Monday, December 27, 2021

Korea's economic journey in the OECD


A column contributed by Vincent Koen of the OECD provides a valuable sketch of Korea's economic progress since it joined the OECD in 1996.  (click on the graphic for a full size version) Particularly notable, as illustrated, is that Korea's GDP per capita surpassed that of Japan in 2020.  As reported by The Korea Times, the column notes that "The so-called "Miracle on the Han River" had transformed one of the world's poorest countries at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War into an economy where per-capita income matched that of some European countries. Nevertheless, it was still far below the OECD average in 1996. Over the past 25 years, Korea has carried out major economic reforms, aligned its policies on OECD best practices in many areas, increased its integration into the global economy and further enhanced its technological and human potential. GDP per capita converged to the OECD average and overtook Japan's, and Korea became the world's 10th-largest economy."

Controversy over "beep" sound for unvaccinated


As reported by The Korea Times, the government's proposal to introduce a "beep" sound for unvaccinated people into its mobile app is generating some controversy. (click on the graphic for a full size version)  The article notes that "Criticism is rising over the government's plan to introduce a warning sound function to the vaccine pass system to check the validity period of the permit and identify unvaccinated people. Critics say it could violate their human rights and lead to discrimination, treating unvaccinated people like shoplifters or criminals with electronic anklets. According to the Central Disease Control Headquarters, the 180-day validity period of a vaccine pass from the second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine will take effect on Jan. 3 at multiuse facilities including restaurants and cafes, a measure to encourage people to get booster shots."

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

A good year for Korean Internet companies

 As reported by the Korea Joongang Daily, Korea's major stock market index (KOSPI) indicates that Internet companies had a very good year in 2021. (click on graphic for a full size version)

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Hyundai Motors' micro-mobility initiative


Hyundai's purchase of the robotics company Boston Dynamics earlier this year spoke volumes about the company's long term goals for mobility technologies. Another indication of these goals comes with the announcement that Hyundai has developed a micro-mobility concept. (click on the graphic for a full size version).   As reported by the Korea Joongang Daily  "Hyundai Motor has developed a standard configuration small robotic systems, a mini version of its E-GMP, the base for most of the company's electronic vehicles. Mobile Eccentric Droid, or MobED, will weigh 50 kilograms (110 pounds), have a 2 kilowatt-hour battery and have four wheels with independent suspension and steering. It will be able to achieve speeds of 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) per hour and run for four hours on a single charge.  MobED will be able maintain a stable ride even on slopes or uneven roads."

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Korea's Covid vaccine pass system crashes

 On Monday of this week the Korean government initiated a vaccine pass system to limit access to restaurants, coffee shops and other establishments to those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID.  Unfortunately, as shown in the picture and widely reported in the local press, the system's servers crashed during the lunch and dinner hours due to the high traffic load.  As reported by the Korea Joongang Daily, "The country’s expanded vaccine pass system got off to a poor start Monday as it crashed around lunchtime because too many people were using it. The COOV app, which holds an official digital copy of Covid-19 vaccination records, was nonfunctional from around 11:40 a.m. to 1 p.m., preventing people from using it to gain access to facilities like restaurants and coffee shops.At around 6 p.m., the system again became very slow to load or nonfunctional.  Other apps connected to COOV for QR code verification such as Kakao, Naver and Toss Bank, also did not work, either leaving the QR Code screen blank or displaying a wrong vaccination status. "  

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Samsung World's Fifth Largest Brand Value

Samsung, by far the largest of Korea's corporations, had the fifth largest brand value in the world, according to the annual report recently published by Interbrand.  Only Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google had higher brand values.   This measure helps to explain why Korea is sometimes referred to as the "Republic of Samsung."  As shown in the graphic provided by Samsung's newsroom (click for a full size version) Samsung Electronics rose from 19th in the international brand value rankings in 2010 to fifth in 2020 and 2021.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Korea completes world's first nationwide LTE public safety network

 In March of this year, Korea completed the world's first nationwide public safety network.  The accomplishment received some attention in the mainstream media and arguably should have been noted earlier in this blog to update earlier posts. (see some of them here). As reported by ZDNet, Samsung announced completion of the public safety LTE network in April of this year.  The ZDNet article noted that "It will be used by 333 public safety organisations and agencies in the country, including the police, firefighters, emergency medical services, and the military. According to Samsung, the nationwide network will serve as a unified platform that helps interoperability among these various public safety institutions during emergency situations."  Furthermore, the article noted that "The deployment includes the company's mission-critical push-to-talk feature, a kind of evolved multimedia broadcast multicast service, Samsung said.  It enables simultaneous transmission to up to 2,500 user devices per cell, double the number of devices supported by previous generation technologies and standards, such as Terrestrial Trunked Radio. The PS-LTE network is also interconnected with LTE-Maritime and LTE-Railway networks which also operate on 700MHz spectrum, the company added."

Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Sewol Ferry tragedy and digital technologies

For those who wish to understand the full impact of the tragic sinking of the Sewol Ferry in April of 2014, the half-hour film by Yi Seung-jun is must viewing.  It was published by The New Yorker as a documentary episode in 2019 and has also received wider distribution on YouTube.  Consequently, this post is long overdue.
 The film presents the tragic event as a chronological documentary that is truly heart-wrenching, but necessary viewing for those who want to better understand the Sewol tragedy and its influence on Korea's politics and digital development  Those of you who may have followed earlier posts on this blog (which can be reviewed at this link) will benefit from viewing the film. 

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Korea's exports surge 34.9 percent in August


As reported by The Korea Joongang Daily and other local media, Korea's exports grew by about 35 percent in August, with semiconductor chips leading the way.  As noted in the article, "August’s exports were led by semiconductor exports, up 43 percent year-on-year to $11.7 billion as demand for computer chips remained strong.  Exports of semiconductors in August hit a record. Semiconductor exports increased for 14 consecutive months, and the rate of increase has been double digit for five months."  Other ICT sector exports or products heavily influenced by digitalization played a role in this pattern.  "Wireless telecommunication equipment exports were up 62.2 percent year-on-year to $1.4 billion helped along by the rollout of new phones.  Exports from new industries, including those involved in the making of electric vehicles (EV) and biopharmaceuticals, were strong. EV exports surged 130.8 percent, while biopharmaceutical exports grew 17.1 percent."  Clearly digital technologies and industries that depend on them are the primary engine of this nation's export led economy. 

Monday, August 2, 2021

Korea's exports surge during COVID, led by semiconductors

 As reported widely in the Korean press, Korea's exports surged during the COVID pandemic to date, with the main export being semiconductors.  As reported by The Korea Times, in July the nation's exports reached their highest level since 1956.  The pattern during the COVID outbreak is shown in the accompanying figure (click for a full-size version).   Automobile exports also contributed to this export success, as noted in The Korea Times article. " Overseas chip sales rose 39.6 percent to $11 billion on growing demand from data centers. Automobile exports also rose 26.4 percent year-on-year in July to $4.1 billion, backed by easing automotive chip shortages, as well as higher sales of high-end models, including in sport utility vehicles and electric cars."

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Mobile ID cards in Korea by 2025

 As reported by Yonhap and other local news media, the Korean government plans to introduce mobile ID cards by 2025.  As reported, "The planned introduction of mobile ID cards and other measures are included in the government's second five-year basic plan for the electronic government released by the Ministry of the Interior and Safety. The ministry presented "A good world opened by digital" as the vision of the basic e-government plan. The plan calls for raising the digital conversion rate of major public services to 80 percent and the cloud computing conversion rate of the administrative and public sector to 100 percent by 2025. Specifically, the use of electronic certificates, mobile identify verification and simple authentication will be expanded, the ministry said. In particular, the mobile driver's license, which will be introduced late this year, is expected to enable convenient identification both online and offline, it said."

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Korea leads world in reliable 5G download speeds

 A recent analysis by OpenSignal showed that Korea leads the world in the download speeds that can be reliably expected by 5G users. (click on the graphic for a full size version)  Reliable speed is the average speed that 90% of all users exceed.

The second graphic, below, shows the reliable download speeds for all 20 countries included in the Opensignal report.  Korea's 5G speeds are followed, in order, by those in Taiwan, Finland, and Australia.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Kakao now Korea's third most valuable firm


As reported by Yonhap, Kakao recently surpassed Naver to become Korea's third most valuable firm.(Click on the graphic showing Kakao's headquarters in Jeju for a full size version) As reported by Yonhap, "Kakao Corp. has an insatiable appetite for platform businesses, spanning messenger, e-commerce, mobility, content and finance, and now it has earned another title: South Korea's third-most valuable company."  As of June 15, "Kakao's shares rose 1.4 percent to close at a record high of 144,500 won (US$129) on Tuesday, extending its winning streak to a seventh day. Its market capitalization stood at 64.1 trillion won, taking the No. 3 spot following two chip giants -- Samsung Electronics Co. and SK hynix Inc."  Furthermore, "While the nation's top two platform operators were once content to stay in their own competitive fields -- Naver in portal and Kakao in messenger -- they are now competing on multiple fronts, including e-commerce, mobile payment, content and finance."

