Friday, December 30, 2011

More on North Korea's Digital Dilemma

The Economist has published an excellent piece on "succession in North Korea" that helps to underscore some of the points made in my earlier post.  It notes that there are now hundreds of thousands of mobile-phone users on the regime’s network, with international calls for some. Near the border with China, North Koreans can use Chinese mobile networks to call South Korea, either directly or by paying brokers to put them through. DVDs on sale on the black market show what life in the outside world, especially South Korea, is like.
The Economist notes that "Growing understanding of North Korea’s economic backwardness seems likely to breed hunger for change. It is hard to see how the economy could be modernised without abruptly destroying the state’s paternalistic ruling mythology. Much of the dark interior of North Korea is bereft not only of consumer goods but also of trustworthy information, on anything from prices to politics. Although an increasing number of people, especially in the border areas, are aware of the vast disparity between capitalist South Korea and their own workers’ paradise, defectors say many still do not fully grasp how wide that chasm is. As one defector puts it, explaining why his relatives cling to their belief in the Kim family state when he sends them cash from South Korea: “There is a gap between what you know and what you believe.”
Continuing from the article, "Perhaps the most confounding aspect of North Korea is that, however much it has depended on Chinese investment and Western aid since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the outside world cannot do much to influence its internal dynamics. So deprived are its people of both external and internal sources of information that the regime has been able to assert control. So dependent are they on its favour that North Koreans have become accustomed to policing themselves.  Yet the country that Mr Kim inherits is not as unchanging as it appears. Mobile phones, cross-border profiteering, corruption and inequality have all flourished. The failed currency reforms led to unprecedented public anger."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Samsung Electronics Market Cap and North Korea's GDP

Today the Korea Joongang Daily and other media are reporting that Samsung Electronics has become the fifth most valuable firm among its market peers, according to market capitalization.The total market cap of the world’s second-largest mobile phone maker stood at $136.9 billion as of last Friday, only trailing Apple, Microsoft, IBM and Google, according to the data compiled by local financial sources. Samsung’s market cap surpassed that of Oracle, the world’s No. 2 software firm, by $5.9 billion.
Today also happens to be the day on which North Korea is observing the funeral ceremony for its former leader, Kim Jong Il.  To put the size of Samsung Electronics in some perspective, it is interesting to note that the most recent estimates suggest that North Korea's gross domestic produce in 2010 was just over $26 billion.  In other words, Samsung Electronics has a value over five times that of the North Korean economy.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

South Korea dropping real-name internet ID system

The Korea Times carried a report today about progress in overhauling the online ID system.  Until now, Korea has been one of the few countries in the world to require real-name identification in order to sign up for internet services. The country’s top portals and game companies plan to stop requesting resident registration numbers to subscribe to their sites. They will also delete the registration number data of the users they have. The country took the first step toward this end in the wake of serious privacy infringements and phishing crimes here. Nexon, the top online game company, announced Wednesday that it won’t store the users’ resident registration numbers. It follows the same decision by Naver and Daum, the country’s top portals. NCsoft, another giant online game company and Nate have already announced this course of action. Unlike in other countries, large websites here have demanded people’s resident registration number to be able to sign up. The request stemmed from the real name system on the Internet adopted by the government in July 2007. The easiest way for websites to confirm whether subscribers were using their real names was to request their resident number and see if it matched.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Government efforts to control internet speech in Korea

International media, including The Washington Post have taken notice of efforts by the Korean government to monitor and control speech on the internet, as touched on in a post earlier this month.   The Post article notes that South Korea’s Internet watchdog, the Korea Communications Standards Commission, was created in 2008, empowered to patrol the Web for obscenity, defamation and anything that threatens national security. It’s technically an independent organization, but its nine members are appointed by the president. The article also took note that this week South Korea’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling against one of the country’s most popular political commentators, who co-hosts a podcast that criticizes President Lee Myung-bak. The court said Chung Bong-ju, 51, was guilty of spreading rumors about Lee’s connection to an alleged stock fraud. Chung faces a one-year jail term. “In America, it’s almost impossible to prove defamation against a public figure,” Chung said in an recent interview, before the Supreme Court determined his case. “Here it’s easy. . . . When people open their mouths now, they are regulated.”

How DPRK websites broke the news of Kim Jong Il's death

Martyn Williams at North Korea Tech has an interesting piece, complete with screen captures, on how official DPRK web sites conveyed the story of Kim Jong Il's death.  Quite a contrast to North Korean television.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Kim Jong Il's death and North Korea's digital dilemma

The media are beginning to pay attention to a topic that has been a recurrent theme of this blog over the years, the implication for the future and for Korean reunification of the yawning and increasing digital divide on the Korean peninsula.  These days, a digital divide correlates also with an economic divide, at least if a nation like North Korea ever hopes to have a modern economy.  Interestingly, it also correlates with military capability in the sense that ICT is now integrated with most all modern weapons systems and has become a defining factor in modern warfare.  An article in Forbes explores how the "Death of Kim Jong Il Highlights North Korean Tech Famine."  Also worth reading is the Forbes piece on "Creating Bridges into North Korea."
John Walcott, writing for Bloomberg, explores why North Korea is a "hard target" which poses a great challenge for U.S. and other outside intelligence services.  His article notes that A simple fact is at the heart of the intelligence challenge posed by North Korea, David S. Maxwell, the associate director of the Security Studies program at Georgetown University in Washington, said in an interview. “What makes it hard for us to penetrate is the same control of information that keeps the regime in power,” he said. North Korea relies on an 11-year-old network of underground fiber-optic cables that’s harder for outsiders to tap -- and easier for the authorities to monitor -- than are cell phones, satellite communications or the Internet. In a telling point, the Bloomberg article notes that technology may finally turn the tide, as it’s doing elsewhere, by forcing even North Korea to change, even if not to abandon its reclusive and repressive ways. Barbro Elm, the Swedish ambassador to North Korea, recently reported that she had taken a trip from Pyongyang to three other cities and had strong domestic cell phone service the entire way. She had international service only when she was near the Chinese border and could connect to Chinese towers. I believe that technology has already begun to have its impact on North Korea,which faces a stark dilemma. It can either adopt and use the new mobile broadband and digital technologies, thereby developing its economy and nation, or it can seek to control and limit their use, a choice that will also necessarily limit the nation's economic and social development.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Media on the death of Kim Jong Il: National Unification

Another striking aspect of the first hours and days of international media coverage of the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is the relative lack of attention to Korea's division, or put the other way, the problem or challenge of national reunification.  After all, in the broad sweep of history, Korea's division is an aberration that has only lasted a bit over half a century for a nation whose history stretches back thousands of years.  Most of the media references to division go back only to the Korean war and use the old cold war perspective to explain how Korea was divided and the implications thereof.
Most Koreans instinctively understand that national division is a fundamental problem and that unification is necessary to solve this quintessential political problem in Northeast Asia.  That is why South Korea maintains a government ministry devoted to unification.  However, as an article in Foreign Policy suggests, many South Koreans, especially its youth, are not all that enthusiastic about unification with North Korea.  I believe that the author of this article pushes the point too far in one sentence where he claims that "Despite the fear that a hostile nuclear-armed state without a clear leader in charge could instill in its neighbors, most South Koreans here really just don't seem to care about what happens in the North."

