Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Korea Poised to be a Leader in Smart Grid Technology

The industry press is noting a new report by Pike Research on Korea's smart grid plans.  These were the subject of earlier posts last year.  The new report suggests that Korea's efforts will result in investments totalling $15.8 billion within South Korea itself between 2009 and 2016.  Noting that Korean companies have been at the forefront of innovation in ICT, an industry expert suggests they are now posed to take a significant leadership role in the smart grid market, both within Korea and on a global level.  This will be one of the interesting areas of industry convergence to watch, since a smart grid essentially involves convergence of ICT with the electric power industry and also because smart grids are considered a green technology.

Korea is a Leader in e-government

The latest global e-government survey by the United Nations shows that Korea ranks number one in the world.  As reported in the Joongang Daily today, this results in a wide range of conveniences for Korean citizens.  Other countries are taking an active interest in Korea's e-government systems. (click on graphic at left to see a larger version) Even Japan, it is reported, wants to learn from the Korean experience and introduce similar measures at home.  There is little question that Korea's efforts toward e-government have provided for greater transparency in many transactions and more efficient service to citizens across a range of services.  However, this leadership could be enhanced if the country could break out of its Microsoft monoculture (see my earlier posts) and allow secure banking and financial transactions.

Friday, March 19, 2010

More on Naver versus Google in the Mobile Market

The Korea Herald carried an article that provides some interesting detail on the changes taking place in internet search with the introduction of the iPhone and Android phones here.  Although Naver is still far ahead of Google in both the PC and mobile web market, the gap is smaller in the mobile arena.
Google, which held a single digit share in the PC web market, grabbed a 23.1 percent share in the mobile web market in January, according to the local market research firm Matrix. Naver controlled 82.6 percent of mobile web usage that month.  However, I suspect these figures lump iPhone and Android users with users of the older feature phones that still predominate.  Also, as Hugo Barra, Product Management Director at Google noted, with Android devices coming to Korea a whole new ecosystem of cloud computing based applications will be born.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Naver Complains of Google Monopoly in Smartphones!

NHN, the provider of South Korea's popular Naver search service, is unhappy with the smart phone market, where it claims rival Google is squeezing other companies out of business.  Samsung Electronics Android phones set Google as the default search engine, while Apple's iPhones use the Safari browser in which Google shows up by default.  NHN CEO Kim Sang-hun said it is "virtually impossible" for competitors to enter the market as only Google is connected.  "Users must be able to choose which search engines to use."   For the full story see today's Chosun Ilbo English edition.
I have commented extensively on Google's lack of success in the Korean market in earlier posts.  Naver does not really search the internet, but rather provides social information of value to Koreans, in the Korean language, and within what is essentially a Korean intra-net within the much, much larger internet.  I still stand by my earlier  arguments, but would only add that Google's services go well beyond search.   Google Earth (which is not available on the iPhone in Korea--why?), Google maps, Google Books and an array of other content and services are attractive to smart-phone users.  Over the past two and a half years, while Naver was building up its business within the Korean-language intranet with its Korean-language only service, Google was investing significantly in location-based services, and other services relating to books, scholarly documents, cloud-based applications, to name just a few.

MIT Researchers Create Molecular Chips

The news reported in The New York Times today that MIT researchers have created molecular chips should resound through Korea's semiconductor industry.  This development suggests that the growing power and decreasing size of semiconductors may continue to fuel the information revolution for some time to come.  The graphic accompanying the story (click on the graphic here to see a larger version) is an actual photograph of the molecular chip developed at MIT.  The researchers used a new technology called "copolymers" to allow chip manufacturers to take molecules and arrange them in complex patterns on silicon chips.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Korea's Microsoft Monoculture: The Problems of Active X

