Korea faces eroding competitiveness

Paul Boughton

Once a rising power in the high-tech business, South Korea now is facing mounting competitive pressure that is slowing or even reversing its advances in key product areas, according to Derek Lidow, president and chief executive officer of the market-research firm iSuppli Corp.

Speaking at the Seoul Digital Forum 2006, Lidow warned that South Korea is losing market share and leadership to overseas competitors in several segments, including LCD panels, LCD televisions and mobile phones.

“South Korea is being out-spent and out-maneuvered by competitors on multiple fronts,” Lidow said. “To remain competitive, the nation must change its approach to the high-tech industry, focusing more on entrepreneurial innovation and less on lower-margin commodity products.”

South Korea was the longtime leader in LCD panel production. However, Taiwan in the third quarter of 2005 displaced South Korea as the world's largest LCD panel-making nation, Lidow noted, citing data from iSuppli's LCD Tracker Service.

Korea accounted for 48.8 per cent of LCD panel shipments in the first quarter of 2005, while Taiwan had a 41.8 per cent share. One year later, in the first quarter of 2006, Taiwan took the number-one position with a 52.2 percent share of shipments, compared to only 37.4 per cent for South Korea.

“Taiwan will remain the leader in LCD panel production for the foreseeable future,” Lidow predicted.

iSuppli’s market-share numbers confirm Lidow’s forecast made at the Seoul Digital Forum in 2004 that South Korea was on the verge of losing its leadership in LCD panel production. At the time, Lidow’s prediction set off a wave of controversy and sparked a debate in South Korea over the future of the nation’s LCD business.

Lidow also noted that South Korea has lost ground in the fast-growing LCD-TV market.

South Korea in 2003 was the world's second-largest LCD-TV producer after Japan, with a market share of 26 per cent, according to figures from iSuppli’s Television Systems Market Tracker service. However, by 2005, the nation's share had slipped to 20 per cent, putting it third behind Japan and Taiwan/China.

After years of gaining share in the mobile-phone market at the expense of other nations and regions, South Korea in 2004 emerged as the world’s second-largest region for phone production, following Europe, according to data from iSuppli’s Design Forecast Tool. However, South Korea’s mobile-phone market share reached a plateau in 2005, while Europe rebounded and the United States continued to grow.

“Recent European and US product successes have halted Korean market-share gains,” Lidow noted.

Lidow cited marketing as the reason why European and U.S. mobile-phone makers are outperforming their South Korean counterparts.

“The effectiveness of target marketing for the global leaders in the mobile phone business is improving at a faster pace than it is for the top Korean manufacturers,” Lidow said.

With Korea facing challenges on multiple fronts, the nation must change its approach to high-tech competition, shifting its focus from commodity products to value-added goods and services, Lidow advised.

“Korea must encourage entrepreneurial innovation through the creation of more competitive private investment funds and industrial incentives, including both venture capital and private equity investment funds,” Lidow said.

“This will result in a gradual shift away from lower-margin, capital-intensive and slower-growth consumer-electronics hardware and toward more innovative products and services. It also will stimulate more innovation and investment in local firms.”

For more information, visit www.isuppli.com