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Strong ICT exports in May 2021


As reported by The Korea Herald, "South Korea's exports of information and communication technology (ICT) products rose around 30 percent last month, data showed Monday, thanks to strong demand for semiconductors, displays and mobile phones amid signs of a global economic recovery from the pandemic-induced slump. Outbound shipments of ICT products were tallied at $17.73 billion in May, up 27.4 percent from a year earlier, according to the data from the Ministry of Science and ICT. The latest figure marked the second-largest amount for the month on record after 2018 and the 12th consecutive month of on-year gains."

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The end of 2G mobile telephony in Korea


As reported by The Korea Joongang Daily and other local media, the Ministry of Science and ICT is allowing LGU+ to discontinue its 2G service in late June of this year. (click on the graphic at left to see some of the 2G phones that were popular beginning in the late 1990s)  The Joongang Daily article noted that "LG was the last of Korea's three mobile carriers to keep 2G services going. KT suspended them in 2012 and SK Telecom, the biggest in Korea, in July 2020." It went on to report that "As of mid-May, 140,000 LG U+ subscribers were using 2G networks, 0.82 percent of the carrier’s customer base. They will be offered discounts on plans using 4G LTE or 5G network. They will all need new phones, and will be offered free smartphones from among 15 options. For the sake of convenience, 2G users must be able to make the shift to 4G or 5G via phone, without visiting a store. For customers over 65, an LG U+ employee can visit their homes."  The end of an era, as Korea is pushing to increase adoption of its new 5G services.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Samsung's semiconductors and vaccines in the Moon-Biden summit


Semiconductors are in the news these days in advance of President Moon Jae-In's summit meeting with U.S. President Biden in Washington, D.C.  As reported by The Korea Times, "The government announced Thursday that it will help establish the world's largest semiconductor supply chain in Korea by 2030 in cooperation with firms in the private sector, including Samsung Electronics and SK hynix, to make the country a global leader in both memory and system chips. To achieve this auspicious goal, the administration said it will provide huge tax incentives to companies constructing semiconductor facilities, after chip manufacturers vowed to invest more than 510 trillion won ($450 billion) for this and research and development (R&D) by the target year."   The announcement was made during a meeting at a Samsung Electronics chip making plant in Pyeongtaek (click on the picture for a full-size version of the graphic).

What makes this announcement even more interesting are reports in Korean media that Samsung may be set to reach a "vaccine swap" with its investment in U.S.-based chip manufacturing.  As reported by The Korea Times in a separate article, "Samsung's biotechnology affiliate is set to reach a "vaccine swap" in return for the conglomerate's semiconductor unit investing billions of dollars to boost memory chip production in the United States. A few days before Moon's visit to Washington, D.C., Cheong Wa Dae said the two leaders are set to explore during the summit the best possible ways to boost bilateral cooperation in vaccines. More specifically, Lee Ho-seung, the President's chief policy secretary, said the U.S. has a strong interest in turning South Korea into a global vaccine production hub. Lee explained that the plan makes sense, since the U.S. possesses vaccine patents and raw materials, while South Korea possesses the world's second-highest drug manufacturing capacity."

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Samsung's new CXL-based memory chip module

Korea is the world leader in the production of memory chips, with Samsung and SK Hynix leading the way.  As reported in The Korea Times and other media, this week "Samsung Electronics unveiled the industry's first memory module supporting the new compute express link (CXL) interconnect standard. Integrated with its in-house double data rate 5 (DDR5) technology, this CXL-based module will enable server systems to significantly scale memory capacity and bandwidth, accelerating artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing (HPC) workloads in data centers."

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Jeonju: First in Bibimbap and 5G service


The Korean city of Jeonju has traditionally been known for bibimbap, a rice dish with vegetables and red pepper paste.  Now, as shown in this graphic from a recent OpenSignal measurement, the city has the fastest 5G service download in the world.  Why am I not surprised?

