Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Korea to end dependence on nuclear power?

Both the domestic and international media have taken note of President Moon Jae-In's pledge to wean Korea off its heavy dependence on nuclear power, and rightly so.  For example, the Korea Joongang Daily published an article entitled "Moon vows to wean Korea off nuclear power" accompanied by a photo of President Moon, flanked by children, preparing to press a button to permanently shut down the Kori-1 reactor, one of the nation's aging nuclear power plants.  (click on graphic to see a full size version)
As of 2017, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)this nation relied on nuclear power plants to supply fully one third of its electrical power. (click on the graphic to see a full size version)  Thanks to nuclear power, this nation enjoys relatively inexpensive and dependable electric power, whether one lives in its large cities or in rural areas.  This semester, I had the privilege to teach a class to a group of five executives from the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. and learned more from them about the current state of this nation's electric power grid.  Furthermore, having lived in South Korea continuously since 1996, I've enjoyed the dependable electric power supply that has helped fuel this nation's ICT-driven economic development.  It will indeed be a major challenge to "wean Korea off nuclear power."
In short, President Moon's declaration of his intent to shift Korea from dependence on nuclear power generation to renewable sources is a major policy change.  It is a bold move,  on the order of the Lee Myung Bak administration's dramatic shift from brown growth to a green growth strategy.  Along with many here in Korea and around the world, I can only wish President Moon and his administration well on achievement of this laudable goal.  It is an investment in future generations and the future of the planet.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

87 Mobile phones recovered from Sewol Ferry

The Chosun Ilbo English edition carried an article today entitled "Search for Ferry Victims Nearly Complete."  The last sentence of the article struck me as the most interesting and potentially most important for victims of the tragedy and their families.  It read, "Of 87 mobile phones retrieved from the wreck so far, 15 have been sent to a private company to retrieve text messages and other data that can shed light on the tragedy."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Collusion on phone service fees?

As reported today in The Korea Joongang Daily, some observers are claiming that there is collusion among the three main mobile service providers in the setting of service fees.  As shown in the accompanying graphic (click for a full-size version), all three service providers have nearly identical service charges.  Consequently the civic group People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), has raised suspicion of collusion. The civic group reported its suspicions to the Fair Trade Commission on May 18.
The Korea Joongang Daily article also quoted Lee Joon-gil, former FTC official and senior adviser at the law firm Jipyong as saying “It’s not a collusion when everyone unfolds their umbrella when it rains but when everyone is holding up a black umbrella, one could suspect collusion. When all of the three mobile carrier’s service plans are similar, it is unnatural as holding up a black umbrella.”

According to the article, the mobile companies say that in meeting consumers’ demand for cheaper smartphones, price competition is focused mostly on the device subsidy rather than on the service charges. “The phone, text messaging and data services are all similar among the three mobile carriers, and that’s why the services charges are similar,” said an industry official. “[People] don’t see soju, whose prices are similar [among different brands] as a collusion.”

Thursday, May 18, 2017

LTE network trials prioritize public safety traffic

As reported by TheStack.com "Nokia along with Finland’s State Security Networks Group, and Telia, have successfully trialed a priority system whereby public safety communications are triaged over other data traffic in LTE networks. The trials, according to a Nokia release, demonstrated the ability to prioritise traffic for first responders in busy 4G networks."  This is an important development, since no country will want to let a public safety-LTE network sit idle simply because there is no crisis or disaster occurring.  The report also noted that "Public safety is a priority for many networking and edge computing projects. Earlier this year, Ericsson and Intel announced the launch of the 5G Innovators Initiative (5GI2), with which initial development includes augmented and virtual reality applications for first responder drone surveillance."