More on media coverage of Kim Jong Il's death

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, Yonhap News has published two interesting items.  The first of these reports that South Korea's military raised its cyber alert level immediately following Kim Jong Il's death. In a report submitted to the National Assembly, the ministry said the South's information operations condition, or Infocon, was raised from Level 5 to Level 4 on Monday, after the North announced Kim's death.In the five-stage Infocon, Level 5 is in place during peacetime, and Level 4 indicates an increased risk of cyber attack. Only the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff can raise Infocon.
Another Yonhap report noted that both South Korea's intelligence chief and its defense minister learned of Kim's death from North Korea's media.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Death of Kim Jong Il: International News in the Information Age

My wife and I returned to our apartment in southern Seoul less than four hours ago when we first learned about the death of North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il.  My wife first learned of this from an internet web site.  I was also logging on to check e-mail and do some work, so I quickly went to some news sites, all of which were reporting the death.  My next instinct was to turn on the television, and I've alternated watching BBC World and CNN International for most of the past three hours.
I've long been interested in the international flow of news, the role of technology in flow of news, and its impact on international relations and foreign policy.   The past few hours, as I've experienced, yield several insights as follows.

  • North Korea waited more than two days before reporting Kim's death to its own citizens and the world through the government's official broadcaster.  The obvious questions of why and what happened during these two days have received some attention in news reports but will deserve much further analysis.  Reuters referred to the delay in reporting Kim's death with the headline "Information black hole as North Korean leader dies"
  • Initial reports from both CNN and the BBC originated from everywhere but Korea.   Both correspondents relied on their reporters in Beijing, and in London, Washington, D.C.
  • Both CNN and the BBC showed video of the woman anchor tearfully announcing Kim Jong Il's death on North Korean television.
  • There was heavy use of split screen or voice-over file video of Kim Jong Il and North Korea.
  • Both news organizations also turned quickly to university and research institute based North Korea experts in London, Washington and in Seoul.  The experts from Seoul initially included professors from Yonsei University, Ehwa Womans University and Han Sung Joo, former South Korean ambassador to the U.S.  Undoubtedly the time difference between Korea and the New York-Washington D.C. area explained the absence of a dozen or more well-recognized "Korea experts" in the network commentaries.
  • The initial hours of coverage also brought in short segments with other correspondents who had visited North Korea or reported from there.  One of these was by former CNN correspondent Mike Chinoy.
  • Both news organizations aired a number of reports that were retrospective, obituary-style reviews of the life and career of Kim Jong Il, most obviously pre-recorded, probably months ago.
Interestingly, in this era of the "Arab Spring," the first four hours or so of coverage by these two leading news organizations did not connect much at all with internet or social networking activity.   Comments on the implications of this and the above patterns are welcome.

Entrepreneurship and SMEs in Korea: An Update

It is widely known that Korea's large chaebol industries have led its economic development over many decades now.  What is less widely known is that certain key leaders in the nation's government and private sector have long favored entrepreneurship and have advocated the role of venture capital in encouraging new business.  Those who are following current developments in this area will want to read this article in The Financial Times outlining current government and big business efforts to encourage entrepreneurship.

Samsung Supplies Apple with Chips from its New Austin TX Fab

As noted in earlier posts, (for example, this one) the most valuable components of Apple's iPhones and tablet devices are being supplied by South Korean companies, led by Samsung and LG.  There is currently another wave of publicity circulating in media and on the internet about Samsung's role in supplying the key chips for Apple's tablet devices.  This role as a supplier is pretty hard to hide since the newest chips are being manufactured in a large--think nine football fields--new Samsung fab in Austin Texas.    Forbes has an interesting short account of these developments.  Among other things, it notes that despite the impressive size of the fab and the number of chips it will turn out, the Samsung facility will employ only about 1,100 people.
The article notes, in response to the frequent argument in the U.S. that "we must revive manufacturing," that manufacturing seems to come in two kinds at the moment. Lots of jobs but very low wages assembly work, the stuff that is done in China. Or very few jobs indeed high tech stuff. Which is nice, sure, but it just doesn’t employ tens of millions of people, not even tens of thousands.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Privacy Issue in Korean Social Networking

Despite the fact that Cyworld became wildly popular in Korea a full half decade before Facebook was even invented in the United States, Korean cultural norms and laws with respect to privacy are dramatically different than those in the United States.  As reported in The Korea Times, these differences are receiving increased attention with the rapidly increasing popularity of Facebook and Twitter here in Korea, especially since the introduction of the iPhone in late 2009.  The accompanying graphic (click to see a full-size version) shows that younger people are the leading users of Facebook, even though it is attracting Korean users in all age demographics.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Korean Military to Deploy Smartphones on Battlefield

As reported by The Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's Defense Ministry is looking into ways to use smartphones on the battlefield starting as early as 2013. The military presently limits smartphones for personal use due to their vulnerability to hacking and eavesdropping. This development is both interesting and inevitable. Information and intelligence have historically played an important role in warfare, but their importance has taken a quantum leap with the digital information revolution. U.S. military, for example, have long used these devices in war zones.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Internet Monitoring and Filtering in South Korea

It has been some time since we've posted anything on efforts by the South Korean government to monitor or filter contents on the internet.  Last week this topic came to the fore again, receiving international publicity, when the Korea Communications Standards Commission announced that it would expand a team that monitors Facebook and Twitter posts for violation of rules.  The Commission defines illegal content as including comments or postings that involve pornography, gambling, drug abuse, the spread of false information and anything that incites or promotes crime. It also includes national security. According to police, as reported by the Chosun Ilbo, more pro-North Korean websites run on servers based overseas out of South Korean jurisdiction. The number of overseas-based pro-North websites detected by police rose from 73 in 2007 to 127 this year. Some 53 of them were based on servers in the United States, 29 in Japan, 19 in China, and 5 in North Korea.

Friday, December 2, 2011

SKT Maps Patterns of Mobile Data Usage in Korea

As reported today in The Joongang Daily, SK Telecom has concluded a study that maps the usage of mobile data services in Korea's cities and provinces. The SK Telecom analysis of data usage of its 26.5 million mobile users by region is Korea’s first data usage map. As shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full-size version)Seoul, whose land accounts for less than one percent of Korea, was responsible for more than 22.3 percent of the country’s data traffic. The survey also showed that, within Seoul, the data-rich and data-poor areas were evident. Looking at the entire country, Seoul and nearby metropolitan areas - namely, Gyeonggi and Incheon - accounted for almost half of the data usage at 49.7 percent.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

KT and Cisco to Enter the "Smart Space" Market

Earlier this month, it was widely reported in the media that KT and Cisco formed a joint venture called KC Smart Service, a collaboration initially intended to manage services for smart buildings and smart cities, beginning in January of 2012.   As reported by InfoWorld The new venture is being funded with starting capital of US$30 million from KT and Cisco. KT will be in charge of the overall management of the operations of the new company which will be headquartered in Korea.The venture will deploy technologies from both KT and Cisco, including Cisco's Unified Service Delivery Platform, Cisco said. The companies have executed agreements that establish the framework for their collaboration, enabling KCSS to have the ability to incorporate the technologies and tools of KT and Cisco. KT and Cisco are also looking at collaborating in business-to-business services and cloud computing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

IPTV versus Smart TV in South Korea

Digital media convergence continues at a rapid pace in South Korea, arguably the fastest in the world, given the  advanced state and multiplicity of networks here.   As partial evidence for this, you may find The Korea Joongang Daily's article on IPTV interesting.   Back in 2008, internet protocol television, or IPTV, was first introduced in Korea by KT.   Usage rapidly increased, as shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full size version).  That, of course, was before the introduction by Samsung and other electronics manufacturers of so-called "smart TVs."  Note that anyone in Korea with fiber to the home can easily switch their television subscription to IPTV.   The main advantage of IPTV over traditional television was access to a great deal of stored and on-demand content.  The new element introduced by smart TV is that the television itself contains a small computer, much like your smart-phone or tablet device, allowing web-surfing and the use of applications.
In some ways, the outcome of all this convergence seems clear.  People will want everything in their hand, on a tablet, or on the big screen.   Most folks won't want to carry around the extra weight of multiple devices or take on the extra cost of multiple services if they can all be combined in one smart device.  

