Monday, June 25, 2012

Smartphone usage in Korea: a new snapshot

Neilsen has released a summary of key findings from the Asia-Pacific region of  its Smartphone Insights Study, providing  some empirical data to back up my impressions about the extent and characteristics of smart phone  usage here.  As shown in Chart 1 from the study (click to see a full-size version), only Singapore has a higher proportion of mobile phone users who use smart phones versus feature phones, and Singapore as we all know is nowhere near as large, geographically or in population terms,as Korea.
The report also noted that eighty percent of Korean mobile phone users had accessed the mobile internet during the last month, a percentage exceeded only by Japan's users at 86 percent.  Korea had the highest usage of location-based-services among smart phone users with 59 percent, followed by Japan at 56 percent.
Finally, and not surprisingly, chart 5 from the report (click to see a full size version) shows that smart phones using the Android OS are more dominant in South Korea's market than in other regional markets.  This pattern, of course, reflects the dominance of Samsung, LG and other Korean manufacturers of smart phones.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

OLED and Korea's role in the television industry

As readers of this blog will know, I've long been interested in the power of television to transmit live or timely visual images.  This was one main reason I chose the topic for my doctoral dissertation years ago and wrote my first book, Television's Window on the World:  International Affairs Coverage on the U.S. Networks, (for you history buffs, it is now available in a Kindle edition).  Naturally, South Korea's ascent to its current dominant role in the global television industry would catch my interest (for example, see this 2011 post).
Now, the recent announcement by both Samsung and LG that they will be moving into production of wafer-thin OLED (organic light-emitting diode) television sets is getting a lot of publicity around the world, so it seems to be just the right time for another post on this topic.  While a Washington Post story suggests that the two companies are gambling on the future success of OLED television, I would suggest that it is a sure bet, in the long run, for several reasons.
First, the new television sets will not only be wafer thin, but also lightweight.  The weight factor is definitely important to consumers, as anyone who has tried to lift one of the larger early-generation LCD sets can testify.  Second, along with the reduction in weight comes a significant reduction in power consumption and therefore a lower electricity bill.  Many consumers will factor this in when making a purchase decision, reasoning that they will make up for the higher initial purchase cost in electricity savings over time.  Third, the thinness of the new television sets is itself a factor that will produce more sales.  We are approaching an era when television sets and all types of electronic displays will resemble wall paper or some sort of surface coating more than anything else, but they will still convey text, video and images, just like an old-fashioned television set.  Fourth, the increased vividness of the color in the new OLED televisions will be a factor that influences some consumers.
My take on the situation is that Samsung and LG are smart to make an effort to stay on the leading edge of the innovation curve when it comes to display technology.  Whether OLED or some other future technology, the initial production costs may be high, but they will decrease over time, as with all digital technologies.  Readers of this blog will also know that I don't jump on the bandwagon for every new television technology that comes along (see, for example, my 2011 post on 3D television).  However, I believe that OLED television is going to be the preferred technology all around the world, until something better comes along.  The corollary is that South Korean companies are likely to maintain their dominant role in the television industry for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My new book-- free download from June 15-19, 2012

Those of you who have a professional or other strong interest in either Korea or the role of ICT in development or both may want to read my book, Telecommunications and Transformation in Korea:  A Personal Perspective.  For that reason, I'm implementing Amazon's  free download offer again.
The normal price of this Kindle e-book, which I published back in January of this year, is $9.99, but I've decided to make it available for free download during the five days from June 15 through June 19th (Amazon computes this using Pacific Standard Time).  To download the book, just go to the Amazon website at this link during the five-day time period.
This book is my personal take on some of the remarkable developments in Korean telecommunications over the past four decades.