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ransomware and Korea's digital divide

Mainstream media and tech blogs are full of reports that the recent massive ransomware cyber attacks may be linked to North Korea.  This episode adds more evidence that Korea's division is both a military and a digital one.  One example of current reporting is The Guardian's report similarities were spotted between details of last week’s massive cyber-attack and code used by a prolific cybergang with links to North Korean government.   The graphic at left (click to see a full size version) shows employees at the Korea Internet and Security Agency (Kisa) in Seoul at work on May 15 monitoring  possible ransomware cyber-attacks.  The Hangul in yellow at the top of the large wall screen says  "공격 현황 "or "attack status" in English.
The Guardian story, notes that  "The WannaCry exploits used in the attack were drawn from a cache of exploits stolen from the NSA by the Shadow Brokers in August 2016. The NSA and other government agencies around the world create and collect vulnerabilities in popular pieces of software (such as Windows) and cyberweapons to use for intelligence gathering and cyberwarfare. Once these vulnerabilities were leaked by the Shadow Brokers, they became available for cybercriminals to adapt for financial gain by creating ransomware. This ransomware spread rapidly on Friday by exploiting a vulnerability contained in the NSA leak, targeting computers running Microsoft’s Windows operating system, taking over users’ files and demanding $300 to restore them."
In response, the president of Microsoft stated that governments should view this massive cyber attack as a wake-up call.  Brad Smith added that “Repeatedly, exploits in the hands of governments have leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage. An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the US military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen.”
I would only add that this latest cyber attack episode underscores that the division on the Korean peninsula is both a military one, symbolized by the 38th parallel DMZ and a deep digital divide.  Quite clearly, North Korea seeks to advance both its missile and nuclear weapons programs and its capacity to wage cyber warfare.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Risks of human error in using big data: Another example

Earlier this year, we are social and Hootsuite published a slide deck entitled Digital in 2017 Global Overview, drawing on data from Google, Akamai and other sources.  Overall, this collection of statistics and graphs meets the goal implied in its title, by providing a valuable global overview of the rapidly changing digital landscape.  However, as illustrated by slide 89 (click to see a full-size version of the graphic), the publication also demonstrates the risks that human error can creep into the compilation and publication of such data.  The slide indicates that data came from Akamai.   However, according to the Akamai data, the tall leftmost bar must surely represent data for South Korea, which  has led the world in average download speed since 2007.
The chart at left  (click for a full size version) is from my most recent publication, "Network-centric digital development in Korea: Origins, growth and prospects," published by Telecommunications Policy.  It is based on the same Akamai data referred to in slide 89, but does not include the UK because that country was not among the top tier leaders by this measure.
One of my hobbies over the past decade or more has been collecting examples of errors in research reports and scholarly publications about the ICT sector in Korea.  This slide is definitely an addition to the collection.  I would hope that Hootsuite and we are social might acknowledge the error and publish a correction to this slide.  I'm not holding my breath, but one never knows.  A correction would underscore the importance of accuracy and reliability in reporting of cross national data such as those underlying this slide.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

War in Korea and the global electronics market?

During the past week or so, mainstream media outlets around the world have reacted to statements by U.S. President Donald Trump that a war in Korea could have a major impact on the global electronics industry.  Bloomberg headlined that "A Korean War Could Cut Pipeline of Vital Technologies to the World."  The sub-head read "if Korea is hit by a missile, all electronics production will stop." Reuters played it more low-key, with a headline that "Investors, South Korean tech suppliers brush off North Korean threat."    Reuters went so far as to publish a map of Korea showing its key factory locations by company. (click on the graphic for a full size image)
The common denominator in the Bloomberg and Reuters stories is a surface-scratching, sketchy, or vague understanding of Korea, and in particular its ICT sector.  For one thing, the R&D and manufacturing capacity of big companies like Samsung and LG today are spread around the world, including locations like Austin Texas, cities in China and Vietnam (smartphone manufacturing).   How the global electronics industry might be affected by a hypothetical war in Korea is indeed a much more complex matter than these press reports indicate.  It deserves much more thoughtful and in-depth scrutiny.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