The introduction of Apple's iPhone has helped to highlight the problem posed by Korea's continued heavy reliance on Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser and corresponding heavy reliance on Active-X controls for online banking and financial transactions. (see the accompanying graphic--click the graphic to see full-size version)  As noted in a Joongang Daily article today, internet users in Korea waste an untold amount of time downloading and installing security programs that use Active-X controls.  It can take five to ten minutes to install such programs in order to access a banking page.  If a program is installed once a year on ten million PCs in Korea, that could amount to one million hours of lost work time, assuming ten minutes for installation.  Since Korea's minimum wage is 4,000 won, annual losses would total 4 billion won, in that example.
The Joongang Daily article does not even mention the fact that Active-X has been recognized as a web security risk for years and therefore is not widely used in other countries.  Now, the problem is compounded with the rapid introduction of "smart phone" devices, most of which use web browsers that are not compatible with Active-X.  Clearly, something has to give here, and it would appear that it will be use of Microsoft's web browser and its proprietary Active-X technology.  This will be good for Korean consumers and will put this country more in line with global trends.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Convergence: KT's Focus on Mobile Broadband

Korea Telecom seems to understand the profound change that is underway with the arrival of more powerful "smart" phones and is concentrating its efforts to enhance mobile broadband services.  As reported in today's Joongang Daily, the company will put its focus on "mobile broadband" in the coming months.  As the graphic here illustrates (click to see full-size graphic), KT is trying to usher in an era where people can easily access wireless broadband internet services from all kinds of devices.  KT will introduce a "tethering" service that allows Korean smartphone users to connect their handsets to other devices like laptops, e-book readers, connecting them to the internet like a modem.  Such a system would free smartphone users from the need to find a WiFi hotspot to connect their computers to the web.
These developments are all part of the continuing convergence toward a ubiquitous networked society.  In that future society, mobile handsets will play a key role as a convergence point.  That seems natural, since they are small, lightweight and always with a person.  Another important feature of mobile broadband in the future is that all devices, including the handset, notebook, desktop and television, will be synchronized or access the same data from the cloud.   I for one am looking forward to this.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mobile Phone Communication with North Korea: Current Status

An article in today's Korea Times provides some very interesting specifics about how North Korean refugees in South Korea communicate with people in North Korea by mobile phone.  Seo, Jae-pyong, the Secretary-General of a group called North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS) said that NKIS has run a news outlet service based on mobile phone conversations with secret correspondents in North Korea since 2008.  The purpose of this effort is to provide more information about the reclusive nation.  The NKIS provided the stringers with cell phones that have an international roaming service. International phone rates between South Korea and China are applied when North Koreans call NKIS people.  Although he declined to give information about how much the stringers are paid, the NKIS representative said that their allowances are high enough to feed their families.  He also said that "When we have conversations with people, especially from the border area between North Korea and China, we hear them as clearly as our phone conversations with our colleagues in South Korea."  Mr. Seo, an engineer, escaped from North Korea in 2001.  Out of approximately 20,000 North Korean refugees that have settled in South Korea from the 1990s, about 600 are college graduates.  About 300 of these educated people have joined NKIS to let people outside North Korea know more about it.
Seo also said that North Koreans can access the latest South Korean television dramas at home without much difficulty, despite the government's strict ban on the circulation of South Korean cultural products.   Two or three weeks after airing in the South, these dramas are copied onto CDs in China, and then these CDs are sold to distributors who deal with the North Koreans.

96 Percent of South Koreans Think Internet Access is a Fundamental Right

According to an international survey conducted by Globescan for the BBC World Service, 79 percent of adults around the world think of internet access as their fundamental right.  The percentage here in Korea is a world-leading 96%, compared to 94% in Mexico, and 87% in China.  78 percent of respondents worldwide felt the internet had brought them greater freedom, 90% thought it was a good place to learn, and 51% said they now enjoyed spending their spare time on social networking sites like Facebook or Myspace.  Despite this enthusiasm, the poll also showed concern, with many users cautious about speaking their minds online.  72% of Germans, 70% of Koreans, 69% of French and 65% of Japanese did not feel they could safely express their opinions online.  More than half of internet users worldwide (53%) agreed that "the internet should never be regulated by any level of government anywhere,"  including large majorities in Korea (83%), Nigeria (77%) and Mexico (72%).  The poll surveyed 27,973 adult citizens in 26 countries.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Number of iPhone Users in Korea Reaches 400,000

