Korea Technology Review2009.03.30 23:38


Want to be freed from paying your phone bills -- forever? That would no more be a far-fetched fantasy for Koreans according to a plan by a newly merged Korean telecom giant. 

The Korea Communications Commission approved Wednesday the merger of KT and KTF, its mobile service affiliate, paving the way for a host of innovative services across wired and wireless platform.

The merged KT, with its combined annual revenue of 19 trillion won ($14 billion), is expected to introduce a variety of hybrid service packages by coupling its land line, broadband and wireless assets. However the most intriguing concept by far is a WiBro phone KT is developing with its partner Samsung.

A KT official involved in the project told a local media outlet, "KT will install WiBro component inside a Samsung smart phone to provide both 3G WCDMA and WiBro service from a single handset."

▲ Nokia phone with a Skype mobile Internet call plan
ⓒ2009 Skype
Codenamed Wi-Omnia since it will add up WiBro connectivity on Omnia, a Samsung’s smart phone popular among Asian and European consumers, the new phone is rumored to feature a 3.3 inch LCD screen, 3 million pixel camera, Bluetooth, WiFi and Windows Mobile 6.1 edition.

WiBro is a service brand for KT’s mobile WiMax which promises up to 50Mbits per second of seamless broadband data communication over wireless network. It currently covers Seoul and other major metropolitan areas and further expansion of the network is on the way. Theoretically, users with a WiBro handset can surf the Web at super speed in subways, bus and high speed trains without stopping for a wireless hot-spot, since it guarantees mobile broadband connectivity at up to 120Km per hour.

KT hopes to develop a fresh new market segment with the upcoming WiBro phone; however, the real potential of the phone is that it can double as a mobile VoIP phone, opening the door for completely free phone calls over wireless network.

Scores of VoIP phones and services are available already for sure and Skype is selling Internet call plans for mobile phone users available in two Nokia models. Truphone, Fring and other software-based Internet phone service providers are also giving away free widgets designed for iPhone, iPod Touch and other smart phones. 

However for many Koreans accustomed to over 100Mbps broadband Internet at home, Skype’s mobile VoIP service is far too sluggish a standard to be called a mobile broadband -- it still relies on the antiquated 3G network. 

The WiBro phone KT is developing with Samsung promises users that they don’t have be tied to a landline or hunt for a WiFi hotspot for VoIP calls and Web surfing anymore, leading to a complete freedom from nagging phone bills on the way.

Wi-Omnia for KT may be launched before this June and SK Telecom, KT’s domestic archrival also hinted at selling its own version as early as March.

Apple’s iPhone and other latest smart phones have resolved most of the thorny issues in user interface and hardware. And the VoIP phone market is forecast to jump from virtually nil in 2007 to over 250 millions by 2012 according to Disruptive Analysis, a London-based consultancy.

But smart phone users have complained that current wireless infrastructure cannot satisfy the demanding bandwidth appetite of today’s advanced handsets. Introduction of WiBro phone equipped with a potential backdoor for VoIP service signals that the weakest link of smart phone industry will be finally fixed. 
Posted by PSB

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Korea Technology Review2009.03.30 23:31


How do you know spring has arrived in Seoul? The answer: A sandstorm. Looming clouds of yellow sand blowing from China's Gobi Desert is the clear visual evidence for Koreans that long winter is finally over. The giant stream of yellow sand even blows over the Pacific Ocean and was once spotted as far a place as in California.

For Korean semiconductor and flat-screen manufacturers, the sandstorm is also an urgent warning to raise their dust defense to full alert. Lee Hae-sun, a line manager at LG Display's Paju fabrication plant says "it has already taken every preemptive measure in store" as the worst sandstorm in 58 years is forecast to come this spring. 

Memory chips and flat screens are assembled in so-called clean rooms, where the dust level is controlled at Class 1 -- no more than one dust particle bigger than 0.5 micrometer is allowed per each cubic square feet. Hard to grasp this? Imagine a coin-sized blob of dust particles in a mid-sized city. Any slight leak of yellow sand could mean a spike in the deficiency rate among finished components that would potentially lead to a billion-dollar loss.

When tons of yellow sand are blowing over Korea every spring, their fight against the yellow storm is a make-or-break moment not only for Korean manufacturers but also for the global high-tech industry. 

The global supply chain of DRAMs and flat screens can fall into disarray if the sandstorm ever disrupts those fragile fabrication lines--when massive earthquake attacked Japan in 1995 and Taiwan in 1999, the countries' high-tech industry had to spend for over a couple of months fine-tuning assembly lines until the production capacity was normalized back to previous level. 

Korea is now the No. 1 country in terms of DRAM and flat screen shipments. Korean Air was able to grab top market share in global air freight business by air-shipping those precious electronic components to the world. 

Their first line of defense against yellow sand is a carbon air filtration system. A line manager at Samsung says "since the carbon filtration alone was not an enough defense in time of the sandstorm attack," they blocked air stream entirely to the most sensitive area, where critical components are assembled.

High-tech assembly lines are mostly run by computers to minimize human contact with the sensitive equipment but some amount of on-site human supervision is always inevitable. When human supervisors enter into the clean room, they have to go through multiple air-showers in airlocks after putting on white dust suits. Samsung doubled air shower time required for its workers during the sandstorm event this spring. 

Every risk entails a new opportunity, however. While Samsung, LG and Hyundai are struggling to stop yellow sand affecting production, shares of Korean pharmaceutical companies and air cleaner manufactures posted a sharp rise Monday in the Korean stock market as Korean consumers are expected to buy more eye drops and air cleaning devices.