New heights in skyscrapers

I've been to Seoul several times this year and there is a new presence in the city.  It is called the Lotte World Tower.   It not only adds a dimension to the Seoul skyline, but also sets one Korean and two world records.  First, it is the tallest skyscraper in Korea and the fifth highest in the world.  Second, it has the highest glass bottom observatory in the world, at 478 meters or 1,568 feet.  Third, it features the world's tallest and fastest double-decker elevator, called the Sky Shuttle.  For further detail, see this CNN story.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Fake news: "Korea used to be part of China"

As reported widely in Korea's domestic media, including The Chosun Ilbo, U.S. President Donald Trump, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal claimed that "Korea actually used to be a part of China."  His claim was based, he said, on conversations he had with visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping.
As readers of this blog will know, I've had a longstanding interest in how mainstream media cover, or do not cover, Korea and what this means for government policymaking. (see these posts, for example)   However, this comment by President Trump is still astonishing.  The truth is that the northeastern area of China used to be part of Korea.  Also, it is worth remembering that Korea's history as a unified nation state, with its own distinctive culture and language, goes back thousands of years.  Korea is not and never was a part of China, although it shares many characteristics.   Likewise, it was only a part of Japan during the first half of the 20th century because of forceful occupation.  President Trump's astonishing claim will only further cement his reputation as the source of "Fake News."

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Network-centric digital development in Korea: Origins, growth and prospects

I'm pleased to announce that my article, entitled "Network-centric digital development in Korea:  Origins, growth and prospects," is in press with Telecommunications Policy and now available online at this hyperlink.  If you don't have a library or other authorized access to this journal, feel free to contact me for a PDF copy of the article.  

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sewol Ferry finally on land

The Sewol Ferry, which tragically sank in the Spring of 2014 is finally back on land.  The accompanying photo was published by the Korea Joongang Daily.  Hopefully this long, drawn out tragedy will soon come to an end as investigators search the vessel.  Readers of this blog will know the relevance of this story to the development of Korea's digital networks, (see prior posts) especially its public safety LTE networks, scheduled to begin operation in late 2018.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

President Park's impeachment and the future ICT policy in Korea

Yesterday Korea's constitutional court upheld the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.  Consequently, she was immediately removed from office and a snap presidential election will be held on or before May 9.
As readers of this blog will know very well, I've frequently commented on former President Park's background and her signature creative economy initiative. (For example, see these posts, and these)
The events leading to the impeachment and removal from office of President Park Geun-hye came as a surprise to me, despite the years I've lived in Korea. The situation is more complex than it may appear from mainstream news media reporting.  Former President Park did indeed major in electrical engineering at Sogang University, which helps to understand her creative economy emphasis.
As close observers of Korea well know, every presidential election is followed by a reorganization of the nation's leading ministries.  Sometimes these reorganizations are minor and sometimes sweeping, as when President Lee Myung Bak assumed office in 2008.  Further complicating matters for international observers is the re-naming of ministries along with the challenge of translating the ministry name into English.  I did a series of posts on this matter following Park Geun-hye's election as president.
The danger that the incoming administration faces, following the snap elections which will take place within 60 days, is "throwing the baby out with the bathwater," to use an old English expression.  In fact, Korea's "Future Ministry," named the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning in English, has done a number of worthwhile things, including the establishment of 18 Centers for Creative Economy and Innovation (CCEIs) throughout Korea.  More importantly, it brought the former Ministry of Science and Technology under one roof with the Ministry of Information and Communications.  After all, the main technology driving changes in the world today is digital technology, allowing dramatic increases in the human ability to store, compute and communicate information on a global or even inter planetary scale.
Given the rapid pace of digital development, globally and in Korea it would seem that the incoming administration might be well advised to keep those elements of the Park Geun-hye administration policies that are realistic and forward looking, and avoid the temptation to throw everything out and start again.  This is especially crucial given the widespread recognition that Korea needs to make the transition from heavy reliance on hardware manufacturing and export to software and services.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Problems at Korea Inc?