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Korea Still the Top ICT Economy in the World

This is a follow up to the post I published in September about the ITU's new Measuring the Information Society report confirming South Korea's top ranking internationally.   I'm publishing it partly because of its content, but also because I worked for the VOA in Washington as a summer intern back in 1968, and later, following Peace Corps service in Korea, worked for another year and a half as a writer editor in VOA's Worldwide English Division.   The video below is from VOA's Special English Division.  A nice report.

Robotics and Korean Creativity

I have frequently heard criticisms of the Korean approach to education that suggest it relies too much on memorization and testing and does not encourage creativity.  That is partly why the Washington Post article about Virginia Tech professor Dennis Hong caught my eye this morning.  As I suspected, he is one of the more than six million Koreans living overseas, away from their home country.  The article describes how Professor Hong grew up and eventually became a star in humanoid robotics in the U.S.
Some years ago, I had an interesting encounter with Sangbae Kim who, as a Stanford graduate student, was centrally involved in the creation of Stickybot, a gecko-like robot.   Dr. Kim was kind enough to stop by my office at the Fulbright building and we had a fascinating discussion of his background and how he became interested in this field.   He is now a professor at MIT and in  charge of their new Biomimetic Robotics Lab. The Youtube video of Stickybot embedded in my blog post is still worth viewing one more time.
Draw your own conclusions about Korean creativity.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Internet Access in the World's Subway Systems

The New Cities Foundation, a Swiss non profit foundation, has published a comprehensive survey of wireless internet access in global subway systems. The survey, conducted in October 2011, covered 121 global cities of more than 750,000 people with an underground subway or metro system. Access to the mobile Internet is an essential component of the smart in 'smart city': this is how people connect to one another and to the services they need. NCF chose to focus on commuting because this is a significant part of most people's day in big cities but one where there is a clear divide between on and offline. The study showed the highest availability of mobile data services was in South Korea and China, where users can connect to the Internet in 100 % of major subway systems. Overall, Asian commuters can go online in 84 % of major subways, compared to 56 % in the EU and 41% in the US and Canada. The lowest rate is in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, at 25%.

Friday, November 4, 2011

North Korea on the Cusp of Digital Transformation?

Alexandre Mansourov of the Nautilus Institute has published a report on an important topic and with a very appropriate title, "North Korea on the Cusp of Digital Transformation?"  As readers of this blog will know, I've been very interested in the role of telecommunications in national reunification for some time now.   I published a post in June of this year with hyperlinks to some of my other posts.  The Mansourov report shows careful analysis of important Korean-language documentation on North Korea's ICT policies and development and is a valuable addition to this important topic.
As I have argued on numerous occasions, North Korea faces a clear cut dilemma.  Either modernize its digital networks, both fixed and wireless, in order to develop economically, or seek to control the internet, with the inevitable side effect that economic growth will be limited.  Furthermore, the mobile broadband revolution currently underway worldwide simply makes it increasingly difficult for the North to control information reaching its citizens.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Network Neutrality Debate Sharpens in Korea

As readers of this blog will know, the network neutrality debate seemed irrelevant to South Korea's situation for many years now. I've published several posts on this topic. One of them, back in 2008, suggested that the network neutrality debate in the U.S., seen from the perspective of a resident of South Korea, seemed out of touch with the times.  Another post, in 2010, elaborated on the earlier one.
Today, an update seems appropriate, primarily because of the surging increase in use of data services here in South Korea following arrival of the iPhone in late 2009, and Android devices the following year.   A report in the Korea Joongang Daily questions whether the network neutrality principle is now at risk in Korea.
As reported in the article, Korea’s telecom companies claim they are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain network neutrality, or the principle that Internet service operators should not discriminate between Internet traffic.According to sources in the industry, SK Telecom, KT and LG U+ - the country’s three telecom companies - recently delivered an official document to the Korea Telecommunications Operators Association (KTOA). The document stated their belief that smart TV makers and Web portals should be charged according to usage. “We have reached an agreement demanding payment for how much they use the networks, and [in return] we take charge of the network operations and quality management,” a source said. The KTOA was expected to officially comment on the matter soon.Companies already pay to use the networks, even with the current system, but the charges are lower and levied without discrimination based on usage. This means that a corporation that eats up 100 gigabytes and a personal user that requires only 1 percent as much data pay identical fees. And this was precisely what the telecom firms were complaining about. The full article is worth reading and the issue is definitely worth following.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Milestone: KT to halt investment in fixed-line network

As reported in The Korea Times, KT has publicly announced an historical milestone of sorts. It is ready to pull the plug on fixed-line telephony, which continues to be exposed as a decaying business model due to the rise in mobile and Internet communications. Company officials said the firm will no longer invest in its telephone network, while diverting spending to exploit the popularity of smartphones and other mobile Internet devices. The mainstream emergence of voice over Internet protocol services (VoIP), which allow carriers to provide cheaper voice rates than conventional fixed-line services, is also quickening the retirement of the latter.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

S. Korea Loses Top Broadband Speed Ranking? A Note on Misuse of Statistics

Akamai has released its latest State of the Internet report, this one for the second quarter of 2011.   As readers of this blog will know, I've periodically commented on and linked to these reports, as they are one valuable source of empirical data about the speed of broadband internet connections in countries around the world.  However, as with all statistics, they can be either used or misused.
One of my alerts sent me to an article on ReadWriteWeb entitled "S. Korea Loses Top Spot According to Akamai's State of the Internet Report."  This was news to me, so I decided to read the new Akamai report.   In fact, it shows that, on average, South Korea still has by far the fastest average broadband internet speed in the world.  Indeed, the headline, as it stands, is an example of misleading journalism.   As shown in the graphic to the left, taken directly from the Akamai report, the average download speed in South Korea during the second quarter of this year was 13.8 mbps, far higher than that of the Netherlands, at 8.5 mbps.   Note that Korea did experience a year-on year decrease in average download speed of over 17 percent.
What the ReadWriteWeb article seized on for its headline was a small section of the Akamai report devoted to what is called "global high broadband connectivity," devoted to an analysis that looks only at connections at speeds higher than 5 mbps.  On this one particular measure, the Netherlands recorded a 40% year on year increase, so pulled out ahead of Hong Kong and South Korea, which ranked second and third, respectively.   Clearly the headline used is misleading, given that Korea still appears at or near the top of virtually all the tables presented in the Akamai report.
If you've read this far, go ahead and link to the ReadWriteWeb article, but only to see a blatant example of misuse of statistics!

Apple-Samsung's Litigious Patent War

ComputerWorld has an account with some interesting detail on one of the legal cases in the ongoing patent war between Apple and Samsung. The article notes that, in order to assert its design patent claim, Apple must successfully convince the judge to reject any examples of "prior art" Samsung's legal people might present to the court. In 1994 Knight-Ridder developed a tablet prototype that many people think may invalidate Apple's iPad patent.

