Wednesday, December 31, 2014

China a bigger threat to Korea's ICT industries than Japan

Koreans have a proverb that says, "when whales fight the shrimp's back gets broken."  Of course, it refers to the location of the Korean peninsula, sandwiched between two larger countries and economies.
At least in the ICT sector, the Japanese "whale" has become much less of a threat to Korea, as pointed out in a post on the Barron's Asia blog entitled "In technology, China is a bigger threat to Korea than Japan is."  The post draws heavily on the analysis of Nomura Securities strategist Michael Na, who notes "We think the level of Korean tech players’ direct competition vs Japanese players has declined significantly, as opposed to in the past. This is mainly because many Japanese tech companies have exited from those IT products (ie, TV/display, smartphones, DRAM) in which Korean players have a competitive edge, or have seen their market positions deteriorate substantially. The market circumstances have changed such that Japanese players now primarily supply IT components, materials, and equipment to Korean tech players." Furthermore, Na observes that "We see a much higher degree of direct competition between Korean and Chinese companies. Chinese tech firms have already experienced significant growth, especially in set products (ie, TV, smartphones), by taking advantage of: 1) large-scale domestic demand in China; and 2) the fact that Chinese players are not regulated for IP (intellectual patent) issues."
In this situation, Korea finds itself struggling to "inch up the value chain," as the Barron's post puts it. Put otherwise, the big hurdle or challenge facing Korea is to shift its emphasis away from hardware manufacturing and exports and toward software, content and services.  This challenge is also at the heart of the creative economy initiative in Korea and involves the shift from a domestic to a global mindset.  I'm thinking that we'll see interesting progress toward meeting this challenge in 2015!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Korea's investment in education

My research with Korean colleagues documents the manner in which this nation rose from the ashes of the Korean war and, beginning around 1980, harnessed the digital network revolution for national socioeconomic development.  However, it did not accomplish such remarkably rapid development on the strength of technology alone.   The number one success factor for Korea was its dedication to and investment in education.  There are many indicators of that sustained commitment to education, but today one of the most important is research and development.
South Korea now leads the world in R&D intensity, a measure of gross investment in R&D as a percentage of gross national product.  As shown in the accompanying chart (click to see a full-size version) from the OECD, this nation's rise began shortly after the turn of the millenium.  My point is simply that this sort of government-led planning has paid dividends for Korea in the past.   If overall levels of investment in R&D produce the expected results, then the outlook for this nation in 2015 and beyond looks bright.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

ICT-led development and how "Lessons for Korea are lessons for the world"

This blog began in 2007 as a sort of electronic scrapbook for saving materials and thoughts relating to South Korea's remarkable ICT-led development.  Over the past seven years, I've made few changes in the format of the blog, but this year it was time for a change, starting with the new banner featuring a background photograph of the Central Park neighborhood in Songdo.  Several things inspired this change.
First, in June of 2014 I moved from my position at KAIST in Daejon to join the faculty of the Department of Technology and Society at SUNY Korea and Stony Brook University.   Among other things, the move allows me to focus on my longstanding research and teaching interest in the role of communication in socioeconomic development.
Second, I was struck by the remarkable address delivered at a symposium in Seoul on November 4 by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.   Addressing the topic of "Human Capital in the 21st Century," President Kim said that "Taking on new challenges, solving problems creatively, and working across different backgrounds and cultures, will be important tasks for the vast majority of human beings in the 21st century. The increasingly global, technological and services-based nature of the economic interactions of high- and middle-income countries makes these attributes essential to the success of creative and innovative economies. Based on what I have seen and experienced over my career, people can do this best when equipped with both cognitive and non-cognitive skills." He went on to suggest that "Cognitive ability, as measured by IQ, is one of the principal determinants of a student’s academic success. How a student scores on a test that measures verbal and mathematical abilities tends to correlate strongly to the student’s ultimate level of academic achievement and a country’s economic growth. Because of these expectations, educational systems place great emphasis on developing IQ-related skills in students. For the same reasons, when we compare the quality of national educational systems, we do so based on their ability to produce students who generate the best outcomes on standardized tests of these skills. And countries invest billions of dollars into educational systems with the aim of improving these scores. But research also shows that personality traits have a positive impact on academic performance and work place outcomes, because they affect the efficiency of people’s development and use of their intelligence. For example, the personality trait of “conscientiousness,” which academic literature associates with being organized and dependable, and exercising self-control, has been shown consistently to predict achievement in school and professional life." A bit later President Kim noted that " Conscientiousness is closely related to a non-cognitive skill some scholars have called “grit,” which is defined as “the tendency to pursue long-term goals with sustained zeal and hard work.” " All in all, it was a remarkable speech in which the World Bank President wove in his personal experiences and acculturation in both Korea and the United States. I recommend reading the entire transcript here.  A core message of his speech, as indicated in the headline of one of the World Bank's subsequent news releases, was that "Lessons for Korea are lessons for the world." I would only emphasize that these lessons include this nation's successes as well as failures.
Finally, whenever I see photographs of Songdo, such as the one used in the new banner above, I am reminded that Professor B.J. Fogg of Stanford University some years ago referred to Songdo as a "giant petri dish" and noted that Koreans would know what works and what doesn't in advance of people in other parts of the world.  In 2015 and beyond this blog will continue to explore such matters from a most interesting and engaging vantage point, in a growing global campus within a smart new city in the Incheon Free Economic Zone.  Stay tuned.

Friday, December 12, 2014

SK Telecom launches portable air quality sensor

The announcement that SK Telecom has launched a portable air quality monitoring device with an associated smart phone app caught my eye this morning.  According to Koreabizwire, "Designed to enhance people’s health and well-being, Air Cube monitors the air quality of the surrounding environment to determine if the conditions are just right for users. Air Cube comes in two different models: Air Cube C measures the level of fine dust particles and carbon dioxide, while Air Cube T offers fine dust level and discomfort index (by measuring temperature and humidity). The air quality is measured every 15 seconds and the results are shown in five levels. When the air contamination/pollution reaches or exceeds level four, the device makes an alarm sound to warn users."
Similar devices have been launched in the U.S. and in China, with the latest ones being small wearable devices.  Wired reported recently on a wearable device developed in China and shown in the accompanying graphic (click for full size version).
As noted in the Wired article, "Earlier this year, Beijing’s concentration of PM 2.5 particles—those fine enough to penetrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream—reached 505 micrograms per cubic meter, and the World Health Organization recommends a safe level of 25. Forty percent of global air pollution-related deaths—1.2 million in total—have been linked to PM-2.5 pollution in China, according a 2013 WHO report. This means it’s vitally important that the Chinese keep a close eye on the quality of the air around them. But reliable data can be difficult to come by. Just last week, when several major heads of state met for an important regional summit in Beijing, the government reportedly blocked air pollution data provided by the U.S. Embassy from being displayed on local smartphone apps and websites. clarity-inline2 Screenshot: courtesy Clarity It’s no small problem, and David Lu aims to solve it. Together with seven other students at the University of California, Berkeley, Lu recently created a new kind of air pollution sensor dubbed Clarity. This keychain-sized gadget lets you constantly track your personal exposure to air pollution via a smartphone app. But it’s also a way of crowdsourcing much broader studies on air quality—not only across China but throughout other parts of the world as well."

