Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Samsung's Big Biotechnology Push in Songdo

Yesterday, I attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the third large production facility at Samsung Biologics.   It was a grant event, with over 500 guests invited, including President Park Geun-hye and a number of Ministers.  Although it was the first time I had been inside the Samsung Biologics complex, I felt a certain familiarity since I can see the facilities, less than a mile away, from the window of my apartment at SUNY Korea on the Incheon Global Campus. My view is only a bit more distant than the photograph included below (click for a full-size version).
As reported widely in the press, including The Wall Street Journal,  the third production plant for which groundbreaking was held yesterday will be the world's single largest biologic drug plant (measured by production capacity) when completed in 2018.  As shown in the accompanying graphic (click for a larger version), Samsung intends to become the world's largest contract biologic drug maker by 2020.  
What I found most interesting about President Park Geun-hye's speech was how she noted the convergence of IT with biotechnologies and how this relates to her signature creative economy initiative.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Progress on the world's first public safety LTE network

Less than a month ago, KT demonstrated new technologies and devices designed to manage natural disasters and other emergencies at Alpensia Resort in Pyeongchang County, Gangwon.  Pyeongchang is the site of the forthcoming 2018 Winter Olympics and also the location of the first phase pilot project for Korea's Public Safety LTE network (PS-LTE).  As reported by The Korea Joongang Daily and illustrated in the accompanying photographs (click to see a full size version) "Among the displays were different drones capable of bringing LTE coverage to remote areas or locating missing people, as well as a portable LTE network base station built into a backpack." Although the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and other countries are also pursuing LTE networks for use by first responders and public safety organizations, it is highly likely that Korea will be the first country in the world to have an operational nationwide network.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The story behind Telecommunications and Transformation in Korea

Yesterday a blogger in Taiwan published a post that was based on his afternoon "tea reading" of my short Kindle book, Telecommunications and Transformation in Korea:  A Personal Perspective.  The accompanying graphic is a screenshot of that blog post (click to see a larger version of the screen capture).  Although I do not read Chinese, I ran it through a translation program and was pleased to see that the book I wrote five years ago, had not only attracted interest, but stimulated thought and questions by someone in Taiwan.
In the Winter of 2010 I found myself, somewhat unexpectedly, with time on my hands.   I had just left my position as Associate Director of the Fulbright Commission earlier in the Fall and was not yet certain about my next move.  Consequently, my wife and I moved from Seoul to the small house we'd built in Dunnae, a rural town right in the vicinity of the forthcoming 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
As the author of this Kindle book, I have the ability to make it available free of charge for five days every quarter.   I've just done that, so if you check this link at Amazon.com, you can download it free of charge from December 10-12.  This is also for the benefit of students in the course I've taught this semester, EST 194 Patterns of Problem Solving.   Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Korean peninsula today: ICT leader and Digital Divide

The ITU has released its annual Measuring the Information Society report and, not surprisingly, South Korea ranks number one in the world on the ICT development index (IDI).  As noted here in earlier posts, the IDI debuted in 2009 as a successor to the ITU's earlier digital access and digital opportunity indices.
The map published by the ITU to show the global distribution of the new IDI clearly highlights the southern half of the Korean peninsula.   At the same time, while no data are reported for North Korea, the map vividly depicts the world's deepest, most tragic and poignant digital divide--that between South and North Korea.  If data were available for North Korea, they would undoubtedly show that it ranks near the bottom of all nations in the world on the IDI, owing to both lack of infrastructure and efforts by the government to control and limit the flow of information within, into and out of the country.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

South Korea's white hat hackers

An article in the UK-based Independent provides some interesting background on South Korea's efforts to defend against the cyber-warfare capabilities of North Korea's military-trained hackers.  The article notes that "To build its defences, President Park Geun-hye’s government has enlisted 120 of the country’s most talented young programmers, offering full scholarships in return for seven years of military service. The college programme is part of a broader plan. The government is doubling the size of its cyber command to 1,000 people and raised spending on information security by almost 50 per cent to 250bn South Korean won (£144m) between 2009 and 2015."
The article goes on to note how South Korea is playing catch-up to the North in the training of cyber warriors, having suffered large economic losses in a 2013 attack on banks and broadcasters that was traced to North Korea.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Exynos8 and progress in semiconductors

