Monday, December 23, 2013

Korean Patterns of mobile internet use

A short article in the Korea IT Times headlined "Koreans access mobile internet for about one and a half hour a day" caught my eye and led me to the original Korean language report (2013년 모바일인터넷이용실태조사, 2013 Survey on the Status of Mobile Internet Usage) on a new survey by the Korea Internet and Security Agency (KISA).  The report contains some interesting detail on recent trends, with implications for the shape of future networks.
Among the interesting findings of the survey are that users on average access the mobile internet 12.3 times per day and that 95.5 percent of users employ a smartphone to access the internet.  The small minority of people (4.2%) who still use 3G feature phones only access the mobile internet 3.5 times per day, and users of smart tablets access it only 3.3 times a day on average.  The dominant trend is toward usage of smartphones.
The data on locations where people most often use the mobile internet is summarized in the bar graph above (click to see a full size version of the graphic The translations from Korean of the title and bar labels are my own.)  While the most common location for using the mobile internet is the home, the chart underscores the highly mobile nature of Korean society today.  Communication while "on the move" in buses, trains, subways or cars ranks second, followed by parks and outdoor locations, then coffee shops, restaurants and shopping malls.  Incidentally, Seoul now has the highest density of coffee shops in the world, a trend that started with Starbucks entry into the local market in 1999.
Although usage of LTE is rapidly increasing, the single most common method of accessing the mobile internet in South Korea today is by a WiFi (referred to in the survey as Wireless LAN) connection, as shown in the second graphic.  Nearly three quarters of all respondents in the nationwide survey reported using WiFi.  WiBRO, the mobile WiMax standard developed by Korea and launched here before LTE became commercially available, is still being used, but constitutes a small percentage of overall usage. A breakdown WiFi users in the survey (click to see a full size version) shows that it is an extremely important means of access, led by home usage and use while traveling or commuting.

Not surprisingly, the survey also shows that people in the younger demographic groups make the heaviest use of mobile internet.  Overall the top three reasons (each cited by more than 90% or respondents) for using the mobile internet are 1) to obtain data or information including search, 2) for communication including instant messaging and 3) for leisure including music, television programs and games.  When it comes to television, of course, most smartphones in Korea are equipped to receive digital multimedia broadcasting which is advertiser-supported and free to the user.
Too conclude this data-packed post, I offer another chart, compiled from a recent Korean language report (무선테이터 트래픽 월별 통계, Mobile Data Traffic Monthly Statistics) published by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning. (NOTE:  these data only measure WiFi traffic through the networks of the major mobile service providers and do not include home WiFi use).  It shows the exponential increase in data traffic currently underway with the spread of LTE service (the green line). Note that WiFi service by the three main mobile service providers, although at much lower levels of data, is also on the increase, while data flowing over the older, 3G networks is steadily decreasing.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

What do North Korea and the Samsung Galaxy S4 have in common?

Google's Zeitgeist 2013 report is out, showing that Nelson Mandela was the top trending search globally.  Here in Korea, the report is getting press attention because both "Samsung Galaxy S4" and "North Korea" appeared among the top ten trending search items worldwide during the year.
What makes this so interesting?  One year ago this month, I did a post entitled "Visualizing Korea's National Image," which compared searches for "Korea" and "North Korea" with those for "Samsung" and "LG."  That post contains two embedded line graphs from Google Trends and is worth re-reading since it bears on the current situation.  The embedded graphs have automatically been updated by Google through late 2013.  (see other posts on national image here)
In light of South Korea's great concern with its national image, especially during the Lee Myung-bak administration which established the Presidential Council on Nation Branding, global search activity this year underscores two powerful realities.  One is that military actions or other provocations by North Korea will attract international interest and attention regardless of what the South Korean government may do.  The other is that South Korea's leading companies, led by Samsung, do not emphasize in their marketing communications that they are based in Korea.  In fact, there is considerable evidence that, all around the world, a significant proportion of consumers are unaware that Samsung is a South Korean company.  Last year, for example, consumers in China staged a demonstration at a Samsung outlet, thinking erroneously that it was a Japanese company.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Google maps and Korea's urgent need to update internet regulations