Semiconductors still top Korea's exports

As reported by The Joongang Daily this morning and shown in the accompanying graphic (click for a full size version), semiconductors continued to be South Korea's top export item in 2014.   About a quarter of a century ago, in 1980, this would have been unthinkable.  At that time, despite efforts by the government of President Park Chung Hee in the late 1970s to boost the industry, this nation could not compete in the global market with the dominant U.S. and Japanese firms.   However, in 1980 and early 1981 a small group of U.S. trained technocrats from government, industry and academia wrote a remarkable document called the "Long term plan to invigorate the electronics sector."  It targeted the semiconductor industry, electronic switching for telecommunications, and computers and outlined a plan that envisioned what today is called the ICT sector.
As noted in The Joongang Daily,"The semiconductor business is now Korea’s top export earner. Through November, the nation’s major semiconductor makers including Samsung and SK pulled in about $56.8 billion in revenues, the largest ever and about 10.9 percent of the nation’s total exports for the period."   Furthermore, it noted that "The semiconductor business, which began in the early 1980s, earned Korea foreign exchanges that were used as seed money to develop advanced electronics industries, including smartphones and wireless communication devices. It was the No. 1 export business for 16 years, from 1992 to 2007, but started fluctuating in 2008 due to the global finance crisis.The reason that the business has thrived through the decades is because Samsung and SK won a series of games of chicken early on with global semiconductor makers, including NEC. Samsung Electronics has led the industry since the 1990s and SK became the world’s No. 2 after it made an average of 3 trillion won in annual investments since 2012. SK posted a record operating profit of 1.3 trillion won in the third quarter of this year. Today, the two Korean semiconductor giants control more than 60 percent of the global market share for all kinds of chips. But Korea can’t rest easy because the Chinese are coming. The Chinese government announced a plan of making more than 350 billion yuan ($56.6 billion) in revenues next year and to raise about 120 billion yuan in investments order to accomplish the goal."

Friday, November 28, 2014

The game industry and Korea's future role in it

Earlier this month The Joongang Daily published an interesting and informative article summarizing some main results from a new study of the game industry in Korea.  As noted in the article, "As of the end of 2013, the global game market was estimated at $117 billion, of which Korea accounted for 6.3 percent or $7.3 billion. It’s the fifth biggest market in the world trailing the United States (19.1 percent), Japan (15.8 percent), China (14.8 percent) and the United Kingdom (7.9 percent). Considering the size of its population, Korea’s game industry is particularly active and robust. Korean game companies have shown exceptional strength and competitiveness in online games compared to video games or PC games. In fact, Korea is the second largest online game market in the world after China with a 21.3 percent market share. Its contribution to the nation’s economy also commands respect. Among the $1.4 billion in content that was exported overseas in the second quarter, games contributed 62.5 percent - more than music and movies combined."
As shown by the accompanying graphic, (click to see a larger version) the strong trend in Korea's game industry, as globally, is toward mobile games.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Open innovation a turning point for R&D collaboration?

In retrospect, as detailed in a report by Business Korea, many plans by large global IT firms to establish R&D centers in Korea turned out to be empty promises.  The article noted that "According to industry sources on Nov. 13, most foreign firms have failed to fulfill their promises to set up R&D centers and make investments in the country. Even if R&D centers were created, they did not play a significant role, ultimately leading to shutdowns after only a few years. Or, they have been merely used as a place to test products." The article went on to note that Huawei's recent announcement of its plan to set up an R&D center in the nation has raised suspicions once again. "Industry analysts are saying that Huawei's announcement can be interpreted as a conciliatory gesture to the Korean government to target the local market, following its recent entry. In the end, the announcement turned out to be merely a possibility that the Chinese Android device maker will consider building an R&D center with the Korean government's support."
On the other hand, as reported by The Joongang Daily "The governments of Korea and France decided to conduct jointly funded R&D projects to develop software and parts for driverless cars, wearable devices and digital medical devices. The projects will start next year with 3 billion won ($2.7 million) from the two countries and 10.3 billion won from the European Commission’s Eureka program fund." The article quoted Hwang Gyu-yeon, assistant minister of industrial creativity and innovation at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy as saying that “Open innovation through international technology cooperation is a must to survive in a time when global technology competition is heated than ever before. So far, the Korea-France relationship was mainly based on Korea’s unilateral importing of advanced technologies,” he added. “But through today’s cooperation, I hope the two countries can benefit from each other’s technological strengths.”
The digital network revolution along with the rise of big data, citizen science and more mobile, ubiquitous networks seems to be pushing government, corporate and public institutions toward more open sharing of data and research aimed at innovation!  It will be difficult, if not impossible to turn back this tide.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Persistent, excessive regulation: mobile payment problems and Active-X

I've repeatedly noted my astonishment that financial and e-commerce institutions in Korea continue to use Microsoft's Active-X controls, years after Microsoft itself issued public warnings about the dangers of using such controls.  Today The Chosun Ilbo carried an article entitled "Apple pay shows up clunky mobile payment in Korea."  The article notes that "Apple Pay is simple to use by placing a finger on the home button after registering the owner's fingerprint and checking out at the register. There are no spending limits.But in Korea, mobile payment is as usual more complicated. With LG Uplus' Paynow service, users have to go through a five-step process to buy a product at an off-line store. They need to install and run the app on their smartphone, enter a password, choose the type of settlement and show the cashier the bar code that appears on the smart device. On the surface, Bank Wallet Kakao by Daum Kakao is as simple as Apple Pay. But the service is prepaid, which would seem to defeat the object, and users need to sign up via a personal computer in advance. The reason is that it requires a security program like ActiveX, a buggy and antiquated Microsoft program that for some reason still holds sway here, to verify users' ID."
As the article goes on to note, the inescapable conclusion is that excessive regulations are responsible for this situation. "The Financial Supervisory Service and Financial Services Commission are worried about security. One program developer said, "Even the most innovative ideas end up getting axed or modified beyond recognition after they go through the FSS's screening process. Financial authorities are virtually blocking fresh endeavors." But an FSS official rejected the blame, "We are trying to minimize security risks in order to prevent illegal use, leakage of personal financial information and identity theft." The official admitted that the FSS checks a whopping 55 criteria."
The accompanying graphic is a screen capture from Microsoft's web site. (click to see a full size version)  Note the advice given in the last sentence on the graphic. "Here's a good rule to follow: If an ActiveX control is not essential to your computer activity, avoid installing it." When will Korea remedy this situation?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Smart students and smart TV