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Korea's mobile carriers share 5G networks in remote areas

 As reported by Koreabizwire and other media, Korea's three major mobile carriers in mid-April agreed to "share their 5G networks in remote coastal and farm towns in a move to accelerate the rollout of the latest generation networks.."  The agreement was announced by the Ministry of Science and ICT.  "The carriers — SK Telecom Co., KT Corp. and LG Uplus Corp. — signed an agreement so that 5G users can have access to the high-speed network regardless of the carrier they are subscribed to in 131 remote locations across the country, according to the Ministry of Science and ICT. Under the plan, a 5G user would be able to use other carrier networks in such regions that are not serviced by his or her carrier. The ministry said telecom operators will test the network sharing system before the end of this year and aim for complete commercialization in phases by 2024."

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Hyundai Mobis M.Vision POP Concept model


Hyundai Mobis has released its Hyundai Mobis M.VISION POP concept mode. (click on the graphic for a full size version).  As reported by The Korea Times, the technology used in this vehicle is set to be commercialized within five years.  The report noted that "The vehicle's four wheels can be steered independently, even turning them 180 degrees, capable of moving sideways just like a crab," Hyundai Mobis said. "When linked with a smartphone, it personalizes the car settings through a digital display. For example, it detects when the driver is drowsy and moves the steering wheel to the passenger seat."  The report further noted that "The key description for the M.Vision POP is "PHOBILITY," a word that combines "phone" and "mobility." It has embedded a new technology that docks the smartphone on the steering wheel with the user able to steer the vehicle using the device." 

Monday, April 26, 2021

A milestone in Korea's new disaster network

With the announcement by KT and Samsung today marks a milestone in Korea's efforts to build and integrated national disaster network.  As reported by Yonhap News, "The government-led project to establish a next-generation wireless network allows for more efficient response against major natural disasters and accidents, according to KT. The project, which started in 2015, merged the networks of 333 state institutes, such as the police, railway, defense and firefighting agencies. The wireless network is also the world's first to cover a country's entire land area and waters, the telecom giant added."

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

5G disinfection robot developed by SK Telecom


As reported by the Korea Joongang Daily, SK Telecom has launched a robot that utilizes 5G networks to not only disinfect buildings, but also to detect and break up gatherings of more than five people. (click on image for a larger version)  As noted in the article, "SK Telecom has created an disinfection robot that is able to detect people gathering in groups and ask them to separate. The company said that its “Keemi” robots started operations at Yongin Severance Hospital in Yongin, Gyeonggi, on Monday. Robots released under the Keemi brand specialize in hospitality services. Keemi robots at the Yongin Severance Hospital will operate around the clock to check whether visitors are properly wearing their masks, measure their body temperature and prevent people from gathering in groups indoors. The self-driving robot is also capable of constantly reporting its real-time location to a central operating program."   Furthermore, it notes that "The implementation of Keemi was possible because of the 5G network infrastructure embedded at the site. Established in March 2020, Yongin Severance was the first local hospital to have a 5G network installed in the building."

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

SK Telecom to split into two companies

The announcement by SK Telecom that it will split into two companies powerfully underscores the breadth and depth of the digital network revolution.  As reported by The Korea Joongang Daily, "SK Telecom is splitting into two companies, one for telecom assets and the other for its wide range of other businesses and interests.  ICT Investment, the tentative name of the new entity, will take the company’s interests in 11st, T Map Mobility, ADT Caps and SK hynix, which is 20.1 percent owned by SK Telecom." 

"The surviving company will hold telecom-related businesses, like SK Broadband, and continue executing investments in artificial intelligence, cloud and data centers. This “AI & Digital Infra” will also lead in the development of new business opportunities using 5G infrastructure." SK said.

The important takeaway here seems to be that the activities of SK Telecom and its new ICT investment arm will all center on digital technologies based on the current transformation of human capabilities to store, compute and communicate digital information.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Samsung to attend White House meeting on global chip shortage

The semiconductor industry lies at the heart of the digital network revolution that is transforming business, industry, government, education and society as the world shifts from the industrial, mass media era of the 20th century to the networked era of the 21st century.  Consequently, it should come as no surprise that Samsung is one of about 20 companies whose executives will attend a White House meeting tomorrow (Monday U.S. time) to discuss the global shortage of chips (semiconductors). 

As numerous posts in this blog have made clear, Korea's decision to focus on the semiconductor (chip) industry was effectively made in the early 1980s.  Samsung and SK Hynix are currently the world leaders in the manufacture of memory chips and are moving rapidly into other parts of the semiconductor industry.  