While this patent war may be interesting for the legal profession, it has gotten out of hand.    How, for example, can you patent what I call the "clip-board" form factor?   It seems to me that all note-pad devices are variations on the old clip-board, although they come in various sizes.  They are all becoming thinner, and lighter in weight, and in the process more appealing to human beings who have used clip-boards and small notebooks for ages.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Key Parts of iPhone 4S are "Made in Korea"

As noted widely in the press and in an earlier post here, the most valuable parts in the iPhone 4 were made by Korean companies.  Now, as reported in the Donga Ilbo, that pattern is continuing with the iPhone 4S.  As reported in a teardown analysis by iSuppli, the phone's NAND flash memory is manufactured by Hynix, while the application processor, the brain of smartphones, is Samsung`s dual-core A5 processor. iSuppli said "die mark" on the product show that Samsung manufactured it. Though the A5 chip does not have the Samsung logo, it holds Samsung`s pattern on its surface as discerned by experts. Before the release of the iPhone 4S, foreign media said Apple changed its main supplier for the A5 chip to the Taiwanese chip manufacturer TSMC. TSMC, however, was unable to meet Apple’s demand in quality and quantity, experts said.

Friday, October 21, 2011

KT Introduces Toddler's Robot called "Kibot"

Some time ago I did a couple of  blog posts here , and here, about the Korean government's use of robots to teach English in the nation's elementary schools.  Now KT has taken a page from that book and introduced a new educational robot to the home market in Korea.   See the post on my Internet Age Education blog.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Unification Broadcasts Draw Criticism from North Korea

The Chosun Ilbo carried a report with an interesting bit of evidence about how information gets form South Korea to North Korea these days. North Korea has called on South Korea to halt its broadcasts on unification, saying they are insulting and provocative. North Korea's government-run news agency KCNA, in an article Friday, denounced the South's Unification Ministry for launching broadcasts, which it said were meant to tarnish the communist country. The article quoted the North Korean committee which handles inter-Korean affairs as calling the move a grave provocation. South Korea's Unification Ministry, which is in charge of relations with North Korea, recently launched weekly television broadcasts and daily online radio broadcasts to try to raise public awareness on potential unification with North Korea.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Crackdown on Pro-North Korea Web Sites?

As reported in the Joongang Daily, prosecutors have said they would begin a large-scale crackdown on pro-North Korea online activities by South Koreans, saying they constituted anti-state conduct that went beyond the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression. The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office said it would hold a meeting next month with the National Police Agency and the Korea Communications Commission to discuss countermeasures against the online activities. According to a recent report by the Korea Communications Commission, 122 Web sites based overseas were found to be engaged in pro-North activities by South Koreans. Seventy-eight of them were blocked in the South, but 44 were still accessible, the report said. Currently, there is little legal basis to sanction the activities of those Web sites, but prosecutors said they were considering pressing charges of disseminating enemy-benefiting materials, a serious crime under the National Security Law, saying they considered the activities to be serious enough to rock the foundations of South Korea.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Future Screens

I've been fascinated with television, and in particular the power of the live visual image, ever since my graduate students days at Stanford.   I chose to study U.S. network television coverage of international affairs for my doctoral dissertation, which led to my first book, Television's Window on the World: International Affairs Coverage on the U.S. Networks.
One big key to the future of television news and all other human communication will be new screen technology. Korea is the world leader in manufacture and exports of television sets, mobile handsets and screens generally.
Today, the Joongang Daily carried two articles that provide interesting insight into the intensely competitive realm of screen technology as it is being pursued by two of Korea's leading companies, Samsung and LG.
The first article dealt with the release of LG's new Optimus LTE, which became available earlier this month in the Korean market, and was entitled "Our screens beat Samsung's, says LG."  The second article described a breakthrough by researchers at Samsung that may help to turn windows into large screens. Samsung Electronics said that its researchers reported a breakthrough in light-emitting diode (LED) technology that will allow production of ultra-large advanced display panels on ordinary glass such as window panes. Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology succeeded in fabricating nearly single crystalline gallium nitride (GaN) on amorphous glass substrates, a milestone that will enable production of super-sized LEDs using glass substrates, Samsung said. “In ten years, window panes will double as lighting and display screens, giving personality to buildings,” said a Samsung researcher who was part of the project.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Note on Dated, Inaccurate, Misleading Reporting!!

Readers of this blog will know, from my weekend post, that Korean traffic to  Facebook has finally caught and overtaken Cyworld, according to statistics provided by Rankey.  Apparently this word has not reached two reporters at the Joongang Daily, who today published an article entitled "Google, Facebook Flop in NE Asia."  The article refers to a "recent report" by Mashable.   I recommend you  read the Joongang Daily article only to see how uttlerly misleading dated information can be.  As I frequently link to articles from the Joongang Daily, readers will know that this one is an exception to their generally good reporting.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Facebook traffic in Korea surpasses Cyworld!

I was somewhat surprised to read in The Korea Times that, for the first time ever, as of August  2011, traffic to Facebook exceeded that to Korea's homegrown Cyworld.  Social networking in the form of Cyworld had been introduced in Korea a full half decade before the invention of Facebook in the United States, and it became the most popular such service in Korea for many years.   All of that began to change around the time the iPhone finally made it to the Korean market, near the end of 2009.  The Korea Times article provides some useful background on why the shift has taken place.
The accompanying line graph, from Rankey, (click to see a larger version) shows the dramatic shift in visitors to Cyworld (blue line) versus Facebook (red line) from January of 2010 through August, 2011.

The Challenge to Innovate in Korea

The death of Steve Jobs has prompted an outpouring of journalistic efforts, all around the world, to explain innovation, especially the sort of innovation that characterized his tenure at Apple.  The Korea Joongang Daily carried an article questioning whether the death of Jobs would have a deep impact, or whether business would continue as usual.  However, that article addressed the global market for smartphones and the patent litigation between Apple and Samsung, failing to get to the more significant issue of how Korea can make the transition from hardware exports to software and services creation.  The latter is really the sort of innovation that this nation requires at this juncture.  As illustrated in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full size version), the success of Apple, and Android has more to do with the software and applications, or the new communication ecosystem, than with hardware.  Therefore, an opinion piece by Tom Coyner, also in the Korea Joongang Daily, caught my eye. His piece zeroes in on the persistent lack of lateral cooperation between organizations and departments that characterizes Korean business, government and the academic sector to this day.  Tom therefore uses the term "silo innovation" to describe Korea's approach to innovation.  This reminded me of an exchange I had with Horace G. Underwood, several years after my Fulbright year (1985-86) in Yonsei University's Department of Mass Communication.   I was working on a research project that required inter departmental and multidisciplinary cooperation.   Horace wrote to me that I should remember that Korea had very little history or tradition of lateral cooperation whatsoever.   Over the years since, I have been repeatedly reminded of the essential accuracy of  Dr. Underwood's observation.
The lack of lateral cooperation is deeply embedded in Korean culture, and the language itself, if used properly seems almost to work against innovation.  I still remember the first few days of my Ph.D. program in communication research at Stanford University.  Along with the other incoming graduate students, I greeted all of the faculty members in the Institute for Communication Research by their first names, a practice that would continue throughout the four year program.  Even in English, being on a first-name basis with well known scholars made an impression on me.  However, it is difficult to even imagine such a thing taking place in a Korean language conversation at a major university here in Korea or in one of Korea's major companies.
However, prospects for innovation are not that bleak.   Koreans have embraced the study of English and other foreign languages and many universities have adopted English curricula.  The change may be generational, but younger Koreans will, at some point, come to embrace communication patterns that foster good lateral communication and cooperative endeavors.  This, it seems is a challenge that must be met if Korea is to truly succeed at innovation.