I'm in Seoul to participate in today's Smart TV Global Summit, an annual industry gathering (click on the screen capture of the conference's English web page to see a full size version).  In preparing my presentation for this meeting, I've been thinking about what "smart" really means and how it may be understood in various ways across different cultures.  Coincidentally, today is also the occasion for Korea's annual College Scholastic Ability Test.  In this country, a high score on this exam is a sure indicator that a student is "smart" and can be the ticket to admission to one of the top universities.  As reported by The Korea Times, 640,000 students will take the exam at 1,216 venues. The article goes on to explain that "Tens of thousands of police officers, police vehicles and taxis will be on stand-by near test venues to help students arrive on time. The government also plans to increase the number of subway trains and buses running in the morning.Civil servants and employees of major companies in most cities will be allowed to report to work at 10 a.m., one hour later than usual, in order to relieve traffic congestion.Banks and the stock markets also decided to delay their opening times by an hour, to 10 a.m."
Having lived in Korea continuously since 1996, I was aware of these special arrangements on the day of the CSAT, and also knew that all the major news media devote a great deal of attention to it. However, I was not as cognizant of the commercial bonanza that the annual CSAT offers to retail establishments here. According to The Joongang Ilbo, "Today’s dreaded college entrance exam may be the most important day of the year for students, but it’s the days after the test that matter to retailers.Preparing for the College Scholastic Ability Test throughout high school can be so grueling that parents of 12th graders are willing to spend generously to please their stressed-out children after the test.Plastic surgery clinics, online gaming websites, retail outlets and restaurants are ready to capitalize, launching special offers for test-takers."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Smart phone developments affecting Korea

According to a report in The Chosun Ilbo this morning, wealthy people in North Korea prefer foreign smartphones, as shown in the accompanying screen captures from North Korean Central TV (click to see a full sized version.  The article noted that "High-end Western smartphones are all the rage among women traders in North Korea's thriving open-air markets, a source said Friday. Seventy percent of all cell phones in North Korea are concentrated in Pyongyang, the source said, and North Koreans now prefer imported gadgets to locally manufactured ones. iPhones and Samsung smartphones have become symbols of wealth, with two out of 10 female traders now flaunting imported phones, according to the source."
If such reports are accurate, they would be in line with the global trend toward commoditization of smart phones, which are essentially modular in nature and tend to become cheaper, more powerful and more portable (lighter weight) all the time.  Such changes help to explain why Chinese manufacturers have recently cut into Samsung Electronics share of the global smartphone market.
They also explain why, as reported in The Korea Herald, Samsung is planning to build a second smartphone plant in Vietnam. The article notes that "Samsung Electronics has been approved by the Vietnamese government to invest $3 billion to build a smartphone manufacturing center in the Southeast Asian country, according to the tech giant and local news outlets. The new factory will be built in Thai Nguyen province, north of Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, where the South Korean tech conglomerate has been operating its first smartphone plant in the country since last March. (click on the accompanying graphic for a full sized version) Samsung Electronics invested $2 billion to build the first smartphone factory, which has about 16,000 employees producing and assembling 120 million low-cost phones a year targeting developing markets.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The plunge in Samsung's profits

As reported by The Korea Joongang Daily, Samsung's operating profit plunged during the third quarter of this year, primarily due to decling sales of its smartphones.  The accompanying graphic (click for a full-size version) shows the overall picture.  The article noted that, "According to Samsung yesterday, its IT and mobile communications business performance plunged in the third quarter as its revenue from smartphones shrank 32.8 percent year-on-year and was 13.6 percent less than in the second quarter. Samsung Electronics’ operating profit for its IT and mobile communications business dropped nearly 74 percent year-on-year and also declined 60 percent from the previous quarter."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Perceptions of Samsung's innovativeness

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has released its annual ranking of the world's fifty most innovative companies, based on a survey of more than 1,500 senior executives in a wide range of countries and industries.  In the latest survey, tech and telecom firms led the ratings.  As shown in the accompanying graphic, captured from the BCG's online interactive guide, Apple (the blue line) has led the rankings every year since 2005, and Google (in dark pink/red) has been number two or three every year since 2006.
Although innovation can be a somewhat slippery concept and this is only a survey of executive perceptions of it, what struck me about the study was the pattern shown for Samsung (the bold green line).  The surveys asked about the Samsung group and were not limited to Samsung Electronics.  Nevertheless, the steep drop in its ranking in 2008 coincided with the first full year of worldwide sales of the iPhone, introduced by Apple in 2007.  The iPhone was a disruptive technology that no doubt helped explain Apple's number one rank over the years of this survey.  Also, Samsung's rise in the rankings coincided with its introduction of Android mobile devices, beginning in 2009.  Interesting, if anecdotal, patterns!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Themes of the ITU meeting in Busan: ICT4D and the multistakeholder model of internet governance

As noted in the prior post, Korea's President Park Geun-hye's welcoming address at the ITU Plenipotentiary strongly underscored the theme of ICT for development and South Korea's willingness to contribute toward efforts to remove the digital divide wherever it exists. In an interview with Yonhap News on October 22, Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda, the United States' chief delegate to the ITU meeting stressed the same goal, saying that "The United States hopes to narrow the digital divide around the world to give people the opportunity to create a future for themselves, even those living under authoritarian rule." With reference to the ITU Plenipotentiary, Sepulveda said that "The main goal of the United States government... is to ensure the ITU and its member states focus on bridging the digital divide."  This is in line with a policy statement made by Ambassador Sepulveda at the WTDC-14 ITU conference in Dubai earlier this year and shown in the accompanying ITU video.
Another major theme inevitably forms part of the backdrop for the ongoing ITU discussions in Busan.  It is the question of the current, evolving multistakeholder model of internet governance versus the position taken by some governments that the ITU itself should play a greater role in such governance.  This issue arose sharply at the December 2012 ITU meeting in Dubai, as noted in an earlier post, and in a recent report by Adam Segal for the Council on Foreign Relations.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