Samsung has a large (soon to become larger) manufacturing presence in the U.S. as shown by the graphic above (click for a full size image).  Overall, the White House meeting with semiconductor industry leaders this week underscores the strategic importance of this industry.  A few days ago the Korea Joongang Daily published this article highlighting the strategic stakes.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Korea as a test bed for the world

 As shown by these earlier posts over the years, I've been interested in the important role Korea can serve as a testbed for emerging digital technologies.   It has attained this status largely because of sustained emphasis on building digital network infrastructure, starting in the revolutionary 1980s.   The Korea Times recently published an article touching on this theme.   I recommend you read it here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

LG exits the smartphone market

 In a sign of the times, LG has announced that it will stop manufacturing smartphones.   As reported by The Korea Joongang Daily  and also widely covered in the Korean and international media, this move comes after 25 years in the business.  In a statement this week, LG explained that “The dominance of two companies was strengthening in the premium smartphone market, while competition in the affordable price segment was intensifying,” and “LG Electronics failed to actively respond [to such market conditions].” The company's statement also said that the move would “enable the company to focus resources in growth areas such as electric vehicle components, connected devices, smart homes, robotics, artificial intelligence and business-to-business solutions, as well as platforms and services.”  

The manufacture and export of smartphones by Korea has been a major theme of this blog over the years, as shown by these search results.   Given the commoditization of smartphones, as mentioned in this post, it was perhaps inevitable that the global competition for their manufacture would pose a major challenge for Korean manufacturers.  In historical perspective, another factor to consider is the "smartphone shock" that affected Korea's ICT sector following the arrival of the i-Phone at the end of 2009-beginning of 2010.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Is Google search finally gaining traction in Korea?

Over the years I've posted frequently on the topic of Internet search engines and Google's failure to penetrate the Korean market, which was dominated by Naver.  (see some of the prior posts here)  Recently, The Korea Joongang Daily published a short article indicating that the long term trend of dominance by Naver began to change sometime after 2016.  The article contained this graphic (click for a full size version) indicating the shift in market share. As noted in the Joongang Daily article, " Google’s presence was negligible at 0.78 percent only five years ago, according to data tracker Internet Trend, but the share shot up to 41 percent this year, the average of the index between Jan.1 and March 10.  At the same time, the share of the homegrown portal shrank from 86 percent in 2016 to 53 percent this year. The change in the share indicates that the gain of Google has primarily come at the expense of Naver.  Both Naver and Google declined to confirm the numbers.  Industry insiders say that people in quest of unpaid query results turned towards Google especially for their research or work-related tasks." The shift reflected in this graphic, based on market share data from Internet Trends, would seem to indicate that something important is happening in the search market here in Korea.  Koreans in large numbers may be finding value in searching the global, multilingual internet, rather than relying only on Naver as a Korean language domestic portal for various types of information.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Measuring Korea's lead in 5G

 There are multiple ways of empirically measuring a nation's progress in building 5G networks.  The latest report from Opensignal, entitled "Benchmarking the Global 5G Experience" provides more detail on South Korea's leadership in the implementation and adoption of 5G networks.   As shown in the graphic (click for a full size version), Korea ranks first in download speed and second in upload speed, among the ten top countries in the study.  The report also gives the nation high ranks on measures of experience (video, games, voice apps) and extent (availability, reach).

Sunday, February 7, 2021

South Korea's lead in 5G

South Korea's ICT-driven development took off in the 1980s when the nation modernized and digitized its telephone network.  That is why, in recent publications, I have characterized this nation's approach as "Network-centric digital development."  It appears that this pattern will continue as next generation networks appear.   As shown in the graphic (click for a full size version) GSMA Intelligence predicts that Korea will continue to lead the world in consumer adoption of 5G through 2025.

Friday, February 5, 2021

South Korea leads the world in Bloomberg's Innovation Index

 For the seventh time in the nine years it has been published, South Korea ranked number one in the world on Bloomberg's Innovation Index.  For more detail, see the article here  (Click on the graphic at left for a full size version.) 

As shown in the table below (click on it for a full-size version), the seven criteria that make up the Bloomberg Innovation Index are as follows:   R&D Intensity, Manufacturing Value-Added, Productivity, High Tech Density, Tertiary Efficiency, Researcher Concentration, and Patent Activity.