The invention of the transistor in 1947 was one of the key developments that launched the digital network revolution globally.  In the 1980s, South Korea managed to harness the power of that revolution for national development, in part by making its semiconductor industry globally competitive for the first time with the 4 MB DRAM project.
Semiconductors are essential building blocks of the hardware that makes up today's digital networks and Korea has never forgotten that, continuing to invest heavily into R&D, manufacturing and export of various semiconductor products.  Today, as reported by Korea IT News,   Samsung has started mass producing a new modem-integrated chip for use in mobile devices.  This is indeed another sign of advancement in this nation's semiconductor industry and its determination to remain a global leader.  The Korea IT News article has interesting detail for those of you who follow such developments.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Projected patterns of aging in Korea

One of the major factors that will influence the shape of Korean society and its economy in the coming decades is the demographic composition of the population.  South Korea is on track to see a rapid increase in the proportion of older people in its population, as shown by the accompanying graphic (click for a full-size version), published together with an article in The Korea Joongang Daily.  As noted in the article, "Recent data jointly compiled by Statistics Korea and the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, shows that 72 of the country’s 252 cities, counties and districts (28 percent) will have a population of which over half is aged 65 or older by 2040. Namhae County, Hapcheon County and Uiryeong County, all in South Gyeongsang, will see their rates exceed 80 percent. Korea is currently categorized as an aging society, meaning that more than 7 percent of the country’s total population is 65 or older. The country is set to become an aged society by 2026, when more than 14 percent of the entire population will be 65 or older."
The graphic shows at a glance that suburbs and rural areas are going to age much more rapidly than the largest cities in Korea, reflecting the highly urbanized character of this nation's economy.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

STI Policies for the Global and Digital Age -- the Daejon Declaration

I think that the OECD ministerial meeting that just concluded in Daejon got it right, although their declaration has the somewhat lengthy title "The Daejon Declaration on Science, Technology and Innovation Policies for the Global and Digital Age."   The short account of this development is contained in the embedded television news clip from Arirang TV.   For the text of the full declaration, use this hyperlink.  Some highlights from the declaration follow.

It states "... our commitment to support science, technology and innovation to foster sustainable economic growth, job creation and enhanced well being, NOTING that achieving these goals will require adequate investment, and policy and regulatory environments that support strong and well-connected global science and innovation systems, and which also enable creativity and innovation throughout the economy and society, and RECOGNISE that changes in science and innovation systems, influenced by digitisation and globalisation, require that our national and international policy agendas and instruments be updated."

Furthermore, the ministers "AGREE that science, technology and innovation are being revolutionised by the rapid evolution of digital technologies, which are changing the way scientists work, collaborate and publish; increasing the reliance on access to scientific data and publications ("open science"); opening new avenues for public engagement and participation in science and innovation ("citizen science"); facilitating the development of research co-operation between businesses and the public sector; contributing to the transformation of how innovation occurs ("open innovation")."

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"referral" spam and this blog

When I was growing up in South Dakota, "Spam" was the brand name of a pork product sold in supermarkets.  Years later, on arrival in Korea I became aware that canned Spam had become popular in Korea during the Korean War, as it was introduced to countless hungry and displaced citizens during the devastating war.  Its popularity in grocery stores continues to this day, and it is often an ingredient in 부대찌개 or "armed forces stew," which I still enjoy whenever possible, at home or eating out!
My current concern is a far cry from my earliest knowledge of Spam.  It is called "referral spam" and while it does not affect this blog, it has a huge impact on the traffic statistics it records, and which I occasionally examine.  In recent weeks, I noticed a sharp, huge increase in referrals from web sites located in Russia and the Ukraine. Strange, I thought, because both of those countries are in the news these days and have their own share of serious problems to deal with.
So called "referral spam" seeks to capitalize on blogs, like mine, that include hyperlinks to the original sources of information.  I'm considering whether to completely discontinue inclusion of the hyperlinks in my posts.  Comments from readers are welcome. Do you prefer to have the hyperlinks included in the posts or not?  Feel free to comment or contact me directly via my personal web site, jamesflarson.com. Like most other spam, the referral spam out of Russia is annoying and I'd prefer to eliminate it completely!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Korea exports educational robots to Costa Rica

I have long felt that the robotics industry, and more specifically service robots, represent a major future growth engine for Korea, as indicated by a number of prior posts (viewable at this link) The recent victory of KAIST's Hubo in the 2015 Darpa Challenge provided dramatic video evidence of how far the robotics industry has progressed.
In another sign of the times, as reported by The Korea Joongang Daily, SK Telecom will export smart bots to Costa Rica for the training of teachers and use in schools there. According to the article, "According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, the two parties reached an agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on Thursday to send some 1,500 educational robots, known as Albert, to 6,000 students and 600 teachers over the next three years. The first shipment begins this month. Albert is designed to help teach math, including numbers, basic calculations and pattern recognition, among other subjects."  (click on the accompanying graphic for a full size version) Furthermore, "A total of $2.4 million will be spent to train teachers in the region and develop an official education curriculum that utilizes the bot. IDB will spend $1.5 million in developing the curriculum, while the Trade Ministry and SK Telecom will give $750,000 in providing the robots. The Costa Rican government will kick in $150,000 to train teachers."   This is far from a frivolous exercise.  South Korea has years of experience with the use of robots in schools, as documented by some of my earlier posts.  Given the projected size of the worldwide market, this is a development worth watching.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

