Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Digital development and the "telecommunications revolution" in Korea


I read with interest an article in The Korea Times today entitled  "SK, KT, LG Cutting Reliance on conventional telecom businesses.  When I began seriously researching the communications revolution in Korea it was called "The telecommunications revolution in Korea"  which became the title of my first book on the topic.  However, it is important to remember that when that book, The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea was published in 1995, no one was discussing either the third or fourth industrial revolution.   However, there was a general recognition that something called digital convergence was at the center of the revolution in telecommunications.  As is now more widely recognized, the digital network revolution that began in the mid twentieth century grew from three developments:  1)the invention of the transistor, 2) Claude Shannon's mathematical theory of communication which launched information theory and 3) the invention of electronic switching, a key enabling technology for the Internet.   These 20th century developments fueled exponential increases in the human ability to store, compute and communicate digital information.  

With 2020 hindsight it is clear that "the telecommunications revolution" that took hold in Korea during the 1980s was centered on the telecommunications industry but involved much more than that.  The growing power of digital computing and storage that have accompanied the rise of the Internet and digital communications are now leading Korea's three leading telecom companies to reposition themselves.  As noted in The Korea Times article, 

"The three major firms are working to reduce their strong telecom image. SKT is contemplating cutting "telecom" from its official company title, while KT has been calling itself an "AI company" or "digital platform company" in the hope of appealing more to business-to-business (B2B) clients.  

LG Uplus has long taken out the word "telecom" from its name and the company's initiatives in the non-telecom sector have shown strong growth in recent years.

SKT aims to become a global big-tech company with new ICT (information and communications technology) as its base. The company plans to increase its non-telecom businesses to over 35 percent of total sales this year."  

A concluding thought:  all of the non-telecom initiatives sought by KT, LG Uplus and SKT are anchored in important ways by digital communications, storage and computing.  A strong argument can be made that telecommunications was and is central to the digital and industrial revolution.

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