Friday, November 29, 2013

Korea's global ICT diplomacy: Standards and interoperability

Anticipation is already building for the 2014 ITU Plenipotentiary Conference that Korea will host in Busan from October 20-November 7 of next year.  The conference resonates strongly with the policy priorities of the Park Geun-hye administration, centered on building a creative economy by leveraging science and technology, including the nation's advanced digital networks.  The administration's emphasis on digital convergence involves all major industries and sectors of the economy and society. In the international arena, this nation is redoubling its efforts to assist developing countries in the use of ICT for development and is also seeking to play a stronger leadership role in the global development of digital networks.
As reported in the Korea IT Times, the 2014 Plenipotentiary conference will cover a wide range of issues. These include, among others "1. coordination of international telecommunications rules 2. decisions on space asset registration systems, designed to fast-track the use of space assets and the provision of financial resources needed for acquired space assets 3. ICT’s convergence with other industries (an agenda item to be presented by host South Korea) 4. the Internet of Things (or IoT), the attention-grabbing technology viewed as the key to the future of the mobile ecosystem 5. the need for stepped-up international cooperation in the protection of major information communications infrastructures." In addition, at next year's meeting a Korean candidate, Lee Chae-sub, is in the running for one of the ITU's top leadership positions, a four-year term as director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T). Lee, who is currently working as a researcher at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, the nation’s top tech school, has also been serving as the chairman of ITU-T SG 13, a study group linked to the U.N. agency, since 2009. In this era of increasingly dense digital networking all around the world, much of it mobile, standardization has taken on added significance.
The Korea Herald quoted Lee as saying "Korea is now in a position to lead the world’s ICT industry. It is not a follower anymore." He added that "In order to achieve the goal of narrowing the digital divide between advanced nations and less-developed ones, Lee said that collaboration is necessary between mobile makers and ICT firms such as Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, Apple and Google in enhancing interoperability. Even though it is important to feature unique technology with each new device, companies should abstain from distancing themselves from other players by focusing on developing exclusive technology, he said, and a higher priority should be given to interoperability. Interoperability among devices is critical, and even more so in less-developed and developing nations, where incompatible technologies among devices and networks could impair efficiency and effectiveness.
There is perhaps some irony in Korea's position on interoperability and standards in advance of ITU 2014 if one considers the role that its own WIPI (Wireless Interoperability Protocol for the Internet) standard played in preventing the Apple iPhone from entering the Korean market for over two years after its introduction in the U.S. in 2007.  In other words, international standards and interoperability are needed, but major countries and companies may not always agree on which ones should be adopted.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Korea's borders in a borderless world

As Manuel Castells argues , "The network society is a global society because networks have no boundaries." While that may apply in cyberspace, the question of boundaries or borders in real, physical space is another matter. An article in today's Joongang Daily describes the outcry as China announced a new air defense zone. From Korea's perspective, the problem is that it's northeastern boundary overlaps with the Korean island of Ieodo, as shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full size versions). The article noted that "Seoul and Beijing have disputed the sovereignty of Ieodo, also known as Socotra Rock, a group of underwater reefs located 149 kilometers (92 miles) southwest of Korea’s southernmost Mara Island in the Yellow Sea. Effectively controlled by Korea, Ieodo is located 287 kilometers from China’s eastern Yushan Island in Zhejiang Province. “We regret that China’s Air Defense Identification Zone overlaps with ours,” said Kim Min-seok, the spokesman of the Defense Ministry, “and we will negotiate with the Chinese so that this measure does not impact our sovereignty.” According to the Joongang Daily article, "Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang responded at a briefing yesterday saying that he hopes China and Korea, as “friendly, neighboring countries, can solve the issue through dialogue and communication, and keep peace and security.” Qin added: “Ieodo is a rock submerged under water and so it is not considered disputed territory.”"