American views and the future of the Korea-U.S. alliance

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has released another in its continuing series of public opinion polls measuring the views of Americans on issues related to Korea and the U.S.-Korea alliance.  The headline from the report published by the council zeroes in on the finding that, "..in a hypothetical North-led invasion of South Korea, 47 percent of the American public support the use of U.S. troops to defend South Korea (49% opposed).  This marks an all time high.  When the question was first asked in 1974, fewer than two in ten stated support."  In other findings, 55% of Americans viewed North Korea's nuclear weapons program as a critical threat.  This, along with mainstream press coverage of North Korea's young leader and his sometimes bizarre behavior are the most likely cause of increased public support for defending South Korea, if it is attacked.  Remember, in historical perspective, that the Korean war itself was unpopular with the war-weary American public after WWII and that reality helped sweep Dwight Eisenhower to a landslide victory in the 1952 presidential election.
One of the poll findings that I found most interesting was the shift in public views in the U.S. about what should happen after North and South Korea reunify.  As shown in the accompanying graphic, the number who think that the U.S. should maintain its alliance but remove ground troops increased substantially from the 2010 poll results.  I have long held the view that most all of the U.S. forces in Korea should be withdrawn upon unification, and perhaps even used as an incentive to encourage peaceful unification.  The only reason for maintaining such a large presence here would be if the reunified Korea requested it and if the regional security situation demanded it.  However, peaceful unification itself would remove the main reason for such a large U.S. military presence here.  A firm foundation for the future alliance between Korea and the U.S. is much more likely to be based on such factors as trade, technology, and commerce along with continued significant educational exchange and collaboration.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Learning from Korea's world-leading mobile commerce

Given that South Korea has the fastest, most extensive mobile broadband networks and the highest penetration of smartphones in the world, it should come as little surprise that mobile shopping is rising exponentially here. (click on the accompanying graphic to see a full size version)  As noted in a recent report by the McKinsey Group,more than two thirds of South Koreans own a smartphone, "... compared with 47 percent of Americans, 57 percent of Australians, and 52 percent of Britons. South Koreans are also big users of their smartphones, with sales of goods purchased using mobile devices jumping more than fourfold since 2012 to about 10 trillion won, or $9.8 billion."  The mobile commerce market in Korea today represents nearly one third of all web-based sales.  Clearly, mobile commerce is one of many areas where Korea serves as an interesting test-bed for other markets around the world.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

All books e-books by 2015?

While doing a routine web search this afternoon, I ran across a 2011 article in the The Christian Science Monitor in which I was quoted to support the prediction that all textbooks in South Korea would be e-books by 2015. (click on the accompanying graphic to see a full sized version)  It is now 2015, so I am obliged to inform you that all textbooks in South Korea are not yet e-books.   I stand by my prediction, quoted in the article, that “South Korea’s transition to a totally networked society has profound implications for the publishing industry.” However, it appears that teachers, administrators and students at all levels of education have different preferences and fall into different segments when it comes to the digital transformation or disruption. Personally speaking, although I have written a number of academic books and monographs, I do not long for the smell and texture of high-quality paper, at least for my research-related reading. Instead, not possessing a photographic memory of what I wrote some years ago, I prefer the capability to search for words and phrases that an e-book provides, not to mention the added benefits of cloud based access to material as I move around our Incheon Global Campus, Korea, the Asian region, or the world. The printed books would simply be too heavy to bring along, and I don't mean intellectually heavyweight!

"Affordable" phone market grows!

As reported in the Korea Joongang Daily and other media, the market for "affordable" mobile phone service provided by mobile virtual network operators, experienced continued healthy growth last year. According to the Korea Joongang Daily article, "More users are flocking to thrifty phone providers that rent network space from Korea’s largest mobile carriers as the government regulation on subsidies for smartphones has caused phone bills to surge amid a tough economy. According to the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, the number of thrifty phone subscribers surpassed the 5 million mark, with its market share hitting a new high of 8.8 percent. The latest findings are based on records as of April 21." (click on the graphic to see a full size version)
"In 2011, the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) authorized smaller businesses to provide wireless communications services. Called mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), the smaller vendors offer telecom services that slash monthly phone bill by 20,683 won ($19.20) compared to regular service, the ministry said. That translates into savings of more than 240,000 won per year, 57 percent cheaper than the service offered by Korea’s largest mobile carriers - SK Telecom, KT and LG U+."
While affordable phone services initially appealed to older people, a younger demographic is currently turning to these services. "The Science Ministry cited subscribers to the cheaper service offered by Korea Post to highlight the trend. “Those in their 30s and 40s form 32.2 percent as of April 21,” the ministry said in a statement. “And the number has consistently increased.”"