Friday, October 7, 2011

My new blogging platform, "Internet age education"

Effective October 1, my blogging on the topic of global education and international educational exchange is taking place on a new platform,  Given the central importance of education to the information society, there is an inevitable area of overlap between these two blogs.   For that reason, I will continue to cross-link posts as appropriate, especially when they deal with the role of ICT in the transformation of education, or the important role of education about ICT and about the information society.
Please take a look at and send me your ideas for improvement!

Steve Jobs 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

The death of Apple founder Steve Jobs brought to mind something he said in his 2005 Commencement address at Stanford University. It was as follows:
"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
The full text of Jobs' commencement address is available here.
Better yet, view his entire address on the following YouTube video.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Google Translate and the Localization Issue

As readers of this blog will know from prior posts (e.g. here and here), I've been very interested for a long time in the powerful role of language and culture in shaping media behavior in Korea.  Preference for the Korean language is one of the big reasons that Naver continues to control such a large share of search, despite its limited scope when compared with Google. Today's alerts brought links to two very interesting sources.
The first is an article in The Independent by David Bellos entitled "How Google Translate Works."   Rather than trying to develop an algorithm to discover the meaning (syntax and vocabulary) of a particular passage, Google uses a statistical approach that leverages its vast collection of written language and translations of the same writings into many languages.  As Bellos notes,"It uses vast computing power to scour the internet in the blink of an eye, looking for the expression in some text that exists alongside its paired translation."  The entire article is well worth reading.
Another source is the Localization Industry Daily, published by Cloudwords.  That publication provides a number of interesting avenues through which to explore the burgeoning localization industry.    More on this topic in future posts.
It seems obvious that Google is leading the effort to develop machine translation, with some gratifying results. However, it is equally apparent that the industry has a long way to go and that its most difficult challenges lie here in Asia, given the difficulty of translating Asian languages to and from English and other Latin-based languages.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

KT to Nuture the Software Industry

As reported in The Korea Times, KT has announced new measures to support the growth and development of South Korea's software industry.  The article also summarizes some of the key changes in corporate culture within KT under the leadership of Chairman Lee Suk-chae.   It is well worth reading.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Progress toward 4G Mobile Service in South Korea

The Joongang Daily has a nice summary of the nation's progress toward full-scale 4G (fourth generation) mobile service, accompanied by a summary graphic (click to see a larger version of the graphic).  As the article notes,with a data transfer speed of 100 megabytes per second, 4G services allow users to enjoy higher-speed Internet and services that couldn’t be handled by 3G, including high-quality multimedia support such as HD and 3-D video streaming and network games.
The article suggests that KT is lagging in 4G deployment which, strictly speaking, is not an accurate characterization. Rather, KT chose to build out its WiBro network before investing heavily in LTE. WiBro itself, developed in Korea, is a legitimate 4G service, even if a bit slower than LTE.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

World's first "CNN Cafe" opens in Seoul

Anyone living in Korea over the past decade or so cannot help but notice the remarkable proliferation of coffee shops, led by Starbucks and followed by many similar competitors.   Now there may be a new twist, as CNN and YBM Education have teamed up to open the world's first CNN Cafe in Seoul. (click on the accompanying graphic to see a larger version)  As reported by Campaignasia, the new CNN concept 'coffice' (coffee-office) offers customers free wi-fi, computers and printing services, and features CNN content across different platforms, including a live feed of the CNN International channel on a large screen, the latest CNN newswires on a digital ticker and computer terminals featuring and
The new marketing initiative is due to the growing number of self-employed and students who study at coffee shops.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Should I seek a publisher for my new book or publish it myself?

As readers of this blog will know, I've made my previous academic books available over the internet via Google Books.  Anyone wishing to read Television's Window on the World, based on my doctoral dissertation, Global Television and the Politics of the Seoul Olympics, co-authored with Prof. Heung Soo Park, Television in the Olympics, co-authored with Miquel de Moragas and Nancy Rivenburgh, and several other books and monographs, may do so via the internet.
Now, I'm in the middle of writing my own account of the role of telecommunications in Korea's transformation.  It is written in the first person, in order to draw upon my personal experiences spanning the past four decades or so.
My question is very simple.  Should I seek a reputable academic or commercial publisher, as I've always done in the past, or publish it myself? (via one of the services that allow e-book and more conventional formats) I'm well aware that the book publishing industry has been turned on its head by the information revolution and perhaps even more aware that there is no financial reward for publishing academic works.
I'd love to hear reader opinion on this, since it may influence just how I "publish" this new book.   Thanks in advance for your input.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Korea still the world's most advanced internet and telecommunications economy

The ITU has released its annual study on Measuring the Information Society, and South Korea remains the number one country in the world, as measured by its ICT Development Index.  As shown in the accompanying excerpt from Table 2.2 of the ITU report (click on the graphic to see a larger version), Korea was followed in the 2010 rankings by four Scandinavian countries and Hong Kong.  The Director of the ITU's telecommunications development bureau, in the foreword to this new study, makes the following observation.
"The ICT for development debate is witnessing an obvious shift:  the focus is no longer on the mobile-cellular miracle, but on the need for high speed broadband Internet access.  The report shows that wireless broadband Internet access is the strongest growth sector, with prepaid mobile broadband mushrooming in many developing countries and internet users shifting from fixed to wireless connections and devices.  The emergence of new mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablet computers, is accelerating this process, but they are still too expensive in developing countries and there is a need to develop more affordable models and products.  Furthermore, the availability of bandwidth and capacity will increasingly determine the use and beneficial impacts of ICTs."   The Director goes on to note that the policy focus is most often on enhancing ICT infrastructure and access, yet the full impact of ICT in development will only be felt once people are using technologies effectively.
The broad global trends he refers to are illustrated in the second accompanying graphic (again, click to see a full-size version).  Although the rapid adoption of mobile broadband is only an incipient trend as shown in the line graph on the left of the graphic, its growth rate, shown by the bar graph on the right supports the notion that the world is on the verge of an explosive growth in mobile broadband over the next several years, with implications for developed and developing countries alike.
There is much, much more to read in this report, for those of you who follow the topic of ICT in development.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Smartphone Race a Hardware Battle? Samsung's Future

The Financial Times carried an interesting article today entitled "Samsung needs to hit reset button." .
It referred to the company's strength in hardware, notably memory chips, in which it invested  Won11,000bn last year.  Also, its bright and power-efficient Amoled (or active matrix organic light-emitting diode) mobile screens are increasingly the industry standard.
But the long term worry for Samsung is software, which is crucial to its increased focus on high-end consumer electronics such as smartphones and tablets. Falling prices for chips – which constituted about half of second-quarter operating profit – have pushed Samsung to prioritise its Galaxy devices, which are big challengers to Apple’s iPhone and iPad.
The article goes on to quote Chang Sea-jin, professor at Singapore National University who says Samsung was fortunate to produce such devices just as Google’s Android was becoming a standard operating system. He argues this reduced the smartphone race to a “hardware battle, where Samsung is strong”.
However, especially since Google's acquisition of Motorola, Korean government sources have expressed concerns about Samsung's weakness in software. Kim Young-Chan, an analyst at Shinhan Securities is quoted as saying that “Samsung cannot easily build up software in a short time and it is hard to expect major changes from Korean engineers with fixed ways of thinking,” said Mr Kim. “But Samsung will not be marginalised, given its strength in hardware.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Global Internet is Decentralizing: Where South Korea Fits