Struggle or benefit, Koreans are worried about whether the alarming deforestation of the Gobi Desert -- despite China's best efforts - could mean that they are ultimately fighting a losing battle.
Posted by PSB

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Korea Technology Review2009.03.30 23:21


A giant Google logo was spotted over and over again roaming around universities and shopping malls in Korea last summer. The white double-decker, wrapped in the emblem of the global search king, was Google's latest foray into the broadband capital of the world, an unusual move for the Mountain View, California company that had conventionally relied on buzz and word of mouth for promoting its services. 

The potentially million-dollar marketing blitz that Google has never done anywhere but in Korea shows how much stake it puts on the world's 10th largest economy in its global expansion strategy. Despite this extraordinary effort, however, Google's share in the Korean search market measured by the total number of daily queries remains at a meager 3 percent, while Naver, its Korean archrival, attracts a whopping 70 percent of total search-related traffic, according to a recent survey. 

Google's dismal performance in Korea is all the more perplexing because it has never failed to conquer any market it has entered -- in most of the major markets outside its familiar Anglophone stronghold, Google's unparalleled technology has almost always guaranteed it the crown of the local search king, according to the spokesperson of Google Korea. 

A prevalent theory in Korean dotcom circles is that Google failed to impress demanding Korean customers with its lousy service. This is at least what Naver and other major local portals want Koreans to believe. 

Choi Mi Jung, who leads Naver's "Knowledge Man" service, a Wikipedia-like online encyclopedia built by the spontaneous participation of Netizens, scoffs at the sloppy interface and unfriendly way Google's Korean site presents its search results. "It is how meticulously their service was designed that made the difference," she says. 

However, the real reason behind Google's difficult path in Korea is that its highly praised search technology was rendered practically useless in the Korean language sphere when major portals decided to block Google search robots from crawling around the content they hold, industry observers universally note. 

Kim Joong Tae, an online columnist who writes for IT SpotNews, says that he dug up "robots.txt" from all of the top three portals. "The code, designed to prevent unwanted assaults on privacy by search bots, was never misused this extensively anywhere else to block archiving of the entire databases that portals hold," Kim says. Naver's Knowledge Man alone boasts over 37 millions questions and answers, but Google was never able to archive this massive database and show them to its Korean users. 

Empas, a midsize Korean portal that nevertheless stood up to Naver and Daum by archiving their databases, named its search service "Open Search" -- a tautology since search by nature relies on the "open" architecture of the Net, according to the consensus of the international dotcom community. Is it a pure coincidence that Empas formed an alliance with Google in developing its "Open Search"? 

How things have developed in this way is a long story. Back in 1997, when most of the Korean portals were launched, the total number of websites that existed in the Korean language sphere was barely over five thousand. For the Korean portals that were desperate to entice early Internet users, simply archiving the puny number of Web sites did not make any sense. The popular content providers at the time were news sites operated by the familiar names in mainstream media. 

Following the path of AOL that worked so well during the early days of dial-up connectivity, Korean websites decided to build their own "walled gardens" on the net, where users would create content themselves or copy and paste other content they found elsewhere. This strategy worked well for them. 

First, Daum introduced "cyber cafe," where online hobby groups, class reunions and various other discussion groups would generate tons of content by themselves. CyWorld came up with a personal homepage service festooned with lots of bells and whistles that allow users to socialize with others at a much faster pace than they otherwise could. 

Recently, Naver introduced Knowledge Man and blogs to users, giving them a place to play with their intelligent online peers. Even the news service was simply a tool to stimulate extended discussion, hence generating huge amounts of user-created content. One online survey found that Daum earned near 40 percent of its traffic from the user-created content, rather than the paid-for content. Finally, Internet-size fences were built up around the content reservoirs they accumulated over time in the form of search bot blockers. 

To be fair, the Korean portals should be given credit for realizing the vision of Web 2.0 for Koreans well before anyone in Silicon Valley started such discussions seriously. By simplifying the web publishing process with more standardized content creation tools such as online cafes, blogs and mini-homepages, the portals popularized the web experience for many Koreans, advancing the market to a maturity far earlier than in any other country. 

The caveat of this approach is, while putting more stress on users' content generation than on archiving the web, it ignored the enormous amount of useful content lurking outside the Korean language sphere. Kim of IT SpotNews warns that while Korean portals were gloating over the domestic success they achieved with the walled-garden strategy, they lagged behind Google in the development of more sophisticated search technology. 

A vice president of a major Korean portal observes that the unprecedented early maturation of the Korean web sphere drove the general Internet culture in a grossly entertainment-oriented direction. 

"With so many juveniles and even kindergarten-age children surfing the web," he laments, "Koreans would not be able to see in their web space the level of intelligence and sophistication that is easily found, for example, in Wikipedia." 

Already, Korean "power users" who can surf English language sites without much difficulty complain that Korean portals cannot compete with Google at all in the league of more advanced search games. University students looking for in-depth information for their research papers usually find far more useful content written in English from Google than Naver and Daum can do in their combined searches. 

As an increasing number of younger Koreans are getting used to the English language and starting to command a fair level of proficiency, they will realize that a bigger and more interesting world does exist outside the horizon of the Korean language sphere. If that scenario is ever realized, that will be the judgment day for those Korean portals that have basked in their protracted complacency. 

Meanwhile, Google's white double-decker will have to keep crawling around the streets of Korea looking for customers, while the legs of its search bots remain tied to its parking lot.
Posted by PSB
TAG Google, Naver

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