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Al Gore on "The reality of the climate crisis and road forward for humanity"

I'm teaching a new course at SUNY Korea this spring on ICT for development (ICT4D), so the recent speech by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore as part of the Haas School of Business' Dean's Speaker Series at U.C. Berkeley caught my attention.  Two themes that run through my course are the challenge of environmental sustainability, on the one hand, and the possibilities presented by new digital networks and information and communication technologies (ICT) on the other.  Gore's speech in California was a sharp reminder that these two themes cannot be thought of separately.  The vantage point of the course I'm teaching is that of South Korea's recent experience of ICT-led development, since this country managed to harness the power of the digital network revolution more successfully than any other developing nation to date for socioeconomic development.  I strongly recommend the video embedded with this post.  The substantive part of his speech starts at about 11 minutes 30 seconds in.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

U.S. Policy on Korean Unification: CSIS roundtable on "China's policy toward Korean peninsula reunification"

The series of discussions being held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington and led by Victor Cha, are off to a strong start.  The topic of the April event, co-hosted by the Global Peace Foundation, caught my attention as I have posted regularly (those of you who don't regularly read this blog may wish to review these posts) over recent years on the topic of Korean unification and the role of communication and the ICT sector in it.  However, I must confess that, after viewing the main presentation by Sid Seiler, Special Envoy for the Six Party Talks at the Department of State, I was disappointed.  Apparently, the U.S. government has still not grasped the need to come out with a clear statement, at this stage of history preferably from the President or the Secretary of State, on official U.S. policy toward Korean unification.
I cannot count the number of times, over my years in Korea, that I've listened to Korean colleagues or acquaintances tell me that they believe the United States is "opposed" to Korean unification.  I dare say this is a fairly widespread view in South Korea, and not without justification.  From the 1970s, when I first set foot in Korea, to the present, there has been no clear articulation, at the highest levels (meaning President or Secretary of State)  of U.S. government policy relating to Korean unification.  If you take the time to view Ambassador Seiler's  presentation on the embedded video, you'll understand my continuing disappointment.

Friday, April 24, 2015

ICT4D: U.S.-Korea Cooperation in Overseas Development Assistance

The Center for Strategic and International Studies recently convened a meeting on the topic of  "The United States, South Korea and Civil Society Cooperation in Global Humanitarian Development."  That meeting and the YouTube video embedded in this post caught my attention for many reasons, including the following.

  • I was a Peace Corps Volunteer (University TESOL Program at Kangwon National University) back in 1971-72 when Korea was a developing country and international aid recipient.
  • I subsequently studied for the Ph.D. in Communication at Stanford University during a period when the Institute for Communication Research had a large program in communication (at that time "mass media") for development.
  • Upon returning to Korea as a Fulbright scholar at Yonsei University prior to the Seoul Olympics, and later working as an administrator with the Korea Fulbright Commission, I personally witnessed many of the dramatic changes that took place as this country made the transition from an aid recipient to that of an economically and technologically advanced aid donor country.
  • In 1992, the major focus of my research shifted to the study of digital technologies and networks, and the manner in which Korea leveraged the digital network revolution for socioeconomic development.  My first book on the topic, The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea, was published in 1995.
  • Last year I joined the faculty of the Department of Technology and Society at SUNY Korea in Songdo and in January of this year became its chair.  In collaboration with industry, government, citizens and international organizations, we are sharpening our research, teaching and training focus on the ICT sector and especially its role in sustainable development (ICT4D).
Given the above and more, I was pleased to view the video of the recent event at CSIS, hosted by my friend and colleague (a former Korea Fulbright grantee), Victor Cha.   I commend it to you.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Galaxy 6 in Japan: History, brand image, and country of origin