Telegeography has come out with a very interesting new report on Global Internet Geography that shows clearly how the global internet is decentralizing.   To see a full size version of the accompanying graphic, click on it. According to the report, .the global Internet is far less centered on the United States than it was 10 years ago. The development of rich regional networks, coupled with a need for diversification, has reduced the share of international capacity connected to the U.S. for all regions except Latin America.
The report also notes that the shifting topology of the global Internet is tied to the desire to locate content nearer to end users and, ultimately, reduce latency. Several carriers reported that improved routing efficiencies, largely attributable to the caching and localization of content, have reduced traffic on their interregional links and led to more rapid growth on local and regional links. (I have put "localization" in bold to emphasize it.).
The desire to locate content nearer to end users is something that will be apparent to any Korean internet user who has impatiently waited for web pages hosted on servers in the U.S. to respond.   The localization of content is a much more important matter, especially here in South Korea.   This nation, despite possessing the world's most extensive and advanced digital networks, stands out as only one of four countries in the world where Google does not yet have a respectable market share for web search.  See my post in late 2009, before the late arrival of Apple's iPhone here.  The internet in Korea, despite its dazzling networks, is still largely a walled garden ( if you doubt that, do a search of this blog for "walled-garden" to read some of my other posts.)  The vast majority of web surfing done by Koreans is done right here on within the southern half of the peninsula, using Naver, Daum and other popular Korean language sites.  This fact alone says volumes about the nature of the internet and the nature of Korea's information society.  I suspect that similar patterns elsewhere in the world account for the Telegeography findings.  What does all of this say about the role of language and culture in 21st century communications and the potential role of the internet in promoting global awareness?   While the younger generations here in Korea are beginning to search the worldwide web using Google, thanks to the arrival of smartphones in late 2009, these are questions that deserve to be examined in some detail.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Students are Developers at Korea's Game Science High School

Korea's system of specialized high schools includes one that focuses on game science.  It was the subject of a post here more than three years ago.  This morning The Joongang Daily carried an interesting article with some updated information on programs at the high school. (click on the photo at the left to see a full size version)
At Korea Game Science High School in Wanju, North Jeolla, students are getting a head start on becoming innovative leaders in the game industry.
Through a new school program, IT Industry Development Center for Adolescents, designed to promote entrepreneurship, students have founded 16 companies that have created numerous online and mobile games - some of which have become hits.
The program, the first of its kind in the nation, has instilled a sense of possibility and confidence in the students, many of whom say that they want to emulate, if not challenge, Steve Jobs.
Each company is comprised of three to four students - mainly juniors and seniors - and is provided with separate offices with Apple computers and faculty advisers.
IT companies have also chipped in to help, providing technical support and advice for the student entrepreneurs.
Students in the program develop games on the weekends and from 9 p.m. to midnight on weekdays. To help promote their products and their companies, the school program also organizes monthly conferences.
Recently, Choi Young-jae, 18, set up a company called L II with his classmates. Their mobile phone game, My Drawing Story, was released in July and has become a huge hit, downloaded more than 10,000 times in two weeks. The game, in which the player defeats monsters and goes on a journey by drawing shapes, has received the highest marks from reviewers for its exciting story line and abundant contents.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Korea's Hardware Success and Software Challenge

A great deal has been written over the years about the strength of Korea's IT manufacturing and export sector in comparison to its relative weakness in software and content industries. The Joongang Daily has a lengthy article on the topic today, with supporting data and an effort to explain why Korea remains relatively week in the software area.
According to the article, as Korean companies take a hard look at their software vulnerabilities, they say they see a vicious cycle at work.
First, students shun software-related majors at universities. The quality of Korean software manpower falls behind that of other advanced countries. Companies don’t pay and treat their software engineers right. And that goes back to students shunning software majors at universities.
The accompanying graphic shows average salaries by certain occupational groups (click on the graphic to see a full size version).
According to a recent report by the Samsung Economic Research Institute, the number of places in IT-related departments at about 100 major universities in Korea have been declining for four years straight since 2006.
Admission quotas, or places, in computer engineering departments plunged at the fastest rate. The figure stood at 80 in 2006, but decreased to 73 in 2009. That compares to the figure for electric and electronic engineering, which inched down from 87 in 2006 to 85 in 2009.
“As the IT environment undergoes rapid changes, it’s crucial for Korea to secure software capability fast,” the report pointed out. “But universities appear to have succeeded in neither attracting top-tier software talent nor providing high-quality education programs.”
“The morale of Korea’s software talent is at its lowest,” said Daniel Lee, 41, CEO of Inspirit, a local company that makes software for mobile communication networks. “The importance of software is growing day by day, but if things don’t change, Korea’s software industry has no future.”
Some cite an even broader problem in the Korean technology industry: An under-appreciation of the value of start-ups and their innovative ideas, except by foreign tech firms.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

KT Stuck in 2G Mobile Service Conundrum?

The complex interplay between mobile service providers, Korea's telecommunications regulator and the handset and equipment manufacturers is the underlying theme of an interesting article in The Korea Times today.
KT, the country’s No. 2 mobile carrier, desperately needs to close its second-generation (2G) mobile service after dropping its bid for the 1.8 gigahertz (GHz) band in the government auction, otherwise it will lag behind competitors in adopting the ultra-fast 4G service. The regulator, however, isn’t approving KT’s move without proper guidelines.
As noted in an earlier post, KT dropped its bid for the 1.8 GHz band Monday, allowing competitor SK Telecom, the biggest player in the industry, to buy the band at 995 billion won, more than double the starting price.
“We sought approval from the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) for our plan to close the 2G service early August,” a KT representative said.
However, it remains to be seen whether the regulator will approve it. KT already sought approval a few months ago, but the KCC rejected it saying the carrier still has too many 2G users.
KT said it has greatly decreased the number of 2G users since then. It currently has 320,000 2G users, a steep decrease from 1.1 million in March when it first announced the plan to halt 2G service.
“The number is decreasing by thousands each day. We expect to get the green light this time,” the KT representative said. KT has been trying to lure 2G users to its 3G service, providing new handsets for free or offering subsidies and exempting subscription fees.
KT Chairman Lee Seok-chae held a press meeting, and announced that KT would halt the 2G service in September to launch LTE service in November. Lee’s remark is regarded as pressure on the KCC to allow it to halt 2G service.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pyrhhic Victory for SK in Korean Bandwidth Auction?

In the words of a headline in The Korea Times, SK Telecom won a Pyrhhic Victory in the recently concluded bandwith auction here. For SKT, winning is bittersweet, the article reported, since it has to pay an enormous amount after repeated rounds of proposals and counterproposals with some describing it a “Pyrrhic victory.” The final bid by SK Telecom amounted to 995 billion won.
Opting to concentrate on cloud computing instead, KT declined to continue bidding for the 1.8 gigahertz (GHz) band.
“We decided to stop bidding for the 1.8 GHz bandwidth, to prevent social controversy and national loss following excessive competition in an auction that was held for the first time in the country,” KT said.
As noted by the Joongang Daily,The 1.8-GHz band is thought to be the most suitable for fourth-generation (4G) mobile communications technology. Many mobile carriers in Europe, the United States and Asia have chosen it for their 4G mobile telecommunication services. It can process data much faster than the 3G service, and thus carry out more tasks such as playing full high-definition content.
Both of the telecom giants were determined to clinch the band since the auction began on Aug. 17. As a result, the auction dragged on for nine days and 83 rounds, and the bidding price soared to 995 billion won ($919 million), more than double the minimum bidding price of 445.5 billion won set by the KCC.
The KCC, which ran the auction, did not place a limit on how many rounds could take place, nor how high the bidding price could go.
Finally KT backed off. When the auction resumed yesterday morning, KT bid for the 800-megahertz (MHz) band, and as the sole bidder, the company got it for the minimum bid price of 261 billion won.
“We withdrew from further bidding for the 1.8-GHz band in light of the social controversy about the overheated competition and national loss,” KT CEO Lee Suk-chae told reporters. “I thought if I use more than one trillion won on spectrum, KT won’t be able to do more important things.”

