband network.
In Korea, the commitment to build a PS-LTE network was given tremendous impetus by the tragic sinking of the Sewol Ferry in April 2015 in which more than 300 passengers and crew lost their lives, most of them high school students on a field trip to Jeju island.  On the government side, the Ministry of Public Safety and Security is playing a leading role in the PS-LTE network project, along with the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning and other entities.  Another key player is the SafeNet Forum, an organization that includes all of the major network equipment manufacturers, mobile telecommunications service providers and the public safety organizations that will utilize the new dedicated network.  Earlier this summer I was invited to join the SafeNet Forum and become a member of its expert advisory committee.  Consequently, I plan to publish occasional updates on the progress of this organization and Korea's PS LTE networks.
While the tragic sinking of a ferry proved to be a catalyst for network planning and implementation in Korea, in the United States it was  the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 that made the provision of interoperable communications for first responders a national goal.  Accordingly in 2012 Congress created The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), a federal agency that includes private sector and other non-federal representation on its board of directors.  It was established as an "independent authority" within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) within the Department of Commerce.
SUNY Korea is currently working with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction here in Songdo (UNISDR) and SafeNet Forum to plan a day-long seminar on September 15 on the topic of  "Networks and communication in disasters:  Disaster risk reduction as a business opportunity."  I look forward to that opportunity to learn more about Korea's efforts thus far and how they relate to FirstNet in the U.S. and similar efforts in other countries.  Here in Korea, while the initial effort will focus on building a basic PS-LTE network, there are related and longer term efforts to build a PS-LTE R network to serve the nation's railway system and a PS-LTE M network for maritime service.  At some future date, these three new, dedicated public safety networks will be interconnected.
I am particularly interested in the timetable for implementation of the networks, and how this relates to certain international decisions on applicable standards.  However, at this point it seems quite likely that Korea will complete construction of its new nationwide networks well in advance of the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and other countries.  If so, this has major implications for Korea's role not only in the construction of these new networks themselves, but as a test bed for the development of services that they will enable in the interest of public safety all around the world.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Korean reunification in the hyperconnected, networked era

Two items appearing in the local (Korean) news these days caught my attention for the same reason.   One was the speech by opposition leader Moon Jae In in which he announced his vision for economic unification of Korea, as reported by Arirang TV in the embedded video.
The other news report that caught my attention was an article in The Korea Times reporting that Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg, speaking in Seoul, suggested that cloud computing and mobility will be two of the keys to future industrial transformation.  Vestberg said that "The progress in mobile penetration is, in particular, beyond imagination. By 2020, mobile networks including 2G, 3G and the long-term evolution (LTE) will cover everyone worldwide except for approximately 300 million people. This is the single most influential technology in human history."
Perhaps the Ericsson CEO engaged in a bit of hyperbole, but not by much.
These two news items caught my eye because each of them reminded me of the central role that digital networks and related technologies have come to play in society, politics and economics all around the world.   They will be a decisive factor in shaping Korean reunification, not only in the economic sphere, but politically and socially as well.  Indeed, economic reunification itself will most likely be heavily influenced by the relative positions of North and South Korea in cyberspace and in terms of digital network infrastructure, as noted in numerous earlier posts.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Korean game developers in the global market

An interesting status report on the game industry appeared today in the Korea Joongang Daily.  It begins by noting that "Korean developers used to dominate the computer game industry, leading with innovative content. But as the market has moved to emphasize mobile games, local developers are having trouble keeping up. Some argue they are too focused on making a quick buck from gamers, rather than developing globally competitive content." The article contains some interesting historical background, noting that the first massive multiplayer online games were developed in Korea in the 1990s, when this country led the world in building nationwide broadband internet networks." However, as noted later in the article, "Last year, the scale of the domestic mobile game market was estimated to be 2.4 trillion won ($2.1 billion), the fourth-largest worldwide. But as the global market expands, Korea’s mobile gaming industry is expected to contract next year. The reason, analysts say, is because Korean mobile games are too conventional, and game developers are too focused on squeezing money from players. One of the most common phrases in Korean game development circles is that a “game starts and ends with experimental spirit.” But while foreign companies are experimenting with new game concepts and the creation of fresh new worlds, Korean developers have been busy trying to find new payment systems and addictive elements to generate revenue. Some blame KakaoTalk, Korea’s most popular mobile messenger application, for the dearth of innovative game developers. KakaoTalk created mobile games with the intention of increasing its users, rather than producing truly original content."
The article also presents some useful data on the current state of the global game market. (click on the graphic to see a full size version.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The incredible persistence of Active-X in Korea

A few days ago, after much consideration, I upgraded the OS on my Samsung ATIV Ultrabook from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10.  My consideration and caution was due larger concerns about Microsoft software, about which I've posted frequently over the years.  One of these topics is the continued use of Active-X by Korean financial institutions, years after Microsoft itself warned the whole world about the security risks associated with installation of Active-X controls.   (If you're interested in the history, take a look at these posts, the first of which was back in 2009.  )
You can only imagine my surprise to read in the Korea Joongang Daily a few days ago, the article entitled "Latest Windows Upgrade Exposes Achilles Heel." (click on the accompanying graphic to see a full sized version)  Astonishingly, as noted by the article, "When the launch of Microsoft’s Windows 10 was generating buzz around the world, Korean Internet users were warned by government agencies not to install the latest operating system. The reason? A cumbersome authentication system known as ActiveX used by government agencies and financial companies in Korea - and few other places around the world. Though it does not work on all web browsers and requires users to download a hefty set of supporting programs, the system is still necessary for most Koreans to access government services or their bank accounts online. But Edge, Windows 10’s new default browser, will not support the authentication system. As the operating system’s July 29 release drew closer, government agencies scrambled to notify citizens not to install Windows 10. The National Tax Service (NTS) launched a pop-up notification on its Home Tax website where people can file their taxes electronically. The website is accessed by the vast majority of Koreans, because tax filing is now done completely online. “The service would not be optimized under Windows 10,” read a pop-up notification on the site."  There are other examples included in the full article.
What makes these latest developments all the more surprising is that the use of Active X persists long after President Park Geun-hye personally noted the problem in a Blue House meeting with business leaders.
In April of this year, as reported by BusinessKorea the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning announced that the government would repeal the Active-X security requirement and that 90 percent of the nation's websites would be free of it by 2017.  However, given the current state of affairs in which government entities are actively discouraging Korean citizens from upgrading to the latest version of the Windows operating system, things could explode into a much larger problem long before 2017!  All this bears close scrutiny.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Future networked robots in the Internet of Things

As readers of this blog will know, I've long been interested in the future of the robotics industry in Korea and Korea's role in the industry globally. (Just check out these posts)  Today, as reported in The Korea Times, LGU+ invested $2 million in the U.S.-based social robot maker JIBO. The article noted that "The move is expected to boost the company's efforts to lead the information and technology market in the era of the Internet of Things (IoT)."We have built a partnership with JIBO, aiming to leap to the world's No. 1 IoT-based company by 2020," an LG Uplus spokesman said Thursday."
Interestingly, JIBO is a social robot developed by MIT robotics professor Cynthia Breazeal, who explains its purpose in the embedded YouTube video. Another small, but very interesting indication of the future directions for service robots in Korea's aging society.