As reported by The Chosun Ilbo yesterday, "Samsung has removed its corporate logo from its Galaxy S6 smartphones sold in Japan amid deep distrust of Korea and Korean technology in the island country. Instead, the sleek smartphones features only the Galaxy brand name, as do all accessories." (click on the accompanying graphic to see a full size version)  According to the article, Japanese consumers have long favored domestic technology over imports.  It notes that "When it unveiled the Galaxy S3 in Japan in 2012, Samsung ranked third after Fujitsu (21.4 percent market share) and Apple (18.4 percent) with 14.8 percent of the market. But anti-Korean sentiment stoked by a new far-right government meant the Galaxy S5 fared poorly, and Samsung's share of the Japanese market fell to 10.7 percent in 2013 and to 5.6 percent last year."  The article concludes by quoting an industry insider who said "Japanese are very loyal to their national brands and have become wary after seeing their once-mighty brands get beaten by foreign rivals on the global stage."  It would appear that the industry insider is close to the mark.  In recent decades, leading Japanese electronics manufacturers have seen their lead in the global market eclipsed by Korean firms.  Still, this move by Samsung to remove its corporate logo is a sharp reminder of the importance of brand image and country of origin in promoting a brand.  In a broader sense, it may also indicate the difficulty Japan has in dealing with its 20th century history, which included forcible colonization of Korea.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The PS-LTE network: Disaster communications as a business opportunity

The mainstream news media in South Korea are filled with reports these days about the tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry one year ago today.  The fact that most of those who lost their lives in that accident were high school students on a field trip to Jeju island only broadened and deepened the nation's anguish.  In all my years living in Korea, I cannot recall an event that affected the whole nation and its entire citizenry so profoundly.  It took months for the economy, politics and social affairs to return to some semblance of normality.
One effect of the the Sewol ferry tragedy was to accelerate this nation's planning for future disaster communications. The disaster exposed the lack of interoperability among responding agencies which hindered rescue efforts.  Last year the Korean government announced plans to build a Public Safety LTE network (PS-LTE) and allocated frequency for it.  As reported by BusinessKorea in January, the national disaster safety communications network would be the first of its kind in the world, and is scheduled for completion by 2017.  The report noted that, according to industry and government sources,"...the national disaster safety communications network project is estimated to be worth 2 trillion won (US$1.85 billion). However, the size of the project is expected to increase to more than 3 trillion won (US$2.8 billion) if 10 year-maintenance costs are included."
The project has drawn considerable interest from both domestic and international companies.  Huawei and Alcatel-Lucent held an event to showcase their PS-LTE technology in January, as did Ericcson-LG, which is collaborating with Nokia Networks and Motorola.  More recently, as reported in The Korea Times, KT announced a partnership with Samsung Electronics in a bid to win the PS-LTE contract.
Other countries, including the U.S., the UK and Canada, have plans to build public safety networks, but Korea's will be the first.  Consequently, regardless of which companies win the contract, this country will serve as the world's test bed for such networks, offering new business opportunities both here and abroad.

Friday, April 10, 2015

KOTESOL Annual Conference, May 30: More on digital divides in Korea

As readers of this blog already know, I was invited to give a lecture on "Digital divide and disruption in Korea," earlier this year at Florida State University. That visit was the subject of a short post.  Consequently, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation to speak on the same topic at the annual national conference of KOTESOL, scheduled for May 30, at Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul.  The theme for this year's conference is "Bridging the digital divide:  Examining online language teaching in Asia."  The theme allows me an opportunity to elaborate on the earlier lecture by including some thoughts about the role of natural language and education in relation to digital divides, both their creation and efforts to eliminate or "bridge" them.  This is an important topic and one of longstanding interest to me personally, having spent two years as a university TESOL instructor and American Peace Corps Volunteer at Kangwon National University in Chuncheon.  That was decades ago, before the digital network revolution, and what a difference Skype, Google hangouts and other internet video conferencing tools make!
The video accompanying this post (above) offers a brief sketch of my planned lecture, but to hear my latest thoughts on the subject, and to have a chance to question or challenge me, you'll have to attend the conference.  For that reason, I'm including the conference poster in this post. Serious suggestions and comments about issues or topics that I might address in my conference presentation are, of course, welcome.  If you don't choose to comment on this post, feel free to visit my personal website and use the "Contact Jim Larson" form.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The K-ICT strategy to realize the creative economy