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mainstream press and academic attention to China, Korea and Japan

I'm working on a paper with a Korean colleague for the annual conference of the Pacific Telecommunications Council next January in Honolulu and was just making a point about the limitations of much Western scholarship when it comes to an in-depth analysis of Korea.  Quite simply, my hypothesis is that scholarly literature, like the mainstream press, carries so much more information about China and Japan, that it becomes easy for researchers to conflate characteristics of those countries with Korea.   This results in egregious errors, like the one in the ITU’s otherwise excellent Broadband Korea: Internet Case Study report, published in 2003 and widely disseminated via the internet. It suggested that the Korean alphabet, Hangul, weighed against ICT development because it was pictographic and not easily suited to computerization. In fact, the opposite is true as Hangul is nearly perfectly phonetic and an important factor that accelerated computerization in Korea.
Google Trends provides a measure of search activity worldwide which presumably correlates highly with mainstream press attention.  So I decided to test my hypothesis using this tool, and it resulted in the above line graph.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The internet era military-industrial complex

I show students in my undergraduate class at KAIST an excerpt from U.S. President Eisenhower's famous farewell speech from the White House oval office in which he warned Americans about the dangers of an overly large military industrial complex.   An article in the Joongang Daily today reminded me of the contemporary relevance of Eisenhower's admonition.  Entitled "Battling for IT-military market share," it provides an interesting glimpse into South Korea's prospects for a share of the growing defense-IT convergence market.
As noted in the article,"Tanks, missile launchers and jet fighters overpowered the latest Samsung Galaxy smartphones and tablet PCs during the biennial Seoul International Aerospace and Defense exhibition late last month at Kintex, Gyeonggi. But in the not-too-distant future, such diminutive consumer electronic devices may pack more military might than all that massive hardware, and Korea’s high-tech top guns are aiming for a share of the profits in a growing international defense-IT convergence market estimated at $160 billion in 2012 and projected to be $432 billion by 2017, according to a Korea Evaluation Institute of Industrial Technology study last year."
The article also contained a bar chart that graphically shows how dominant the U.S. is in the international defense market. (click to see a full size version).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Transportation and ICT in the Seoul national capital area (수도권)

The national capital area (called sudogwon in Korean) that stretches in all directions from Seoul and includes the administrative districts of Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, is the third largest urban area in the world, behind Tokyo-Yokohama in Japan and Jakarta (Jabotabek).  According to the 9th annual Demographia World Urban Areas survey “An urban area (urbanized area agglomeration or urban centre) is a continuously built up land mass of urban development that is within a labor market (metropolitan area or metropolitan region). An urban area is best thought of as the “urban footprint” --- the lighted area that can be observed from an airplane (or satellite) on a clear night.”  That makes the accompanying satellite photos very interesting. (click to see a full size version of the graphic)  They were part of a study by Brown University researchers that empirically showed how light seen from outer space could reliably serve as a proxy measure for socioeconomic development.
I've been working with a prominent Korean colleague on a paper that addresses the changing roles of citizens, corporations and government in Korea's "smart cities."   Partly for that reason, an article in today's Korea Herald caught my eye.  It is entitled "Subway mirrors urban and national growth."
Included with the article was a graphic with some very interesting data compiled by the Seoul Metropolitan Infrastructure Headquarters. (click on the graphic to see a full size version)  The data show that indeed, the subway system expanded in parallel with Korea's economic growth.  It is currently the third largest urban subway system in the world in terms of number of passengers served, and fourth largest in terms of the number of subway stations.
The Korea Herald article does not contain any ranking for mobile digital network services in the different subway systems.  However, I'm sure that such a comparison would clearly show that the national capital area subway system around Seoul is the "smartest in the world." (see my earlier post on Seoul's cyber subways here).

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Changing smartphone preferences in North Korea

