Thursday, February 27, 2014

Worth a thousand words

This stunning picture of the Korean peninsula taken in late January by a member of the international space station crew says it all.  The photograph can be downloaded in various resolutions from the NASA web site here.   I've annotated the photo accompanying this post (click to see a full size version and read the annotations clearly) to show the national capital area (수도권 sudogwon) which surrounds Seoul and includes Incheon and Gyeonggi Province.   As noted by NASA, the capital of North Korea, Pyongyang, shows up as comparable to a smaller South Korean city.  Also, the dot clearly visible just north of Seoul is the Kaesong industrial complex jointly operated by North and South Korea which was located there because of its proximity to the large new seaport/teleport/airport in Incheon.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Three quarters of South Koreans now own smartphones!

Smartphones, as of this writing, are now owned by about three quarters of the South Korean population.  According to a panel speech at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the percentage had reached 73% by the end of 2013.    The graphic accompanying this post is adapted from one  published in a Korean language news outlet and is based on data provided from government and industry sources.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Google, Psy and the mobile video revolution

The Korea Herald reports today that Google is "fast catching up with Korean rivals" in online advertising sales.  The article noted that "According to the sources who have access to internal data, Google raked in some 100 billion won ($93.8 million) in revenue from its online display adverts in Korea last year, a significant improvement from the 40 billion won posted a year earlier."  Reportedly, Google's performance "raised alarms" in the local portal market, long dominated by Naver and Daum.
As the article notes, it may be more than sheer coincidence that Google's improved performance came as Psy's "Gangnam Style" received huge attention on YouTube.   However, Google's performance is part of a much larger phenomenon, the shift to mobile access of the internet in which video content is a major driver of data traffic.
The Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning conducted an analysis of wireless data traffic during a selected 24-hour period in the fourth quarter of 2013 (according to this Korean-language report by Yonhap News).  It showed that video accounted for 45.1 percent of all traffic, by far the largest single category.  Web portal access accounted for 19.3 percent of traffic, followed by use of social networking services (SNS) with 13.1 percent of the total.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

U.N. releases report on human rights abuses in North Korea

Publication by the United Nations of its report on human rights abuses in North Korea adds an important new ingredient to the role of information and the media in Korean reunification. The report documents what are called "unspeakable atrocities" by the government of North Korea against its own people.  Compiled by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK, the report was compiled without cooperation of North Korea's government.  As reported in a UN news release, “The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world. These crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation,” the report says, adding that “Crimes against humanity are ongoing in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea because the policies, institutions and patterns of impunity that lie at their heart remain in place.”

The Commission of Inquiry conducted Public Hearings in Seoul (20-24 August 2013), Tokyo (29-30 August 2013), London (23 October 2013) and Washington, D.C. (30-31 October 2013) during which almost 80 victims and witnesses of human rights violations as well as experts provided testimony on the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.  Complete transcripts and videos of the public hearings are available on the web site of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK.  The full report is downloadable here.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Internet governance: major challenge for Korea in hosting this year's ITU Plenipotentiary

The ITU Plenipotentiary Conference hosted by Korea this Fall in Busan offers many potential benefits for the host nation.  However, it also poses a number of challenges.  Perhaps the greatest of these will be to reconcile Korea's vote at the December 2012 WCIT meeting in Dubai, which was widely perceived as one against an open and free internet.  While I have not explored this topic in depth, I did note in a January 2013 post that "Perceptions are important, and many observers might have expected that the nation with the world's most advanced and extensive broadband networks would have voted the other way, simply to avoid any confusion about whether it favors a free and open internet."
As reported by ZDNet, the WCIT-12 conference triggered a unanimous vote by the U.S. House of Representatives during the Dubai conference aimed at pushing the U.S. government to fight the United Nations in its bid to control and change the Internet. The EU's upper house, the European Parliament, also voted to oppose the U.N.'s plans to regulate the Internet, prior to the opening of WCIT-12.   Governments were not the only ones to react.  In the weeks leading up to WCIT-12 Google launched a web-based campaign in favor of a free and open internet, one which was joined by other corporations and NGOs.
Although internet governance is not the only issue on the table for the ITU Plenipotentiary, it looms large.  It would appear that the host nation will have to clarify why it voted with China, Russia and the other nations favoring greater government involvement in internet governance.  Fortunately for the Park Geun-hye administration, the vote took place under a prior administration.

The evolution of LTE networks in Korea

While doing some background research on the evolution of South Korea's nationwide LTE networks, I ran across a very informative graphic, compiled using data gathered from users of the BenchBee Speed Test for Android.  (click on the graphic to see a full size version)   Although text on the graphic is in Korean, it is easily interpretable.  As indicated in the headline and three lines of text following, the three maps provide a representation of LTE coverage by the three major mobile service providers, SKT, LG U+ and KT  based on BenchBee user data gathered between December 1, 2011 and April 18, 2012.  Only GPS data were used to generate the maps, which give an accurate representation of service/coverage at that time.  LG U+, which started building its LTE network before the other two providers, clearly had more extensive coverage at that time.
Great visualization!  It also appears to be based on solid data, since the BenchBee App, currently available only in Korea, is quite popular with users.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Open-source intelligence on North Korea's mobile missile launchers

38 North at the U.S. Korea Institute at SAIS has published an interesting account of how bloggers and North Korea watchers around the world were able to learn a great deal about North Korea's new mobile missile launchers.  It illustrates the rapidly increasing difficulty for the North Korean government of controlling the flow of information in and out of the country.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The small perspective of an article entitled "Small fine for small Google."