On March 24 the powerful Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) released its K-ICT strategy, providing a vision for how this nation intends to transform itself into a "creative economy," the central policy initiative of the Park Geun-hye administration.  I have not yet seen a full English translation of the announcement of the K-ICT strategy, but readers can access the Korean press release using this hyperlink.  The video accompanying this post provides a quick overview of some of the high points in the strategy.  If anyone ever doubted the ambitious nature of Korea's goals for its ICT sector and the role of that sector in future economic growth, this new five-year strategy or "roadmap" should put those doubts to rest.  While the MSIP announcement clarifies the size of this country's investment and the main economic and industry sectors that are involved, it also raises some questions.  For example, the strategy includes a plan to demonstrate 5G mobile technology at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, scheduled for less than three years from now. The success of such an effort depends on progress toward internationally agreed standards for 5G and whether that will occur in time for Pyeongchang is open to question.  Furthermore, one can argue that the real impact of 5G mobile communication will have more to do with the sort of content, applications and services that can be displayed.  Here Samsung Electronics, which just signed a major domestic sponsorship deal with the Pyeongchang organizing committee, and is a leading TOP sponsor of the Olympics globally, should take note.  During the last Winter Olympics in Sochi, Samsung distributed thousands of Galaxy Note 3 devices to Olympic athletes and other member of the Olympic family.  While a similar effort with next generation mobile devices will no doubt be part of the plan for Pyeongchang, Samsung may miss a golden opportunity if it does not simultaneously release an array of  applications targeted at the international visitors who will come to Korea before, during and after the 2018 Winter Olympic games and the global television audience. The time to develop and market such apps is now, not in 2018.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Wireless charging era dawns with Galaxy S6

I agree with the general point made in a recent article in The Korea Joongang Daily that the Samsung Galaxy S6 represents the dawn of the wireless charging era.  This constitutes another small, but important hardware-related innovation by Korea's leading electronics firm.  All other things equal, consumers around the world will prefer wireless to "wired" charging of their smart devices, just as they prefer mobility to the older desktop machines that were tethered to an electrical outlet and RJ45 connector for high speed internet access.
Having acknowledged this, the central looming challenge for Samsung Electronics and Korea's other leading smart phone manufacturers is to begin offering innovative and attractive software, applications and services for these devices.  

Friday, March 27, 2015

The "notetel" and digital disruption in North Korea

As frequently noted in earlier posts on this blog, the steadily decreasing cost and size of digital devices, along with their vastly increased power to compute, store and transmit information poses a dilemma for the government in North Korea.  To date, the bulk of the evidence for this proposition is anecdotal.  Nevertheless, it is increasingly persuasive. (Click on the accompanying graphic to see a larger version.)
As noted in a new report by Reuters, the popularity of a $50 device called the "notetel" in North Korea symbolizes a shift in that country.  As noted in the report,"Notel or 'notetel' - the name is a uniquely North Korean word combining 'notebook' and 'television' - are easily found on the black market for around 300 Chinese yuan ($48), and are also available in some state shops and markets.The device was legalized last year, according to defector-run news outlets in Seoul - one of many recent measures taken by the state to accommodate grassroots change. The new rules, however, also require North Koreans to register their notel, enabling authorities to monitor who is most likely to be watching banned foreign media." Later on the report notes that "The low-voltage notel differs from the portable DVD players of the late 1990s in that they have USB and SD card ports, and a built-in TV and radio tuner. They can also be charged with a car battery - an essential piece of household equipment in electricity-scarce North Korea." A North Korean defector, quoted in the Reuters report, said the device's multi-function nature makes it easier for users to get away with watching illegal material. "To avoid getting caught, people load a North Korean DVD while watching South Korean dramas on a USB stick, which can be pulled out," he said. "They then tell the authorities, who feel the heat from the notel to check whether or not it has been recently used, that they were watching North Korean films". " Fascinating information, even if anecdotal.  I wonder about the significance of "Sansung" on the display screen of the above graphic, but I doubt it is any coincidence.   The North Korean public is by now well acquainted with Samsung Electronics!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Digital natives and the dominance of social media in Korea

I'm teaching an undergraduate course this spring semester at SUNY Korea on the topic of Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D).   On Monday I asked the class how many of them had heard about typhoon Pam, which devastated the island nation of Vanuatu and was heavily covered over the weekend by CNN, the BBC and all the mainstream media here in Korea.  Only one out of six students was aware of the disaster.   This result did not surprise me, because I've asked similar questions in class before.  Today's generation of "digital natives," for the most part, do not follow mainstream news media, choosing instead to rely on their social networks for information about what's going on in the world around them.
This reality has not been lost on Korea's politicians, who are using digital and social media this year in the run up to the April by-elections for the national assembly.  The Arirang TV video embedded here offers an interesting update.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Korea's lead in speed

