A healthy mobile habitatKorea will be home to 48,000 Wi-Fi hot spots, established with the assistance of the country’s three local wireless services providers, by the end of the year. Between now and then, the size of the area covered by free public Wi-Fi will more than double. The country will have the largest Wi-Fi network in the world following the United States’ 68,000 hot spots.
In the past, Korea’s wireless Internet service had lagged far behind other advanced markets. While wireless Internet usage boomed from 2006 in the U.S., Europe and China following the popularity of smartphones and other digital devices, Korea was limping to catch up. But now it has made a leap to outrun these markets in just a year.
KT plans to expand Wi-Fi access to 27,000 hot spots, and LG Telecom will provide free unlimited Wi-Fi to its subscribers by upgrading its high-speed broadband network. Wireless telecom leader SK Telecom also plans to aggressively expand 3G wireless service capacity.
Thanks to the cutthroat competition among service providers, customers will enjoy widespread fast wireless services at a lower cost. They will no longer have to avoid connecting to the Internet via their mobile phones because of the exorbitant service charges. The mobile phone bills that make up 7 percent of their disposable income on average will also go down significantly. The news is also a windfall for wireless and digital handset manufacturers. Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, and Pantech have been fielding their own smartphones to compete with Apple’s front-runner iPhone.
But the wireless Internet service fray should not turn into a futile no-win situation like the competition for better mobile phone subsidies. The service providers are already showing signs of overlap and redundant investment in establishing free public Wi-Fi hot spots. They are building access points in the same places. They can save costs if they allow other parties access to their wireless networks. SKT and LG are asking for a joint connection, but KT, the front-runner in wireless service networks, is opposed to a free ride. The government should step in and mediate in order to establish a cost-saving cooperative network in wireless service.
We cannot turn into a wireless IT powerhouse overnight. We became a broadband Internet network powerhouse because of our investment over the last 10 years. We need to radically loosen restrictions to succeed in the mobile industry. We cannot afford overlapping and redundant spending. The government and industry together must find ways to foster a healthy mobile habitat that can benefit all related industries. The new IT expressway is now open, and so are new opportunities and challenges.