Monday, August 29, 2011

Naver Halts Mobile Baseball Broadcasting

The local media are reporting on an interesting example of the limits of mobile data networks in Korea.  As reported in The Korea Times, Naver has called an abrupt halt to mobile broadcasting of professional baseball games over 3G networks.
The country’s top portal stopped providing a mobile baseball broadcasting service through the 3G network only 40 days after its launch.
It says it halted the service as it didn’t want to offer poor quality viewing, but it evidently lacked proper preparation.
Following an agreement with the Korea Baseball Organization, Naver started broadcasting games from July 6, citing growing demand among baseball fans who didn’t want to miss any games on their way home from work.
The service immediately drew fans, with as many as 20,000 users logging on to the service using their smartphones or tablets at the same time only two weeks after launching.
“There was growing consumer complaints as the streaming often stopped. We determined that we had better stop it to offer better quality service,” a representative for Naver said.
The top portal, however, can’t be free from criticism that it launched the service too hastily. At the time there was concern that the mobile broadcasting would weigh too much on a 3G network already suffering huge traffic.
When watching a baseball game of about three hours on a smartphone, it incurs 700 megabytes of data traffic. Since as many as 20,000 people were watching a game simultaneously, the burden on the network was debilitating.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Smartphones Alienate the Elderly in Korea

I read with interest a short article in the Joongang Ilbo today, proclaiming in his headline that "Smartphones Alienate the Elderly."   The article notes that smartphones are eating up an increasingly bigger chunk of the Korean market, but are still proving too finicky or complex for senior citizens and people with disabilities.
It goes on to observe that the smartphones’ versatility can be too confusing for elderly people due to the bewildering number of applications, while the small displays and touch-screen typing can also be difficult to navigate, said Nam Si-uk, a professor at Sejong University.
“Many elderly men who originally wanted to own a smartphone are now changing their mind because the instruction manuals are too complicated,” he said. “It makes them feel inferior and frustrated.”  Click on the graphic, which accompanied the Joongang Ilbo article, to see a full size version.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Digital Development in Korea(한국 디지털 발전사) Reviewed in The Electronics Newspaper

I was pleased to learn this past week that my recent book with Dr. Myung Oh, Digital Development in Korea:  Building an Information Society, has been reviewed by Korea's Electronics Newspaper (전자신문). Dr. Oh and I substantially finished the manuscript and delivered it to Routledge in London  in early August 2010.
Readers interested in the newspaper's Korean language overview of the book can find it here in the "Books Closeup" section.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bidding War Over Mobile Frequencies in Korea Continues

The Joongang Daily reports that the continued bidding war for use of mobile frequencies in Korea is beginning to worry some experts.
Market watchers are concerned that a bidding war between the nation’s two largest telecom firms over an important mobile frequency band could end up hurting the winner down the road.
On auction since Wednesday have been slots for three mobile frequency bands: 2.1-gigahertz (GHz) band, 1.8 GHz band and 800 MHz band. The Korea Communications Commission (KCC) - the country’s telecommunications regulator - is running the auctions.
The bands are like roads for voice calls, text messages and data applications. They are finite public property, managed by the government and rented to mobile service operators on 10- and 15-year contracts. Securing vital spectrum slots are crucial to meeting surging data demand from smartphone and tablet PC users.
Previously the government had allocated the bands, but this year it decided to auction them off to the highest bidder.
It is the space on the 1.8 GHz band that market watchers are keeping their eyes on. The bidding war has already gone through 21 rounds and the price has risen from 445.5 billion won to 543.7 billion won.
“We cannot let our enemies have ‘the best weapon’ without a fight,” an SK Telecom official said.
Market watchers say the final price could be up to three times the opening bid and that worries financial experts. They point to cases in Europe, which held spectrum auctions between 2000 and 2001 that ended up burdening telecom firms and making them less competitive.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Google's Acquisition of Motorola Mobility: Its Impact in Korea

Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility is making big news around the world, but particularly here in Korea, home of two major handset manufacturers, Samsung and LG.  As noted by The Chosun Ilbo, Google's US$12.5 billion takeover of Motorola Mobility not only allows the search giant to obtain a portfolio of more than 17,000 patents but also gives it the capability to roll out cheap-and-cheerful smartphones within a year or two.
The same paper published an opinion piece entitled "Korean IT Industry Needs to Make Fundamental Changes." It reads in part,
"The world's largest Internet company Google has acquired Motorola Mobility, the mobile phone unit of the U.S. company. So far Google has supplied its Android operating system free of charge to smartphone and tablet PC manufacturers, but now it has gone beyond the software industry and entered the hardware market. Motorola ranks eighth in the global smartphone market, but it is still a formidable force. The company was the first to market a mobile phone in 1973 and has around 17,000 mobile communications patents.
The smartphone market is divided between Apple's iPhone, which has an 18 percent stake, and Android-based handsets, which control 48 percent. Microsoft, another software powerhouse, has already teamed up with Finland's Nokia and is competing fiercely for a larger slice of the pie. Amid rumors that Microsoft may buy Nokia, we cannot rule out the possibility that the global smartphone market could be dominated by Apple, Google and Microsoft, which all have both OS development know-how and handset manufacturing capability."

Friday, August 12, 2011

How Smartphones Amplified the Crash

There is an interesting article in the Joongang Daily today on the role of smartphones in stock trading.  It argues that the increasing interconnectivity of the world, thanks in large part to smartphones and tablets, played a role in amplifying the stock market mayhem.
One big difference now compared to the 2008 sell-off is that mobile devices are in use by more people to trade stocks. And in Korea, which had been a smartphone laggard, smartphone use has exploded since the iPhone landed in Korea in late 2009.
Mirae Asset Securities and KB Investment and Securities were the first two brokerage firms in Korea to launch stock trading apps in February 2010. Other companies have followed.
“In recent trading through our company, trades made from smart devices accounted for 30 percent of all trades - and was as high as 35 percent at one point,” Cheon said. “Investment patterns have been changing with the wide distribution of smart devices. People are using their smartphone to trade shares, even on their vacations.”  Click on the accompanying graphic to see a full size version.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

North Korean Game Hackers Help That Country Earn Hard Currency

The Chosun Ilbo reports that, according to a police investigation,elite North Korean hackers created and distributed programs that stole millions of U.S. dollars from popular South Korean on-line gaming sites, such as Lineage and Dungeon Fighter.
The hackers, who are believed to have graduated from the North's prestigious Kim Il-sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology, stole gaming items such as weapons, armor and other objects that players collect and store in their on-line games and trade for cash. The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said on Thursday it had arrested five South Koreans, including a 43-year-old identified only by his surname Chung. They were apprehended for creating programs, with the aid of hackers that use personal information stolen from servers for on-line games, and distributing them to buyers. Nine others were also arrested for aiding Chung in distributing the software.
"It appears that North Korea has gone beyond the traditional methods of earning foreign currency, such as drug manufacturing and producing counterfeit bills, to creating Internet hacking programs," a police official said.
Chung, who runs an Internet chat room in Daejeon in southwestern Korea, traveled to China's Heilongjiang Province in northern China in early 2009 and was introduced to around 30 North Korean hackers through a broker.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Time to Revamp Korea's National ID System?