As frequently noted in earlier posts on this blog, the value of speed in broadband communications networks and digital communication devices, has never been questioned in public policy debates here in Korea, as it has in the U.S.  Two items in the news this week suggest that South Korea will maintain its "lead in speed" for some time to come.
First, Samsung Electronics announced that it is mass producing the world's first 128 gigabyte ultra fast embedded memory for next generation smart phones.  (click on the graphic to see a full-sized version) As noted in the Samsung press release,"For random writing of data to storage, the blazingly fast UFS embedded memory operates at 14,000 IOPS and is 28 times as fast as a conventional external memory card, making it capable of supporting seamless Ultra HD video playback and smooth multitasking functions at the same time, enabling a much improved mobile experience."
Second, as reported in The Korea Joongang Daily, Korea's LTE networks are getting faster.  As noted in the article,"Korean mobile carriers on Thursday introduced their upgraded LTE technologies, which ramp up the current 300Mbps networks to 600Mbps at the maximum ahead of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) that kicks off in Barcelona, Spain in March."  Each mobile service provider is using different technology, but with the same result:  increased speed.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Digital divide and disruption in Korea

I just returned yesterday from visits to Stony Brook University in New York and Florida State University in Tallahassee.  Both involved very interesting opportunities to discuss mutual interests with administrators, faculty and students.   During the latter visit I delivered a lecture in the Broad International Lecture series on the topic of "Digital divide and disruption in Korea," and exchanged views with a most interesting audience of faculty, administrators and students.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Korea's ICT-led development at a crossroads?

Lee Jong-Wha, professor of economics and Director of the Asiatic Research Institute at Korea University contributed a thoughtful piece to the Gulf Times that outlines the challenge Korea faces to find new sources of economic growth.  It notes that Korea's GDP growth averaged 3.6% over the past ten years, a significant drop from the 8.1% annual growth rate from 1965-2005.
One problem is that South Korea's economic policies have made it excessively dependent upon exports for growth. Professor Lee notes that "Exports accounted for about 56% of South Korea’s gross national income in 2013, compared to 34% in 2002 and just 15% in 1970. As a result, South Korea’s economy has become highly vulnerable to changes in external demand – a fact that became starkly apparent during the 2008 global economic crisis."  Another is "...the wide imbalance between South Korea’s manufacturing and services sectors. Though services account for 76% of employment, its contribution to overall economic growth is small, owing to low productivity."
Professor Lee goes on to argue that South Korea" ...must also confront the huge, family-controlled chaebols – such as Hyundai, LG, and Samsung – that contributed significantly to rapid industrialisation and technological advancement but also block competition from start-ups and SMEs, stifling dynamism and innovation."

Friday, January 30, 2015

It's not Apple or Samsung, It's Google's modular phone....!!

I just ran across an excellent piece in Forbes, entitled "How Google's Modular Phone Threatens Apple and Samsung."   It is appropriate these days because of all the publicity focused on Apple's record-breaking quarterly profits, and Samsung's reduced share of the global smartphone market.  In fact, Google's modular phone, rather than the offerings of either Apple or Samsung, probably represents the big future direction of mobile communication.   See my earlier posts on this topic here.
I highly recommend the Forbes article and the short video it contains.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Unification: Korea's highways and information superhighways

The news reported today in The Korea Joongang Daily under the headline "South pushes plan to reconnect rails and roads," made me think of the relative role of high speed rail and expressway links on the Korean peninsula versus linkages of fiber optic cable and other networks for digital communication. (click on graphic to see a full size version)  As noted in the article, "The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said Tuesday it will push forward a project this year to restore severed sections of inter-Korean railroads and highways. The project was announced as part of the ministry’s 2015 agenda. It is also part of the Park Geun-hye administration’s ambitious proposal to operate trains from Seoul to cities in the North this summer in celebration of the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule - but only if Pyongyang goes along. Earlier this month, the Ministry of Unification unveiled a plan to restore the two Koreas’ western and eastern railways to operate trains this summer from Seoul to the North Korean cities of Rajin and Sinuiju. Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae has said the goal is to link the railways and have trains operating in time for the Aug. 15 Liberation Day."
The digital networks are arguably just as important in any plan for unification as the transportation networks, since the whole world seems to acknowledge their central role as infrastructure for the 21st century.  Furthermore, North Korea lacks both modern transportation and communication infrastructure which means that the process of national unification will inevitably involve a costly, long term effort to build these.  Consequently, one can envision a simultaneous effort to build both types of infrastructure, in which fiber optic cables are laid alongside railroad and expressway routes.  Whether that becomes politically possible is an open question, but I would argue that in today's hyperconnected era the digital network connections are of equal or greater importance for Korean unification than the ground transportation links.

