[OUTLOOK]Running toward our future

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[OUTLOOK]Running toward our future

More than 70 percent of households across the nation have high speed internet connections, and more than 70 percent of the population use cellular phones. More than 15 percent of Korea’s gross domestic product is concentrated on the information technology industry and 40 percent is from mobile phone exports by domestic makers. When we spend some time abroad, we suddenly realize the luxury of the information technology we have enjoyed at home.
However, only 10 years ago, I felt neglected and sad whenever I attended international conferences on technology standardization. Technologies developed by foreign companies dominated the international standards. I used to have a modest dream that even one technology developed in Korea could be selected as an international norm.
Standardization is the flower of the communication technology. Only through standardization can accomplishments in technology development blossom. The communications industry demands absolute mutual compatibility between devices and the product of any research and development is useless unless it meets international standards. Therefore, competition is fierce. It takes tremendous labor pains for a certain technology to be selected as an international standard, especially for a technology with big industrial and economic impacts.
In order to be a new standard, the technology has to be new and far superior to the existing technology so it can change the market. Therefore, it is only possible as a result of persistent research and development. Moreover, communications service providers must have a strong will to adopt the technology and commercialize it. There is no point in standardizing technology for a device with little marketability. Having the technology and marketability are not enough, though. International negotiation skills, financial and systematic assistance for standardization and policy support by related government agencies also have to be in sync.
In the summer of 2004, I attended an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) conference on the standardization of the mobile communications industry. There, I realized a change in the atmosphere. Korea started to promote WiBro, a Korean-developed wireless Internet technology, as an international standard. While world-class companies persisted in their technologies, new Korean technologies were selected as international standards one after another. A year later on December 13, the WiBro technology was finally approved as an international standard.
WiBro is a purely domestically developed mobile communications service. It refers to the wireless broadband Internet service that is as fast as high speed Internet connection but at a low price. An initial trial service will begin in January 2006, and the commercial service will be provided from April. WiBro is a result of collaboration by academia, industry, research and government bodies. Korean communication service providers established the WiBro service concept in advance and the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) and Samsung Electronics succeeded in developing new technologies and devices together. In the course of this development, they attained hundreds of patents and intellectual property rights. The Telecommunications Technology Association led the initiative to have WiBro technology approved as an international standard. It means that we have secured a mobile communication technology that we do not have to pay royalties for.
However, the game has just begun. In 2007, new frequencies for fourth generation mobile communications will be assigned. In order to take the lead in the new standards, nations around the world will concentrate on research and development and pursue international negotiations.
There is still a lot to be done for the future of WiBro. We have to complete the standardization of the products to be released in the market and get ahead of the rival technologies popping up constantly. Most of all, the most urgent task is to promote and popularize the WiBro service. Once we secure stability in the domestic market, the technology can be introduced to the international market.
In the IT industry, keeping the lead is more difficult than rising to the top. In order to remain an industry leader, we have no choice but to run even faster. The future of Korea as a true IT powerhouse depends on how hard we try from now on.

* The writer is a professor of wireless communication networks at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Kang Chung-gu

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