I recommend another very interesting article generated by the cyber-attack and leakage of personal information from Nate and Cyworld accounts.  This one, accompanied by a nice graphic (click to see a larger version) was published in The Korea Times.
The article notes that the compromised information included names, passwords, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and most alarmingly, resident registration numbers, the country’s equivalent to social security numbers.
Government officials insist that the country’s computer security defense is still salvageable as they scramble to apply the patchwork. But critics, unconvinced, claim it’s officially time to blow up the national ID system and start over.
``The resident registration number of virtually every Korean is out there ― the information is so easily available that police announced a while ago that hackers are barely getting 1 won for each code. And we have heard rumors that criminals are passing these numbers around in (Microsoft) Excel files,’’ said Jang Yeo-gyeong, a computer security expert at activist group Jinbo Net.
From a security standpoint, resident registration numbers are flawed from the start. The 13-digit code reveals the birth date, sex and registration site of a person, unlike comparable systems in the United States and Japan based on random numbering.
People here submit their national ID numbers to Korean Web sites due to local laws requiring them to make verifiable real-name registrations for virtually every type of Internet activity, not only for encrypted communications like e-commerce, online banking and e-government services but also casual tasks like e-mail and blogging.

Apple, Google in Violation of Korean Law

As reported in the Joongang Daily, South Korea’s telecommunications regulator announced yesterday that Apple and Google’s location tracking capabilities violate Korean laws, fining Apple Korea and ordering that both companies rectify the issues.The Korea Communications Commission (KCC) has been investigating since April, after two computer engineers argued that the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 4.0, keeps track of users’ locations as far back as June 2010, which was when the operating system was launched. That caused controversy worldwide.
While the Korean government was hardly alone in launching an investigation into location tracking issues, it is the first in the world to actually declare that Apple and Google violated laws and order punitive measures.
According to Location Information Law Article 15, when businesses seek to collect, utilize and offer people’s location data, they should get their consent. Furthermore, Location Information Law Article 16 dictates that businesses take protective technological measures to prevent the data from being exposed, falsified or damaged.
“We haven’t been tracking anyone,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said earlier this year. “The files they found on these phones were basically files we have built through anonymous, crowd-sourced information that we collect from the tens of millions of iPhones out there.”
Google also explained that “all location sharing on Android is an opt-in by the user.” When a user activates an Android phone, a screen appears saying Google will collect anonymous location data.

More on Cyber Leaks and Cyber Warfare in Korea

Press coverage of the recent cyber attacks on Nate and Cyworld and the resulting leakage of personal information is just beginning. Readers who found my previous post interesting may wish to read today's article in the Joongang Daily. It notes that controversy is heating up over Korean Web portal operators’ collection and storage of private data after the country’s worst cyber hacking case put over two-thirds of its population at risk of identity theft.
It also put a question mark on the effectiveness of the country’s controversial Internet regulations, such as the real-name verification law, which critics argue provide incentives for online companies to hoard personal information.

“While they didn’t have the ability to protect private data, they have been excessively collecting it,” said Lim Jong-in, dean of the Graduate School of Information Security at Korea University, referring to the country’s major Web portals.

Korean Internet users rely heavily on do-it-all, one-stop Web portals. They visit industry leader Naver at least three times for every four Internet uses, according to market research firm Metrix Corp., and the three most-visited Web portals account for more than 90 percent of the country’s Web search traffic.
These Web portals ask for names, resident registration numbers, birth dates, addresses and phone numbers to join their services, which are accumulated, some of them encrypted, in their servers for at least five years and become attractive “booty” for hackers.
“Instead of mere lists of online accounts, [hackers] could steal the full package of real world identities,” said Nakho Kim, a media researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Due to government policies and industry laziness, many Korean online services tend to collect a lot of personal identity information.”
Readers following the broader global context of the recent cyber attacks on Nate and Cyworld will want to read The New York Times article entitled "Security Firm Sees Global Cyberspying."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hackers Compromise Personal Data from Nate and Cyworld Accounts

On July 29 it was reported by the Joongang Daily that hackers had stolen personal data from as many as 35 million Korean netizens with Nate and Cyworld accounts.
According to SK Communications, which runs both Nate and Cyworld, hackers had access to the IDs, names, cellphone numbers, e-mail addresses, encrypted social security numbers and encrypted passwords of an estimated 35 million users.
Cyworld currently has 33 million users and Nate 25 million users, the company said.
SK Communications suspects the hacking was done through malicious code, and the IP address used for the attack was from China.
The company reported the attack to the Korea Communications Commission and asked police yesterday for help investigating.
The Cyber Terrorism Response Center under the National Police Agency said its team will visit SK Communications’ database center in Seongsu-dong, eastern Seoul, to determine the exact details of the attack.
Police believe Tuesday’s hacking attack was Korea’s biggest ever.
On August 3 The Washington Post published an interesting report on widespread cyber-spying. According to the report, a leading computer security firm has used logs produced by a single server to trace the hacking of more than 70 corporations and government organizations over many months, and experts familiar with the analysis say the snooping probably originated in China.Google’s disclosure early last year that hackers in China had broken into its networks and stolen valuable source code was a watershed moment: A major U.S. company volunteered that it had been hacked. Google also said that more than 20 other large companies were similarly targeted.

Traffic Spike Crashes LG U+ Phone Data Network

The data network of LG U+, Korea's smallest mobile network, was out of service yesterday, causing inconvenience to startled subscribers.   As reported in the Joongang Daily, data traffic spiked to about five times the normal traffic, starting around 8:00 A.M.
With the popularity of data-gobbling smartphones and tablet PCs, compounded by mobile carriers spoiling customers with unlimited data usage plans, the nation’s data networks are already handling more data than they should, observers say.
And while the surge in data traffic has caused dropped calls and slow connections, it has never caused a network to blackout for hours.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Nostalgic Note on the Decline of PC Rooms

The Joongang Daily has an interesting article, including the accompanying graphic (click to see a full size version), on the declining number of PC bangs (PC Rooms or internet cafes) in South Korea.  As noted in the article,PC bangs enjoyed their heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s. After the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and 1998, many people who lost their jobs opened PC bangs to survive.
Government regulations are thought to be partly behind the decline of PC Bangs.

One new restriction to take effect by the year’s end is the Cinderella law pushed jointly by the culture and family ministries. Under the law, PC bangs cannot offer online games to anyone younger than 16 from midnight to 6 a.m., in the hopes of curbing game addiction among Korean minors.

There is also a regulatory question over whether PC Bangs are allowed to sell cup ramen or green tea to their customers. Jo, a 37-year-old owner of a PC bang in Imun-dong, central Seoul, was recently hit with a fine. He was guilty of pouring boiling water into a customer’s cup ramen, and someone caught him with a camera and filed a report.

“I was told that if customers pour the water themselves, it’s OK. But if I pour the water, I’m guilty,” Jo said. “There are many cases in which owners served green tea, and ended up paying a 500,000 won fine.”
In addition to the regulatory issues raised in the Joongang Daily article, I would simply note the reality of the mobile broadband revolution, ignited in Korea with the arrival of Apple's iPhone in late 2009.  The fact that people can easily use their Android devices, iPhones or tablet computers in coffee shops and public wi-fi hotspots all over the country, has undoubtedly lessened their interest in PC Bangs.