ITU Plenipotentiary in Busan (1): President Park Geun-hye's address

Earlier this week, on the opening day of the ITU Plenipotentiary in Busan, I sat in my office at SUNY Korea, here in the Songdo Global University Campus and watched the live internet feed of President Park Geun-hye's address at the opening ceremony.  The video included with this post summarizes a few of the points President Park emphasized, but the full text of her speech, and a video with simultaneous translation are available at this link.   The following excerpts from the ITU's English translation of her speech are also important. She noted that "Telecommunications and ICT has been catalytic in the rapid development of the Internet and mobile communications. This brought about great changes and made it possible to share knowledge in all areas of human lives including politics, economy, society and culture. More recently, with the Internet of Things, interconnectedness, and Big Data analytics are precipitating the convergence of technology and industries. We, thus, have reached an inflection point in the hyper-connected digital revolution – a revolution defined by 'increased connection, smarter connection, and faster connection.'" Later, the President referred to technical and policy challenges, stating that "The rapid growth and diffusion of telecommunications and ICT and the creation of diverse ecosystems will make it necessary to mediate the different interests of multiple parties in order to develop technological standards and international rules that govern order in cyberspace. In order to address this challenge, governments must forge stronger partnerships with the private sector and build a more open and flexible framework for decision-making." Then, with reference to the digital divide, which she referred to as the ICT gap, she said "I propose that the international community commit itself to narrow this global ICT gap so that telecommunications and ICT can serve to improve human rights and welfare for all mankind, irrespective of region, country, gender or class." After noting Korea's low level of telephone penetration in 1980, she suggested that "To lead the hyper-connected digital revolution, Korea plans to build a nation-wide Giga Internet Network by 2017. We also are focusing on technological development and infrastructure upgrade with the aim of being the first country to launch commercial 5th generation mobile communication services in 2020. The high-speed network is the basis for pursuing our Creative Economy strategy, which aims to transform our economic paradigm from being a fast follower to a first mover. The hyper-connected digital revolution is in essence the convergence of and innovation in industry, technology and culture through ICT. The driver of such convergence and innovation is the imagination and creativity of individual people. The Creative Economy is an economy where the imagination and creativity of individuals are fully leveraged to drive convergence and innovation and to create new added value as well as jobs." President Park also stressed that "Korea is ready to share its experience of growth through ICT. I believe Korea's experience in building its broadband network, e-government, and Creative Economy will provide useful references in formulating national ICT policies."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

President Park Geun-hye elaborates on Korean unification at the U.N.

Last month President Park Geun-hye addressed the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.  While addressing a number of regional and international issues, the speech elaborated on her vision for Korean reunification, a frequent topic of this blog over recent years (for example, see these posts).  Her address, as published by UN Web TV, can be viewed below.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Half of chaebol board members from SKY schools or overseas

An infographic published by The Korea Herald caught my eye this morning, headlined "Half of major firm's board members come from SKY, overseas schools."  The text accompanying the graphic noted that "Almost half of the executives at affiliates of the nation’s top 10 companies were found to be graduates of South Korea’s leading three universities or from schools abroad, according to, a website devoted to conglomerate data. Up to 594 ― or 23.9 percent ― of the 2,483 surveyed executives were graduates of Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University, while another 22.6 percent were from overseas universities as of last year." Although anecdotal, this is further evidence that Korea, unlike Japan, embraced study abroad to train many of its leaders and technocrats in recent decades. Indeed, it would be interesting to make a quantitative comparison with Japan on this dimension of corporate leadership.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Echoes of Eisenhower: Feffer and Pastreich on a "farewell to arms" in Northeast Asia

The article published by John Feffer and Emanuel Pastreich in Foreign Policy in Focus, entitled "East Asia:  A Farewell to Arms," makes a strong argument.  It is one that former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and his top advisors would have appreciated.  President Eisenhower's two terms in office were deeply conditioned by Korea.  In the 1952 presidential campaign, he won the presidency in no small part because, as a popular World War II general, he pledged to go to Korea and bring that stalemated and unpopular (in the U.S.) conflict to an end.   In 1961, Eisenhower's farewell speech from the oval office focused on the growing power of what he called the "military industrial complex."  I recommend reading of the article just published in Foreign Policy in Focus, and viewing of President Dwight Eisenhower's remarkably prescient farewell address to the nation. (The video below is from the National Archives)
How does this relate to ICT sector issues?  As Feffer and Pastreich argue, one of the more urgent problems facing Northeast Asia and indeed threatening its future, is climate change.  There is growing awareness all around the world that information and communication technologies will be an important part of the solution to climate change.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Digital migration in messaging apps?

There is a flurry of press coverage in Korea these days about a so-called "digital migration" from Kakao Talk to foreign messenger apps.  As reported by The Korea Times,"Although KakaoTalk is the most popular mobile messenger in the country, a number of Korean users have migrated to foreign mobile messenger services such as Telegram after the prosecution threatened to start real-time monitoring of social media to crack down on libelous rumors shortly after President Park Geun-hye denounced such accusations as baseless."
As reported in The Korea Joongang Daily,"On Sept. 18, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office established a new cyber investigation team, according to the office of New Politics Alliance for Democracy Rep. Chang Byoung-wan, who is also a member of the Science, ICT, Future Planning, Broadcasting and Communications Committee of the National Assembly. The purpose is to prevent cyber defamation and the spread of false information.The idea sparked controversy and it later transpired that the chat records of the deputy head of the left-wing Labor Party, Jeong Jin-u, had been tapped by the authorities using a warrant. That spooked people across Korea. Telegram, which was ranked around 100th on Apple’s App Store in terms of downloads in Korea until last month, was brought up to the top of the list Sept. 24."  The Representative's office released the accompanying graphic (click to see a full size version) showing the increased downloads in Korea of the Germany-based app Telegram.
These developments in Korea mirror similar concern in other countries around the globe as the question of how to balance free flow of information with personal privacy comes to the fore.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Internet speed, fixed and mobile networks in developing nations