The current South Korean regulations that make it impossible for smartphone users to utilize all the features of Google Maps in South Korea were written for an earlier, industrial era and may even be a product of the long Cold War.  While the Cold War came to an end around most of the world, it tragically lingers here on the Korean peninsula in the form of national division and the continuing military confrontation at the DMZ.  However, thanks to the digital information revolution, smart phone users from all over the world are rapidly adopting a variety of mobile, cloud-based services, one of which is Google maps.   In a pioneering effort that sheds valuable light on a country little known to the outside world, Google has even published a crowd-sourced map of North Korea. As Jayanth Mysore,Senior Product Manager for Google Map Maker wrote on the Google Maps blog "The goal of Google Maps is to provide people with the most comprehensive, accurate, and easy-to-use modern map of the world." A community of citizen cartographers built the map of North Korea over a few years and it was published in January 2013.
Ironically, citizens of South Korea, despite having access to the world's fastest and most advanced mobile communication networks, cannot utilize the advanced features of Google Maps to get around, find places and otherwise utilize location based services.  Why?   As reported by The New York Times in October, "Travelers who want to go from Gimpo International Airport to the Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul cannot rely on Google Maps. Google Maps can provide directions only for public transport, not for driving, to any place in Korea. Anyone crazy enough to try the journey on bicycle or on foot, directions for which Google Maps provides elsewhere, will be similarly stymied." The article further notes that "South Korean security restrictions that were put in place after the Korean War limit Google’s maps, the company says. The export of map data is barred, ostensibly to prevent it from falling into the hands of South Korea’s foe to the north, across the world’s most heavily fortified border. Google and other foreign Internet companies say the rule also prevents them from providing online mapping services, like navigation, that travelers have come to rely on in much of the rest of the world."
Earlier this year the Park Geun-hye administration announced plans to ease some of the internet regulations that affect Google Maps and other online mapping initiatives.  However, according to a recent report in The Korea Times, that is moving along slowly.
What lawmakers and policymakers in South Korea need to realize is how much harm is already and prospectively done to its economy by the use of regulations that, while well suited to an earlier era, appear anachronistic today.  In less than two months, the Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi and they are being billed as the first "bring your own device" Olympics, with an unprecedented investment in mobile communications infrastructure.   At the closing ceremony of the Sochi Olympics the torch will be handed over to representatives of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics and over the ensuing four years world attention will increasingly be focused on South Korea as the host.  The number of international visitors to Korea will increase as the 2018 Games approach, and most of these people will be carrying smart phones with the expectation that the most advanced features of those phones, to which they've become accustomed, will work.  The time to update internet regulations to avoid embarrassment is now.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Korea's ICT-led development: some persuasive evidence

The Korea Herald published an infographic yesterday that represents South Korea's trade balance in ICT and non-ICT industries over the past fourteen years. (click on the image to see a full size version of the graphic)  The trade data provide empirical support for the idea that the ICT sector is the engine driving this nation's remarkable socio-economic development in recent decades.  The role of that sector looms even larger when one considers that information and communication technologies are what economists refer to as general purpose technologies (GPT), whose impact is felt in all sectors of the economy and society.  These technologies also enable the pervasive processes of digital convergence that have made ICT an important component of innovation and productivity in all industries.
Whether intentional or not, the choice of an Apple to represent South Korea's ICT strength is interesting as it may trigger various associations, including those with the company of that name.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Smartphone use in Korea now exceeds use of desktop PCs

An article in today's Joongang Ilbo announces that "Your smartphone eats up more time than PC."  As reported in the article," The Korea Information Society Development Institute said in a report that Koreans spent an average of 66 minutes a day using their smartphones last year, up 43 percent from a year earlier. The amount of time spent on desktop PCs was 61 minutes; the first time smartphones overtook PCs in daily usage in Korea."
The KISDI report was based on a survey of about 10,000 people nationwide by Korea Media Panel Research.   It also noted that "Users spent most of the time on their smartphone making or receiving phone calls, but that portion dropped from 44.2 percent in 2012 to 34.7 percent this year. The second-largest amount of time was spent on text messaging and messenger services, with its percentage nearly doubling to 26.2 percent from 14.8 percent in 2012. Due to the popularity of messenger services like KakaoTalk, text messaging through telecommunications providers plummeted from 19.7 percent to 7.3 percent. The time spent on playing games rose sharply from 2.9 percent to 7.6 percent, while online searches jumped from 4.3 percent to 7.3 percent."

Monday, December 9, 2013

The New Yorker on Korea's digital culture

In its November 25, 2013 edition, The New Yorker published a Letter from Seoul, entitled "The Love App:  Romance in the world's most wired city."  The article was written by Lauren Collins, a staff writer for the magazine, who visited Seoul last August during her research for the article.  I was fortunate to have an opportunity to meet with her during the visit. Those of you with access to the magazine via subscription or through your library may want to read this one as it provides interesting detail on the continually and rapidly evolving digital culture here in South Korea.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Korea's lead ICT exports: Networks, chips, displays and mobile devices

In Digital Development in Korea:  Building an Information Society, my book with Dr. Oh, Myung, we describe the rather desperate circumstances Korea found itself in back in 1980.  The political situation, the economy and a continuing malaise in the nation's electronics sector were all big problems.  In the midst of those circumstances, a new group of young technocrats, led by the Stanford-trained economist Kim Jae Ik chief economic secretary to the President in the Blue House, made four key policy choices. They involved electronic switching, the semiconductor industry, the start of color television broadcasting and the separation of the telecommunications business from the Ministry of Communications which allowed, among other things, the private sale of telephone handsets.
Several news reports about Korea's ICT sector today underscore just how farsighted those 1980-81 policy decisions were.  Historically and technologically they led directly to South Korea's dominant position today as a manufacturer and exporter of networks, chips,displays and mobile devices.
Based on data from the Korea International Trade Association, The Korea Herald published an "Export outlook by industry" infographic (click to see a full-size version)that projects semiconductors will be Korea's leading export next year, while displays and wireless communication devices are also expected to continue as major export categories.
As reported in The Joongang Daily,"Nearly half the mobile dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chips shipped in the world are made by Samsung."  As shown in the accompanying graphic, Samsung and SK Hynix together account for nearly three quarters of all the mobile DRAM chips shipped worldwide.  The article contained some other interesting detail. "Samsung started mass production of 3GB mobile DRAM chips in July, the first company to do so. Many of the smartphones sold this year use 2GB mobile DRAMs. IHS iSuppli predicted that the global mobile DRAM market will be $9.97 billion this year, up 42 percent from last year, and that it will grow 53 percent next year to $15.3 billion. The demand for mobile DRAMs is expected to surpass that for DRAMs for PCs as soon as next year."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Korea and the U.S. Hold Inaugural ICT Sector Discussions