Although the article was published about a month ago, The New York Times report entitled "Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Crisis Signals Problems at Korea Inc." bears reading and re-reading.   In January Samsung publicly offered details and schematics showing how its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone became a combustible failure.  However, according to critics, Samsung did not answer the question of how such a technologically advanced firm could have allowed the problems to happen in the first place.  The article is an interesting critique that touches on Samsung's relationship with the government, its top-down corporate culture, and the pressure it felt from Chinese competitors Huawei and Xiaomi.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The rapid advance of AI in Smartphones

The news that Bixby, the tentative name for Samsung's forthcoming artificial intelligence (AI) powered assistant, will support seven to eight different languages, is getting considerable attention in the trade press around the world.  Some of that attention focuses naturally on Samsung's rivalry with Apple in the smart phone market and also competition from Amazon.  As noted by CNet, "Launching its own smart AI assistant is an important move for Samsung and its future Galaxy and Note phones. The company, which strives to dominate the smartphone world against Apple's iPhone, stands to win fans if its Bixby assistant can outperform Google's Assistant, Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa, which will land on its first phone later this month."  Google's AI powered assistant on its Pixel phone is also a competitor.
As a large, more broadly based electronics firm, Samsung may have some advantages.  According to the Korea IT News,  Samsung Electronics wants to use the capabilities of Bixby not only to promote its smartphones, but also to promote its household appliances and Samsung Pay as well. Samsung Electronics’ plan is to have an upper hand in the AI ecosystem in wide range of areas by linking Bixby to its electronics and household appliances including televisiions, refrigerators, and washing machines.   Considering the present capabilities of smart devices, the AI era is advancing very rapidly indeed.  This underscores my message in a January 9 post that smart apps are more important than the phones themselves.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A post from Geneva on "the ITU and the Trump administration"

I'm writing this post in the library of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Geneva, where I've spent the past two weeks working with an expert group on a forthcoming study.  I fly back to Korea tomorrow.
Since my secondment to the ITU coincided with the start of the Trump administration I couldn't help but talk with colleagues here about the strange new twists and turns of U.S. politics.  One of my ITU colleagues passed along a copy of this article, published January 25 by Anthony Rutkowski, a longtime employee of the ITU.  It is a thoughtful piece and I recommend it to you.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Smart apps, not Smart phones are the key to future growth!

An article in The Korea Times today caught my eye, because of its headline, "Smartphones remain key to Samsung, LG earnings."  The opening sentence of the article (which I encourage you to read here) reads as follows. "Despite the ongoing slowdown in the global smartphone industry, conflicting earnings forecasts from Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics indicate how crucial handsets remain as their key profit driver."  Indeed, this is the current narrative and thinking of many here in Korea.  Unfortunately, it does not square with global trends and the reality that this nation faces.  For well over decade now leaders of the ICT sector, from industry, government and academia, have recognized the need for Korea to shift from its heavy dependence on hardware manufacturing and export, to software and services.  Globally, services constitute the major part of the ICT market.  More importantly, they are growing at a much faster rate than the hardware segment of the market.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Cards, not cash are king in Korea

When I first arrived in Korea as a young American Peace Corps Volunteer in 1971, cash was king.  Virtually all commercial transactions were conducted in cash.  That meant that one of our priority tasks upon arrival was to have a personal dojang (seal) made so that we could open a bank account and deposit or withdraw cash.   I lived in Chuncheon, the capital of Gangwon province, but Peace Corps living allowances were dispensed in cash at the Peace Corps Office in downtown Seoul, near Gwanghwamun, so we traveled to Seoul on average twice a month. How times have changed!
Late last month the Korea Joongang Daily published an article entitled "In Korea, cash is no longer King."   Among other things, it reported data from a Bank of Korea study showing how much cash Korean's carry in their wallets these days, broken down by age cohort.   (click on the infographic to see a full size version)
These days, Korea leads the world in use of various forms of electronic payment, including credit and debit cards, smart phones and most recently the introduction of Internet banking.   According to the Bank of Korea, only about 20 percent of financial transactions these days involve cash.  Welcome to 2017 in the world's digital network leader!