Debating network neutrality in the world's most networked nation

As readers of this blog will know, (see this 2011 post), the debate over network neutrality was slow to arrive in South Korea.  However, as reported in the local media, including The Korea Times, it is now gaining momentum.  Moreover, the Korea Communications Commission is creating an alliance of mobile carriers and content providers, called the Smart Network Business Association, with the aim of settling differences over network neutrality.  One thing seems certain.  The debate over network neutrality here in South Korea will proceed differently than it has in the U.S. and other western countries, partly because of cultural differences and partly because this nation already possessed the world's most extensive digital networks when data-hungry smart phones and tablets, along with cloud computing, came along.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The next government's approach to ICT policy

When the government of President Lee Myung Bak came to power in 2008, it surprised many people with a reorganization of ministries that included elimination of the powerful Ministry of Information and Communication, which had served as a "control tower," actively coordinating Korea's telecommunications policies.  That reorganization did not sit well with many, both inside and outside the ICT sector.  Now, with a presidential election approaching in December of this year, there is considerable discussion of what the new government will do to coordinate ICT policy.   Earlier this month, the National Information Society Agency hosted a conference on the topic, a summary of which is reported in the Korea IT Times.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

SK Telecom's foray into education--in English

As one who has been following South Korea's ICT sector over the past decade while working in the field of international education, the recent announcement of a partnership between SK Telecom and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt quickly caught my attention.  This alliance involves several of the recurrent themes on this blog -- Korea's need to move from strength in hardware manufacturing and exports into software and content, the role of ICT in transforming education, and the importance of language in shaping how people use the internet and new digital communication networks.
According to a report on Yahoo Finance,"The alliance combines HMH's English-language education content with SKT's T-Smart Learning platform to deliver anytime, anywhere instruction and practice opportunities to students through their mobile devices."  The article goes on to note that "The initial offering will make available education content and materials to Korean primary and secondary school students by October 2012. Going forward, HMH and SK Telecom will continue to develop additional offerings that provide device-based educational materials to students in an array of additional markets including China and India."

Friday, June 1, 2012

Apples and Oranges: Ranking the world's best new universities

Quite predictably, the new Times Higher Education league table ranking the world's 100 best universities that are under 50 years old is getting widespread publicity.  Forbes and other mainstream business press outlets have covered it. The new ranking, which aims to identify the "rising stars" of the global academy is definitely of interest here in South Korea, since the number one school on the list is Pohang University of Science and Technology, or POSTECH.  KAIST, where I currently teach, managed to rank only fifth on the new list, even though most Koreans, including those knowledgeable about higher education, would chuckle at the very notion that POSTECH might outrank KAIST.
The comparison of KAIST with POSTECH is in some respects like comparing apples and oranges.  KAIST was founded under President Park Chung Hee and a committee of experts led by Stanford professor Frederick Terman wrote the original plan for its establishment, in 1971.  POSTECH is only 26 years old and was founded with substantial financial support from POSCO, a major Korean steel company located in Pohang. POSCO’s then-CEO, the late Tae-Joon Park, modeled it after the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, with an emphasis on science and engineering.
Although both KAIST and POSTECH drew upon the experience of elite California institutions in their formative years, the similarity in some ways ends there.  For example, in terms of size and scope of activity, KAIST is a huge, sprawling institution compared with POSTECH.  As noted in a Korea Joongang Daily article about the new rankings,Postech’s “selection and concentration” strategy was a crucial reason for its number one ranking. “Its resources are focused on a small number of research fields, and its intimate environment facilitates a highly personalized, hands-on, research-led experience for students,” said Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education Rankings, noting that the 26-year-old university has 270 faculty members and admits only 320 undergraduates every year.  Those of you who choose to look further into the quantitative basis of the rankings will find that POSTECH ranked extremely high in terms of the measures of academic citations that were used.
In conclusion, please don't interpret this post as "sour grapes" on my part since I'm currently on the faculty at KAIST.  Both of these Korean institutions richly deserve inclusion on the new rankings.  At the same time, the publicity surrounding this newest international ranking of schools should alert us to the pitfalls in any ranking system and the difficulty of comparing apples to oranges.