Earlier this week while introducing some bright, undergraduate students to the NetIndex explorer on Ookla's website (the subject of this earlier post) I had occasion to ask them the following question.  Why does the big difference between Korea or Japan and many African nations (e.g. Korea 54 Mbps, Tanzania 4.2 Mbps) in average internet download speed matter?  Put otherwise, why is the difference important?  The discussion that followed, along with several alerts that arrived in my e-mail this morning, prompted this post.
The McKinsey Group, using World Bank Data, recently published a blog post and a longer white paper entitled Offline and falling behind:  Barriers to Internet adoption.  The study suggests that there are four categories of consumer-facing barriers to Internet adoption, grouped as 1) incentives, 2)low incomes and affordability, 3)user capacity and 4)infrastructure.  On the important topic of network infrastructure, this is one of the first studies I've seen that explicitly acknowledges the important relationship between fixed and mobile networks.  As shown in an exhibit from the study (click to see a full-sized version of the graphic above) fixed broadband penetration is significantly higher in developed nations than in the developing ones.  Measured by household penetration, South Korea leads the world, and by a considerable margin over my home country, the U.S.A.
Another graph (click for larger version) from the study shows clearly that a majority of people in the world still do not have access to 3G or faster mobile networks that allow efficient access and use of many bandwidth-intensive internet services.  A full 70 percent of the mobile connections in the world's two most populous nations, China and India, are on 2G networks.  Of course, this situation will change as developing nations build faster mobile broadband infrastructures.  However, the problem is actually more complex than that.  Fast mobile broadband networks cannot be built with mobile technologies alone for technical and physical reasons.  The electromagnetic spectrum is a finite physical resource, which contains only a small fraction of the bandwidth provided by fiber optic cable.  Fixed fiber optic networks interconnect with mobile ones and complement them by providing back-haul service.  Indeed, Korea's experience would suggest that developing nations have little choice but to address the longer-term, more expensive project of extending fiber optic networks to the people, alongside their efforts to extend mobile networks.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mobile messaging success in Korea

Forbes published an interesting article about how Brian Kim, the cofounder of Kakao Talk has become one of South Korea's richest billionaires.  The service, which was only launched in 2010, is now used by 93 percent of domestic smartphone users, or nearly 75 percent of the nation's population. As noted in the article, "While Kakao, in Pangyo–south of Seoul–has certainly aimed globally, its greatest success has come at home. It boasts 50 million users who are active monthly, of which three-quarters are Koreans who’ve ditched SMS text messages for the ease of KakaoTalk.
More important, KakaoTalk has evolved into a platform where users can spend time gaming, shopping and social networking. That’s created a highly lucrative technology company in a country that is behind only the U.S. and Japan in total Android-app-store revenue, according to AppAnnie. Overall, Kakao has 158 million registered users, with many of them in Japan, Southeast Asia and the U.S."  Notably, Games such as Anipang, a social puzzle game, and Candy Crush, a Western diversion modified for the KakaoTalk platform, make up 64 percent of the company's revenue.
As illustrated in the accompanying graphic (click for a larger version),Some of Kakaotalk's "...biggest competition comes from his old company, which started its own mobile messenger, Line, a year after KakaoTalk began. Once derided by Kakao fans as a copycat, Line has come nowhere near dethroning Kakao in South Korea, but it has become the dominant messaging service in Japan and has made a wider global impact.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The software challenge: more on robots, games, networks and code

In a recent post I alluded to the convergence of South Korea's robotics industry with its advanced digital networks and the online game industry.  These developments relate directly to the challenge Korea faces to become more competitive in software and content, versus hardware.  As evidence of the nation's need to make this shift, the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning has encouraged corporations to place more emphasis on software.  In response, SK Telecom began a pilot project last year and, as reported by The Korea Bizwire, "... has just announced that it would launch a Smart Robot Coding School, a program for software education by utilizing its smart robots, Albert and Atti. The operator recognized the importance of education in the course of developing smart robots using smartphones as its brain, which made the company come up with its own curriculum including software programming programs for starters, application use for programming, and smart robots operated by the application. The curriculum operated by SK Telecom has 12 steps from the basic stage for beginners to code computer programs by using the application to the advanced level to develop various applied computer programs related to other subjects such as Korean language, music and mathematics." SK Telecom also plans to export the program and its robots to Taiwan through a company there.
A key issue here is whether the program by SK and other similar programs in Korea will succeed in sparking interest among students in the possibility of a career as a software engineer or computer programmer.  These days, interest in those fields seems to be lagging, even though efficient and smoothly running software code underlies all of the broadband and mobile "smart" services that people increasingly depend upon.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Speed matters: check it with Ookla's open data!

As discussed and expressed in many posts on this blog over the years (see a selection here), speed matters.  Over the past decade or so, I've had more than a few encounters with visitors from the U.S. or Europe who expressed surprise when told that South Korea had the fastest broadband networks of any comparable country in the world.  Some of them thought that Japan had faster networks.  Just within the past year, such a view was even offered in a peer review of a scholarly publication I had co-authored!
Now, thanks to the folks at Ookla, any debate about which country or city, for that matter, has the fastest internet connections can be quickly answered by using their NetIndex Explorer.  It provides visualizations based on a large number of speed tests worldwide and is probably the best available empirical measure of broadband speeds around the globe.  If you don't trust me, take a look at the recent study by MIT researchers.   As shown on the accompanying screen capture (click to see a full-size version), taken a few minutes ago, South Korea has an average download speed of 54.0 Mbps, based on which it is only fourth fastest in the world, according to Ookla.  By comparison, when I did the screen capture, Japan showed an average download speed of 23.5 Mbps and China 22.9 Mbps.
So what three countries have faster average download speeds than South Korea?  Interestingly, two of them are cities, Singapore and Hong Kong, and the third is Romania.  Obviously, inclusion of cities and city-states like Singapore raises the question of whether this is an apples and oranges comparison.  However, Romania, which has a population less than half as large as South Korea, is a fairer comparison.
Ookla's NetIndex Explorer tool allows you compare countries and to drill down to the city level within nations, as shown in the second screen capture (again, click for a full-size version) where I created a line graph to compare Singapore, Romania and Korea over time.
Although other organizations, including M-lab, Google and Akamai and others, also measure internet speeds, Ookla deserves special recognition for making its data available publicly and downloadable for further analysis under a Creative Commons copyright.  This is an example of open data that is extremely valuable for the internet community worldwide!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Robots, Games and Future Networks in Korea