Radio Free Asia just published a report that provides a fascinating glimpse into growth of mobile communications usage in North Korea, specifically focusing on smartphones.  Although anecdotal, I believe the information contributes to my argument, in earlier posts (e.g. here), about the "digital dilemma" facing North Korea's government.  The report, entitled "North Korean traders scramble for smartphones from the south," included some interesting details, including the following excerpt.
"The traders seek South Korean smartphones such as Samsungs and LGs, which cost double the price of similar Chinese-made models, so that they can type and text in Korean and because they believe the devices provide better quality reception, the sources in North Korea said. Chinese cell phones smuggled into North Korea, which operates a restricted domestic cell phone network that does not allow international calls, have long underpinned a thriving illicit border trade between the two countries. The foreign phones are banned by Pyongyang, but North Koreans use them covertly to connect to Chinese reception towers near the border and organize deliveries and payment for goods. Now, preferences for phones made by globally popular South Korean electronics giants such as Samsung and LG indicate the traders’ taste in cell phones is becoming more sophisticated."
Even at double the cost, the South Korean-made smartphones are attractive.  The article went on to note that "Chinese dealers often provide cell phones for the North Korean traders they work with to facilitate their operations. One Chinese dealer surnamed Liu said the five North Korean traders working under him were pestering him to replace their Chinese-brand phones with Samsungs or LGs."
Furthermore,"Since August, North Korea has had its own smartphone, the AS1201 Arirang, which works in the Korean language, according to announcements in state media. But the state-produced device is made for use on the domestic network Koryolink, which does not allow international calls or access to mobile Internet."

Korea's National Information Society Agency signs MOU with Open Data Institute

As reported by Asia Pacific FutureGov, Korea's National Information Society Agency has signed an MOU with the Open Data Institute, a NGO based in Britain.  The MOU seeks to promote cooperative initiatives in the area of open data, including the following:

  • Sharing open data best practice, including policy, laws and regulations, case studies, technology, standards, and big data
  • Development of training programmes 
  • Joint projects in the field of open data 
  • Support for open data driven businesses including start-ups 
  • Development of open data related technology 
  • Open data workshops, exhibitions, and other events 
  • Cooperation in international organisations including the Open Government Partnership
This seems like a good partnership as the NIA has been the lead government agency for South Korea's e-government initiatives, a field in which this nation is a recognized world leader.  Open data, big data and data visualization are at the heart of efforts to develop smart cities and smart government at all levels.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Korea's ICT exports hit a new monthly high

As reported in the Joongang Daily, South Korea's ICT exports in October topped $16 billion for the first time in history. The article noted that "The country sold $2.9 billion worth of mobile phones last month, 30.5 percent more than in September, and $730 million in digital televisions, up 33.3 percent. Exports of semiconductors stood at $5.3 billion and printed circuit boards at $2.7 billion each. Lithium-ion batteries contributed to the growth with $440 million in exports."
It also reported that "The global market share of Korean mobile phones was 39.9 percent. Semiconductor exports increased for the 13th straight month on surging demand for memory chips. As demand for memory chips jumped due to increased use of smartphones, exports of the products soared 43 percent to $2.3 billion last month."

Sunday, November 10, 2013

South Korea's "Microsoft Monoculture" and internet security embarrassment

I have been posting since 2009 about the problems of South Korea's over-reliance on Microsoft software and in particular its legally mandated use of Active-X for online banking and financial transactions.  See this post from 2009.   Better yet, use the search box at the right and search this blog for "Active X"  You'll quickly get the picture.
The story has begun to attract informed attention and analysis from the international press.  If you doubt this, I recommend you read the November 5, 2013 article in The Washington Post by Chico Harlan.
This matter has now become a major embarrassment to the government of South Korea, which rightly prides itself on its world-leading digital networks, e-government and many other aspects of the information society it continues to build.  However, when it comes to online banking or other secure transactions, its reliance on a completely outdated law is simply another symptom of the nation's relative weakness in software versus hardware for the information age!
Comments on the situation and what Korea might do to remedy it are welcome.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A river of haze from China descends on Korea and Japan

The Chosun Ilbo English edition this morning ran a column entitled "Pollution from China is an International Problem."  I'll say, just take a look at the accompanying photo by NASA's Aqua satellite, taken in early March of this year. (click to see a full size version)  It shows a river of haze blowing across eastern China, Korea and Japan.  Photographs like this deserve to be given much wider circulation, so I'm doing my small part via this blog.
There are a number of global problems to be faced these days given the global scale of manufacturing, trade, and urbanization, but the air pollution problem in China is literally deadly.  The news reports from Harbin earlier this fall underscored the severity of the problem.   It is one that all the nations of Northeast Asia need to tackle soon, starting with the major sources of the fine particle pollutants that are so harmful--China.