Although they went unnoticed by most of the mainstream press South Korea and the United States held a long-overdue round of high-profile talks in November in Washington, D.C. aimed at promoting bilateral cooperation in the ICT sector. As reported by Yonhap News, "The ICT Policy Forum is a fruit of summit talks between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington in May."
In a joint statement released by the U.S. State Department, the two sides said "ROK (South Korea) and U.S. government and industry representatives held extensive deliberations and reached a broad consensus on a range of policy and regulatory issues, including cooperation on the creative economy, collaboration on ICT policy that promotes innovation and fosters the global and open nature of the Internet, cyber security, and joint responses to international policy discussions."
South Korea was represented by Vice Minister Yoon Jong-lok at the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP). His American counterpart was Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda, coordinator for international communications and information policy at the State Department. In a speech at the Heritage Foundation that preceded the forum, Yoon emphasized that digital cooperation will play a pivotal role in the Seoul-Washington alliance in the coming decades. That portion of his speech is in the accompanying video.
I believe Vice Minister Yoon's observation about the future of the U.S. Korea alliance is correct.   I also think that it suggests the clear need to broaden the ICT-sector policy discussions between the U.S. and Korea to include corporate, public/NGO and academic stakeholders along with the two governments and their respective agencies. The creation of a more broadly based civic and corporate network can only enhance the bilateral government links.  It also just makes sense to leverage the possibilities for policy collaboration that are inherent in the increasingly powerful and pervasive digital networks.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

LTE users now in the mobile majority

It is now official.  More than half of all South Korea's mobile phone users now subscribe to LTE services.   This was not surprising as South Korea has led the world in the rate of LTE adoption, as shown by the accompanying graphic.
As reported by The Joongang Daily, "The growth of the LTE service comes with the decline of 3G, the previous standard for wireless communications. According to the ministry, 3G subscribers accounted for 48.6 percent of mobile phone users in Korea in January, the first time they went below 50 percent. In October, 3G subscribers numbered only 19.73 million, or 36.3 percent of mobile phone users. As for the slower 2G service, SK Telecom had only 4.04 million subscribers and LG U+ 4.03 million subscribers in October. KT ended 2G service in January."

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Do Koreans enjoy Internet freedom?

The headline of a recent article in The Korea Times says it all by posing the question, "Do Koreans enjoy Internet freedom."  For several reasons, the answer appears to be "partly."  For example, the most recent report by Freedom House, Freedom on the Net 2013 ranked the internet in South Korea as only "partly free," mainly because of the blocking of certain political or social content.  The report noted that political tensions with North Korea are a significant motivation for online restrictions.  It also reported that the Constitutional court in August of 2012 declared that section 44(5) of the Information and Communications Network Act which required users to verify their real names before posting comments on major domestic websites was unconstitutional.  However, other laws mandating real-name registration in specific circumstances remained in place.  Censorship of the internet in South Korea is carried out by the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC), which was established in 208 to maintain ethical standards in broadcasting and internet communications.  As reported by Freedom House, "A team of 20 to 30 monitoring officers flag possible offenses, including obscenity, defamation, and threats to national security."
In general, the findings of the latest Freedom House report on internet filtering in South Korea mirror those of The Open Net Initiative.
There is more in The Korea Times report, including the continued widespread requirement that Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Active-X be used for banking and financial transactions.

Monday, December 2, 2013

ICT Deregulation in Korea?

One of the profound ironies of Korea's nascent information society is that it possesses the world's most advanced digital network infrastructure, but at the same time maintains outdated laws and regulations that seek to restrict public use of that infrastructure.  As pointed out in an article published today by Business Korea, this poses a serious problem for the Park Geun-hye administration in its efforts to promote a creative economy.  More specifically, the government's outdated regulatory policies have resulted in what the article calls "reverse discrimination" against local firms.
The second paragraph of the article reads as follows.
"The purpose of the first Internet industry deregulation plan is to get rid of restrictions that cause reverse discrimination or shrinkage in industrial activities and address the flaws of the government’s current regulations such as the Real-name Internet System and the Recommendation for Internet Search Improvement. The Real-name Internet System, put in force back in April 2009, has resulted in a collapse of local video websites while anonymity-based YouTube increased its market share in Korea from 2% to 70% during the same period."
The real-name system is only one of several major internet regulatory laws that seem to work at cross purposes with the current government's overall policy.  More on this topic in future posts.