Monday, January 19, 2015

South Korea: "the world's most advanced mobile economy"

A new report by the Boston Consulting Group confirms and quantifies what those of us living in South Korea have known for a long time.  This nation is the world's most advanced mobile economy. The report singles out three countries that are reaping the greatest rewards from the mobile economy:  South Korea, the U.S. and China.  It notes that "South Korea has quickly become the world’s most advanced mobile economy, having embraced 3G and 4G since their onset. Mobile represents 11 percent of the country’s GDP, valued at $143 billion. South Korea is a leading actor across all phases of the mobile value chain, particularly in its high-value segments such as design and production of devices and components. A strong focus on R&D and bold investments in nascent technologies, such as semiconductors in the 1980s and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) two decades later, helped South Korean players take the lead in design and manufacturing operations."
As shown in Exhibit 4 from the report (click to see a full size version of the graphic), the six countries analyzed have a combined mobile GDP (mGDP) of more than $1.2 trillion and those same countries account for 47 percent of global GDP.  In Korea, the mGDP accounts for 11 percent of the national GDP.  Also, as noted in the report and shown clearly in the graphic (light green shading on the bar for Korea) "For nations with high production relative to domestic consumption, such as South Korea, exports are a major, if not the main, driver of mGDP. Countries with the strongest mGDP also tend to have unique capabilities within the highest-value portions of the mobile industry—intellectual property (IP) innovators, device manufacturers, and component designers—enabling high net exports. South Korea’s high mGDP, for example, is due to its major role in producing and exporting essential mobile products and components."
There is much more in this report and I recommend it to you.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

De-centralized manufacturing and smart factories in Korea

According to Business Korea, the Ministry of Trade Industry and Energy has announced plans to increase the number of smart factories in Korea to 1,000 this year.  The article noted that "On Jan. 15, the ministry announced at its annual report to the President that it will build 700 smart factories this year, and increase the number to 4,000 by 2017 and 10,000 by 2020. The purpose of the project is to further sharpen the competitive edge of the manufacturing sector by means of information technology, Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence. Test beds will be set up and key technologies such as 3D printing will be developed to this end.The ministry picked 10 main fields for the utilization of 3D printing, including dental medical equipment, smart molding, personalized articles, 3D electronic components, transport machinery parts, power generation components, 3D design services, and 3D content distribution services. Base technologies will be developed by 2017 before commercialization by 2020 and the development of advanced techniques starting from 2021. It is going to work on 15 strategic 3D technologies in the equipment, material, and software sectors, too."
The question in my mind after reading this report is whether the Ministry's plan adequately takes account of the sweeping effects that 3-D printing and the decentralization of manufacturing will have, in Korea and globally.   I'm reading Jeremy Rifkin's new book The Zero Marginal Cost Society, which offers a broad and interesting perspective on this question.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Innovation in storage: Samsung's T1 SSD

The semiconductor industry continues to be a driving force in the digital network revolution. Semiconductors serve several important purposes.  As semiconductors become smaller, lighter, cheaper and more powerful, they increase the computational power of all sorts of computers (a.k.a. smart devices). Also, thanks to the convergence of computing and telecommunications, they increase the capability to transmit digital information.  Finally, they increase the capacity to store information.
At this month's Consumer Electronics Show 2015,  Samsung's new T1 solid state drive (click on the accompanying graphic for a full size version) was selected as the most innovative semiconductor product.  As reported in The Korea Joongang Daily, it can store up to a terabyte of content and weights only about an ounce (30 grams).

Monday, January 5, 2015

Digital developments in 2015: the next revolution in mobile?

An article in the Korea Joongang Daily today prompts this post, which seems appropriate as an opening one for this blog in 2015.  Entitled, "In 2015 phone makers banking on innovation," the article comments on three new smartphones that are soon to enter the global market.  They include Samsung's new Tizen phone, Google's modular phone called Project Ara, and a Russian phone called the YotaPhone.
The Samsung Tizen phone, to be released in India, appears to reflect that company's belief that it must introduce a new operating system (OS) in order to compete successfully in the global marketplace.   Underscoring this, The Korea Joongang Daily article quotes a Samsung Electronics spokesman as saying that “Tizen is not only for smartphones but is a platform prepared for the Internet of Things era. It is essential to secure a platform to survive in an era when smartphones, wearable devices and home electronics are interconnected.”  I would argue, to the contrary, that Samsung and the other major Korean electronics companies, should place their emphasis on the development of software applications and content for the existing Android and Apple operating systems.  This, after all, is where the largest portion of money in the ICT sector will be spent.
Also, as noted in a post last spring, I believe that Google's project Ara in all likelihood represents the next big disruption in the mobile ecosystem, with repercussions around the world that might be even larger than the introduction of the iPhone in 2007.   If, after reading this far, you doubt this, I urge you to view the following video describing the new Project Ara phone.  Enjoy and think about what this means for the future!