Korea's robotics industry is in the news again.  In an article entitled "Korea ups its robotics game," Businessweek reported that "South Korea is embracing robotics with the same intensity that made it a force in high-speed broadband, widescreen televisions, and smartphones. Robot Land, a state-subsidized 758 billion won ($735 million) theme park featuring futuristic rides as well as research and development labs, is set to open in 2016. The government is also investing 1.1 trillion won to support the nation’s robotics industry. That industry has doubled in size since 2009, with revenue reaching 2.1 trillion won in 2012, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy."
Most of the robots in South Korea to date are industrial ones.  As shown in the accompanying bar chart published by The Economist, Korea has more industrial robots per employee than any other country. (click to see a full-size version)  It is now becoming clear that robots have uses and applications across many sectors of industry, the economy and society. With its aging population, Korea hopes to make much greater use of service robots here at home and to export these services to other nations.
This is where Korea's world-leading broadband infrastructure and its strong online game industry come into play.  In April of this year a report by the  state-run Korea Finance Corporation received quite a bit of attention. It noted that the country's export of computer and mobile games accounted for 57 percent of South Korea's overseas shipment of cultural goods, which came to $4.6 billion in 2012.
The many  benefits of networked robots, including the service variety, are not difficult to imagine.  In fact, the military drones used so extensively by the U.S. in recent years represent one type of networked robot.  However, if one thinks instead of a humanoid robot caring for an elderly parent or relative at a distant location, then the application of techniques from the increasingly immersive and involving world of online games comes into play (no pun intended).  Korea is already a world leader in broadband networks, and highly competitive in both the robotics and online games industries.  It appears highly likely that these industry sectors will converge, and with related developments will shape future networks.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Android vs. Apple IOS: the takeaway for Korea

Two interesting articles caught my eye today. The first one, in The Wall Street Journal's Digits by Jonathan Cheng noted that, once again "In Samsung Country, iPhone 6 Fans will have to wait."  The article traces a bit of history, including the two and a half year delay before the original iPhone reached Korea after its U.S. launch in June of 2007.  Back then, Korea's mobile service providers, handset manufacturers and even the government had reasons for delay in welcoming the iPhone.  Those days are gone, but some speculate that the reason for iPhone 6's delayed arrival in Korea is because this country has stricter regulatory procedures than some other nations.
The second article, in The Korea Times, is an interview with a senior Google executive entitled "Android thriving on openness, accessibility." According to the article, "A senior Google executive said the Android operating system will continue to evolve and remain competitive on the strength of its openness and easy accessibility. Sundar Pichai, Google senior vice president and Android chief, said the company's commitment to startup entrepreneurs will strengthen the Android ecosystem." Google recently decided to open a startup-incubating center in Gangnam, one of Seoul's trendiest districts, because of the Korean mobile industry's growth potential, he said. "When we were looking for cities in which to open a campus in Asia, we all believed what's happening in Korea and in Seoul with the mobile industry is breathtaking," he said. "Korea is now one of the top five countries in terms of the number of Android developers. We looked at that, and we realized that given how everyone in Korea has access to smartphones, some of the most important ideas are going to come out of Korea in the future. We wanted to be a part of it."
In fact, the open source nature of Google's Android platform is the major factor that differentiates it from Apple's closed system.  Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard, author of The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, would call the iPhone "sterile" and the Android platform "generative."  Companies, large and small, in Korea should take note.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The deepening dictator's dilemma: North Korea bans WiFi and Satellite Internet

The recent news that North Korea has banned use of WiFi networks and Satellite Internet for foreigners brings that nations dilemma once again into clear focus.  It needs to develop digital networks and use the internet if it is to have any hope of economic development.  However, by doing so in this age of ever smaller, more powerful and cheaper internet-capable digital devices, it loses the tight control over information that the leadership covets.
As reported by the North Korea Tech website on September 9,"North Korea has banned the use of satellite Internet connections and WiFi networks by foreign embassies and international organizations unless they get government approval."
The reason for this ban?  Last month The Diplomat reported that housing prices had skyrocketed in a residential area of Pyongyang where the foreign embassies are located as North Koreans were scrambling to move to that area, expecting to use the embassies’ Wi-Fi. The article further noted the following. "For example, after a Middle Eastern embassy installed a strong router, college students in Pyongyang began walking around the embassy in order to use the Internet with their mobile phones. It’s known that North Korea removes all the programs related to usage of the Internet, such as Internet explorer, when selling mobile phones to its people."
Although anecdotal, this adds to a growing body of evidence that Johann Galtung's conception of how Korea might be reunified has merit. Galtung argues that unification only necessitates the free flow of people, goods and services, and information and ideas between the two Korean states, not the dissolution of ROK and DPRK into a single Korean state. This was discussed in an earlier post after his 2008 lecture at a university in Busan.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Google's Seoul "Campus" and the startup climate in Korea

Google announced this week that its first Campus in Asia will open in Seoul next year.  Google's Asia Pacific Blog carried an announcement about the plan, with information about the nature of campuses as spaces where entrepreneurs can learn, connect and change the world.
Also on the topic of startup ventures, my friend and fellow Korea Fulbright alumnus Danny Crichton has an interesting piece in Techcrunch entitled "As Samsung Falters, an Opening for Startups."   It is a thoughtful article, with useful links to a number of English and Korean language sources.
In the big picture, the relationship between Samsung's difficulties (or challenges) and the prospects for healthy growth of small and medium sized enterprises is a very important topic.  In the long run, it will help to determine the success of the Park Geun-hye administration's central policy initiative to develop a "creative economy."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What's wrong with these maps?

This morning I showed the accompanying map from the Information Geographies collection at the Oxford Internet Institute to students in two of my undergraduate classes at SUNY Korea in Songdo. (click to see a full size version of the graphic)  I'm a great fan of the various graphics being produced by the Oxford Internet Institute, and indeed the problem with this map lies in part with its data source (Alexa) rather than the Oxford researchers.  I'm referring, of course, to the grey shading for Korea, which  indicates "no information" and which also covers the whole Korean peninsula, merging North with South Korea.
The first part of the problem, that of "no information" about Korea may be because the Oxford team did not trust the 2013 Alexa data.  I just checked Alexa and found that is listed as the top site in Korea, followed by  However, these Alexa data are highly questionable and should not be used for South Korea.  Alexa's data are gathered from a panel of users that install an English language toolbar in Microsoft's Internet Explorer.  Although IE is widely used here, the fact that the Alexa toolbar is only available in English, immediately makes it almost useless in Korea, where the vast majority of users prefer web browsing in Korean.  For a good critique of Alexa versus other companies that provide web statistics, see this article, "Web statistics for internet market research: pick a number, any number".
In fact, is the most widely used web site in South Korea, with about 31 million unique visitors or almost 95% of internet users (reach) during the most recent measurement period by Nielsen Korea.  It was followed by with an 82% reach and ranked eight with about 12 million unique visitors and a reach of 37%.
As to the second part of the problem, that of shading the entire Korean peninsula grey, it obscures the digital divide between North and South Korea, the most dramatic and poignant such divide in the entire world and a tragic vestige of the Cold War era.  South Korea has the highest rate of internet penetration in the world, while North Korea ranks near the bottom among all nations of the world.
So the second problem with Korea's representation on the "Most visited website per Country" map is shared with another, otherwise very informative map based on internet population and penetration. (click for full size version)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