According to a KT Executive, as reported in today's Joongang Daily, there are now over 400,000 iPhone users in South Korea.  That amounts to an average of about 4,000 people a day who have purchased the device since it was introduced last November 28.  For those of you keeping track, that also amounts to an annual sales rate of nearly 1.5 million phones.   I feel vindicated about the prediction I made in an earlier post when all of the industry experts here were making lower estimates.
According to a demographics survey conducted by KT, half of the new iPhone users are in their 20s, 70 percent were men, and 30 percent came from the wealthier districts of Seoul.  This is only the beginning of the mobile transformation in Korea!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Korean Mobile Operators Prodded to Create Unified App Store

As reported by The Korea Times today, the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) is prodding the nation's three mobile telephony carriers to create a unified application store, to meet competition from Apple's iPhone.  Handset vendors Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics, which each run their own online applications store, will also be allowed a chance to join in the planned alliance between mobile carriers, the KCC said.
I encourage readers to take a close look at this article in The Korea Times.  In reading it, note that two subjects are not mentioned:

  • One is the inherently global scope of the internet.  Does the KCC suggest that Korea's mobile carriers and handset manufacturers team up for success in the global market or only here in the domestic South Korean market?
  • The second subject is the role of language in creation of internet applications and content.  Although progress is being made toward "machine translation," applications (apps) for the mobile internet still need to surmount language barriers.  Language is central to culture, and applications that may appeal to people within the bounds of Korean culture and language may still fail in Western or other markets around the globe.  Witness the failure to export Cyworld to the United States market, despite the fact that this social networking innovation arrived in Korea years before Facebook showed up in the U.S.
Part of Google's success is that it attempts to provide its applications in all of the world's languages.  I think Korean companies can mimic Google in this respect, to their great benefit.

Global Media Trends---Korean Media Trends

From April 19-22, Fulbright Korea will be hosting a U.S. State Department-sponsored Social, Mobile and Visual Media Workshop on "Advising in the Digital Age."  The workshop will be attended by fifteen Education USA advisors from around the Asian region with possibly some international involvement.  I've been asked to give a presentation on the opening day on the topic "Global Trends in New Media."  Today, while preparing for that presentation, I ran across the following video on YouTube of Google CEO Eric Schmidt's presentation at last month's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.  Each of the major trends discussed by Eric Schmidt and his colleagues has direct and profound implications for Korea and its ICT sector.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

More on the "iPhone Effect" in South Korea's Telecoms Market

As time goes on, it is increasingly apparent that the introduction of Apple's iPhone provided a shocking jolt to South Korea's communications market, sometimes referred to in the press here as the "iPhone effect."  This has been the subject of previous posts here.
The full awareness of the transformation taking place in Korea's mobile market has still not sunk in at SK Telecom, which recently announced that it would not allow use of VOIP services such as Skype on its mobile phones.   In an earlier post I suggested that this would simply drive SK Telecom users to KT, which allows such services on its phones, including the Apple iPhone.  Today's Joongang Daily notes a report by Atlas Research that shows 46 percent of iPhone users switched to KT from one of the other two mobile service providers, and more than half of them from SKT.   This trend of customers switching from SKT and LG Telecom to KT is unlikely to stop until those companies offer Android-based phone services, with emphasis on the apps and content, that rival those of the KT's iPhone service.
South Korea's domestic market was caught off guard by the introduction of the iPhone and Android phones, even though even though its large electronics companies were manufacturing the latter for export long before their introduction here.  A full answer to the question of how and why the market here was caught off guard can shed a great deal of light on the strengths and weaknesses of South Korea's telecoms sector.