The headline of a "Reporter's Column" that appeared yesterday in The Korea Herald reveals an attitude that may be widely held in Korea.  The column is titled "Small fine for small Google," in reference to the relatively small share of South Korea's internet search market held by Google.  Note that the market leader, Naver, is technically not an "internet search" engine to the extent that it only displays Korean language results and makes no pretense of searching the global, multi-lingual internet (WWW).
I don't want to be too hard on the reporter or editor who did, after all, come up with a catchy title. However, readers of this blog will understand my long concern with Google's failure to achieve a significant market share in Korea (although that situation is in flux, with the continued growth of mobile versus fixed internet search.  (those interested in prior posts on this topic can read them here)
The view expressed in The Korea Herald column, and by those who share this opinion, exemplifies a limited perspective on the challenge Korea, with its export-based economy and increasing global involvement, faces in the hyperconnected era of digital networks.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The 2014 Dimbleby lecture: A powerful presentation by Christine Lagarde of the IMF

Way back in 2008, not long after I started this blog, I wrote a post about the BBC re-broadcasting its 2007 Dimbleby lecture, delivered by Dr. Craig Venter, whose institute was the first in the world to map the human genome.  As noted in the post, I happened to be watching the BBC when the broadcast aired.
A few days ago I had a similar experience when I happened to catch the 2014 Dimbleby lecture, delivered by Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund and entitled "A New Multilateralism for the 21st Century."  The full prepared text of the speech is available here.
It was an eloquent and well-documented argument.  For me personally it was an inspiration to continue and redouble my research and writing about Korea's experience with ICT in national socioeconomic development. While there have been missteps, this country is, so to speak, "ahead of the power curve."  I recommend it to you.  Check the BBC for video.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Connecting Kaesong to the internet: some implications

As reported by Yonhap, South and North Korea agreed last week on how to connect their jointly operated factory park in Kaesong to the Internet, a move that could remove a key obstacle standing in the way of potential foreign investment.  Readers of this blog will know that I've been intensely interested in the dilemma posed for North Korea by the Internet, the so-called "dictator's dilemma" or "digital dilemma." (check out these earlier posts) (or these on the "digital dilemma)
The Yonhap report goes on to say that "KT, South Korea's top fixed-line operator and No. 2 mobile carrier, and North Korea's Post and Telecommunications Corp. plan to discuss details on setting up Internet services, said the ministry. The move came six months after the rival Koreas agreed to allow South Korean factory managers to use the Internet and mobile phones in the sprawling enclave. The factory park is home to 120 small South Korean plants producing clothes, shoes, watches and other labor-intensive goods. More than 44,600 North Koreans work in the complex, providing a major revenue source for their cash-strapped country. South Korea hopes to bring foreign investors to the factory park, believing their presence could help deter North Korea from unilaterally shuttering the park." What the Yonhap piece does not mention is that the Kaesong industrial complex location was originally proposed and chose because of its proximity to the Incheon International Airport, which was envisioned as not only an airport, but a seaport and teleport as well. Interesting developments indeed.

Friday, February 7, 2014

New law establishes ICT Control Tower

A new law called the "Special Act on ICT" goes into effect on February 14 and is being widely reported as establishing a "control tower" for national ICT policy.  As reported in The Korea Times," The Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) said Wednesday that it will launch an Information Telecommunications Strategy Committee to coordinate information communication and technology (ICT) policies among related ministries from next week. The committee will be comprised of 25 members from state-owned technology institutes and other ministries, including education, trade and finance, according to the MSIP in a statement." In addition to the strategy committee under the Prime Minister's Office, The Korea IT Times reports that a new IT Technology Promotion Center will be formed, in part to deal with the problem of "reverse discrimination" against Korean ICT equipment and parts manufacturers.
Those of you who are interested in the historical background of government leadership in South Korea's ICT sector and the long-running national debate about the need for a "control tower" to guide ICT sector industrial policy may be interested in my article with Professor Jaemin Park which has just appeared in Telecommunications Policy. ( a summary is available here)  It is entitled "From developmental to network state: Government restructuring and ICT-led innovation in Korea," and analyzes developments from 1980 to the present.

Samsung-Google-Cisco patent alliances

As reported by the Korea Joongang Daily, Samsung has signed a long term patent licensing deal with Cisco.  As noted in the article, "As a result, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, Internet software and networking equipment companies have formed a triangular patent alliance. The odd man out is Apple. The purpose of the partnership is to support each other by avoiding litigation, which is expected to further isolate Apple in the IT industry."
The article quoted Dan Lang, vice president of intellectual property and deputy general counsel at Cisco Systems.
“Innovation has been somewhat constrained due to the excessive litigations over patents in recent years. The new partnership will be able to reverse the daunted atmosphere and accelerate innovation.”

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Lenovo a threat to Samsung's Smartphone dominance?

Local analysts and the local media are abuzz with speculation that Lenovo, especially after acquiring Motorola Mobility, will quickly become a threat to Korean smartphone manufacturers, led by Samsung Electronics.  As reported in the Korea Joongang Daily,"The Chinese company, which gobbled up Motorola on Jan. 29, is openly professing that its goal is to move past Apple and Samsung. “From now until 2015, Lenovo and Motorola’s smartphone sales goal is 100 million,” said Lenovo Chairman Yang Yuanqing on Feb. 2." As shown in the accompanying graphic, with the purchase of Motorola Mobility, Lenovo "...leapfrogged LG Electronics and Huawei to become the world’s third-largest smartphone vendor. According to Strategy Analytics, Lenovo and Motorola’s combined market share in the global smartphone market was 6.2 percent as of the end of last year, compared to Huawei’s 4.8 percent and LG Electronics’ 4.7 percent.
This prospective shift in the international market for smart mobile devices illustrates the risks of heavy dependence on the manufacturing and export of hardware, which is modular in nature and keeps getting smaller, cheaper and more powerful.