SK Telecom launches traveling ICT Museum

The news that SK Telecom has launched a year-long tour of its traveling ICT museum caught my eye today.  As reported by Korea Bizwire, the exhibit is a traveling version of, SK Telecom's current ICT museum located at the company's headquarters in Euljiro, Seoul. (click on the accompanying graphic to see a full size version )  It has a goal of narrowing the educational opportunity gap between urban and rural regions, and rural stops will focus on schools and student groups.  As noted in the Korea Bizwire article, " Mobile’s content was developed to allow young people to easily grasp concepts by illustrating the past, present and future of Korea’s information and communications technologies in four different experiential sections. - “Past” Section: Features an orchestra of mobile devices released over the last 30 years that plays a symphonic musical piece using only the devices’ ring tones - “Present” Section: ICT in health care, smart robots, augmented reality shopping, and smart farm technology - “Future” Section: Using a 360 degree view Head Mount Display, visitors can experience a “future home” containing technologies such as 3D printers, holograms and ICT devices. Also features a 4D simulator of “life 10 years from now” - “Academic” Section: Features a software learning course, a program for healthier and more balanced use of smartphones, and afterschool courses such as basic principles of communications.
During its year-long tour of the country, the traveling exhibit will visit 20 locations, including the 17th Asian Games in Incheon (Sept. 19-Oct. 4) and the 2014 ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan (Oct. 20-23).

Monday, August 11, 2014

Is Korea's mobile payment market "on the move"?

An interesting article this morning in The Korea Joongang Ilbo, headlined "Mobile pay market is on the move."  But is it really? As noted by the article, "With more customers using mobile finance services, a battle has begun in the banking and telecommunications world. KakaoTalk, the nation’s largest messenger app, plans to begin handling mobile transactions and payments as early as next month. China’s largest online payment company, Alipay, also is working to become an electronic prepayment issuer under Korean law. Financial companies are scrambling to secure customers by partnering with KakaoTalk, while at the same time continuing to develop their own electronic purses."  The article was accompanied by a graphic, included with this post (click to see a full size version) that shows the recent increase in number of registered mobile banking users, which now surpasses 40 million.  I recommend reading of the article for a quick update on current trends.
However, there is another side to this story, which is the larger picture of how financial transactions are currently being handled on South Korean web sites.  Unfortunately, there are still many institutions that cling to old, outdated and risky Microsoft software solutions, even after the government, from the President on down, have urged them to modernize and improve security for financial transactions.
To illustrate this point, I will use my personal example.  After being a happy expatriate resident of Korea and  user of Skype and its "Skype out" service for many years, I recently stopped using "Skype out" a paid service that allows you to call regular phones anywhere in the world.  The reason? Sometime after Microsoft purchased Skype, a Korean company took over responsibility for all Skype services originating in South Korea and I was asked (yes, in the Spring of 2014 and after President Park Geun-hye's meeting with business leaders on the topic of deregulation) to download and install Microsoft's Active-X control, as shown in the screen capture accompanying this post (click to see a full-size version). This pop-up screen appeared even though I was using the Chrome browser, not Internet Explorer. That was the last straw.   Microsoft itself warned the public about the inherent security risks in Active-X years ago.  Korean companies have been urged by their president to stop using Active-X and institute modern online and mobile security measures.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Public-Private partnership and the landmark EU-Korea 5 G agreement

5G or next generation mobile broadband service is a hot topic in industry and government circles these days, despite the large technical and policy issues it presents.  In January of this year, as noted in an earlier post, the Korean government declared its intention to be a world leader in 5G mobile communication.  In June of this year, the Korean government signed a landmark agreement with the European Union to cooperate on the development and implementation of 5G and issued a joint declaration to that effect.   As shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full size version), the EU's 5G Infrastructure Association has adopted the theme "public private partnership," which also happens to be a hallmark of South Korea's ICT-led socioeconomic development beginning around 1980.
In describing the new EU-Korea agreement, Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda  commented that "5G will become the new lifeblood of the digital economy and digital society once it is established. Both Europe and South Korea recognise this. This is the first time ever that public authorities have joined together in this way, with the support of private industry, to push forward the process of standardisation. Today’s declaration signals our commitment to being global digital leaders.”
I searched in vain for news of any similar agreement involving Korea and the United States, and found no rough equivalent of the Korea-EU agreement. Perhaps history is going to repeat itself, for lack of government leadership or the inability to forge a genuine public-private partnership in the U.S.  I recently viewed former Vice President Al Gore's keynote speech to industry leaders at the 1994 Information Superhighway Summit in Los Angeles.  Korea started its highly successful, decade long Korea Information Infrastructure program the following year, with government leadership but also active industry involvement and facilities-based competition.  Over the same decade, relatively little was done to build a national fiber optic infrastructure in the U.S.  It would seem that one of the reasons for this was the inability of government to lead and industry in the U.S. to actively collaborate in constructing an essential infrastructure for the 21st century.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The next global hub for tech startups?

Somehow I missed reading the Forbes article earlier this year on "Why South Korea will be the next global hub for tech startups."  It was published in February and, while it gives an unabashedly optimistic view of prospects for venture firms and start ups here, it is definitely worth reading.  (click on the graphic to see a full size version)
I agree with a number of points made in the short article, including the new "creative economy" direction charted by the Park Geun-hye administration and the fact that mobile game developers are on the leading edge of developments here.   However, the changes it describes may take longer than anticipated insofar as they are generational and involve a shift in the cultural mindset, even for younger Koreans, toward a completely global outlook.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Communication Theory of Korean Unification

This post was prompted by an article entitled "Five Theories of Unification," by Victor Cha of Georgetown University who also holds the Korea Chair at CSIS.  It appeared in The Korea Joongang Daily and in a slightly different form on the Korea Chair Platform.  The article briefly sketches five possible perspectives on unification that correspond roughly to different periods in Korean history and different presidential administrations.   However, readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that I found another very persuasive perspective on Korean unification missing from Professor Cha's analysis, and that is the communication and network theoretic point of view.  (Check out my prior numerous posts on this topic here.)  My hunch that something was missing in the five theories was confirmed by viewing President Park Geun Hye's historic speech in Dresden earlier this year, where she laid out her three-point agenda for Korean unification.   The accompanying YouTube video contains the Arirang Television live broadcast of her speech, with simultaneous translation in English (the speech begins at 35:44 of the video, should you choose to view it here).
As I've discussed in earlier posts, communication is in many ways the essence of the unification problem, both in terms of digital network infrastructure for modern mobile broadband and in terms of human communication across what President Park described in her speech as a "wall of distrust" and a "socio-cultural" divide that has grown on the Korean peninsula over the past 70 years.
I also found it highly significant that President Park chose the Dresden University of Technology for her speech, which she began with reference to a Korean saying that "the impact of education lasts for generations and beyond."  She followed that by noting that she herself had majored in electrical engineering and that she firmly believed science and technology were the key to unlocking a nation's growth.  "This is why I established the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning early in my presidency and this is also precisely why I have been highlighting the importance of building a creative economy."
All of the three main points in President Park's Dresden speech involve strong elements of human communication of different sorts, ranging from reunification of divided families, to building telecommunications, transportation and other forms of infrastructure.   Communication is arguably, as Wilbur Schramm wrote years ago, the "fundamental social process."  As Korea's continued tragic division shows, it is also central to politics and economics.  Finally, it is an essential ingredient in education at all levels, underscored over the past several years by the rapid rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs).  Near the conclusion of her speech, President Park envisioned a day when young students from North and South Korea (like those in her audience at Dresden University of Technology) would study together side by side on a unified Korean peninsula.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Korea's largest internet companies in global context

The Economist published a nice infographic recently that shows the top three internet companies in a number of countries, ranked by peak market valuation.  (click on the graphic here to see the top part of the infographic, or click here to go directly to the full, interactive infographic)  South Korea ranks fifth on the graphic, which is remarkable given the much larger population of three of the other four countries ahead of it. The three largest internet companies in Korea, in rank order, are Naver, Nexon and NCSoft.  Naver, of course, is a Korean language "search" portal, while the other two companies specialize in online games.
The data for The Economist infographic and article came from the World Startup Report, a not for profit organization.  Another graphic published by that organization helps to put the size of Korea's internet companies in global context. (click on graphic to see a full size version)  As noted by The Economist, Google is larger than the peak value of the companies in all other 48 countries combined.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Data localization is no solution for Korea's security, privacy concerns

The Korea Joongang Daily today has an excellent short article by Bert Verschelde of The European Center for International Political Economy.  He points out that, in the wake of Edward Snowden's NSA revelations, some governments around the world have moved toward regulatory restrictions on data, "such as data localization--the requirement that companies store and process data within the country in which they were collected."  He further notes that "While calls for increased online data security are legitimate and warranted, recent customer information leaks in Korea’s financial sector show that restricting where data is stored is problematic. Storing data within the borders of one country is not only ineffective against foreign surveillance, data security experts say it increases the chance of data breaches and abuse. When data is mandatorily stored within borders, it creates a tempting “honeypot” for criminals to target." Furthermore, the article argues that forced local storage of data can have a harmful effect on the economy enforcing it.
Simulations by his Center show that "...Korea’s economic growth would be severely stifled by an expanded, or economy-wide data localization measure. The impact of data localization across all sectors is estimated to be equivalent to 1.1 percent of Korea’s GDP in 2014. In real terms, this is equivalent to a loss of roughly $13 billion. In addition, investment in Korea would drop by 3.6 percent, causing its economy to pass up roughly $180 million in foreign direct investment."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

SK Telecom to jointly study 5G networks with Ericsson

One theme that emerges from prior posts on this blog (do a search for "speed") is that "speed matters" when it comes to broadband networks, both fixed and mobile.  Consequently, the recent announcement that Ericsson (click on the press release graphic to see a full size version) had achieved speeds of 5 Gbps throughput in a lab test made big news, especially here in Korea which prides itself on having the world's fastest and arguably most advanced broadband networks.  5G networks are expected to be about 1,000 times faster than existing LTE networks.
Today, as reported in The Korea Joongang Daily, SK Telecom announced that it had signed an agreement with Ericsson to jointly study future 5G networks.  As noted in the article, "The companies will study the next generation Small Cell, ultra-wideband technology, ultra-low latency transmission technology, which lowers data transmission delay times to 1 millisecond, and FDD (Frequency-division duplexing) and TDD (Time-division duplexing) convergence technologies, which are essential for the evolution of 5G. In LTE and LTE-A services, the data transmission delay time is around 10 milliseconds."  What the article did not stress is that Japan's NTT Docomo is also cooperating with Ericsson and that the laboratory demonstration was of "pre-standard 5G technology."   For these next generation mobile networks, agreement on international standards will be a critical matter.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

ICT-driven development in Korea and China

As reported in The Korea Joongang Daily, the leaders of China and Korea this week attended the largest business forum ever between the two countries.  Not surprisingly, the ICT sector was a central focus of the discussions.  The article quoted President Park Geun-Hye as follows: “The two countries’ economic cooperation should be shifted from the manufacturing industry to services, energy and other new industries. Joint efforts on global issues like energy, the environment and climate change should continue, too."
The Chinese leaders comments included a remark that “With a long-tern perspective, we should establish China-Korea free trade zones. The two countries can build joint industrial zones to increase cooperation on new energy, materials, telecommunications and the environment.”   Remarks by leaders of Samsung Electronics, LG, SK Telecom and other ICT sector firms were also prominent.  An executive of Baidu commented that “The future of the Internet will become a common issue for the two countries.” Of course, questions about internet governance will be a prominent feature of the ITU Plenipotentiary conference hosted by Korea this fall in Busan. Reading the entire article, it seems apparent that China has taken careful note of Korea's ICT-led development in recent decades and wants to follow suit.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Korea's prospects in the robotics industry

A number of ICT sector companies, including Google, Softbank in Japan and European firms are moving into robotics.  South Korea is also a leader in this race, as described in an report published by the Korea Joongang Daily.  In many respects, this is a natural outgrowth of developments in digital broadband networks and consumer electronics. The new digital and highly mobile networks that are transforming life around the world are naturally connected to all kinds of sensors and the growing "Internet of things."  Anyone who has accessed images from a webcam or surveillance video camera, used a small robot to clean floors in an apartment, or controlled a thermostat remotely via their smart phone, can easily imagine the convenience and value of  controlling an intelligent robot from a distance.
For Korea the move toward networked and service robots it is also a response to the overall demographic trend toward an older society.  As shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full-size version), the greatest growth in the robotics industry here over the past several years is for personal service robots, in anticipation of a large market in the provision of personal services for elderly individuals.
The article provides a nice overview of some current developments in the robotics industry here and gives a sense of where South Korea fits in the global picture.