KT helps Chinese bike-sharing giant Ofo roll onto streets

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KT helps Chinese bike-sharing giant Ofo roll onto streets


Staff from KT, Ofo, Shinhan Card and NHN KCP celebrate their bike-sharing partnership at KT Square in central Seoul on Wednesday. [KT]

Ofo, the world’s largest bike-sharing company, is bringing its trademark yellow two-wheelers to Korea.

KT, Korea’s second-largest wireless provider, said on Wednesday that it signed a partnership with Ofo, Shinhan Card and payment company NHN KCP to commercialize a bike-sharing service in Korea.

KT and Ofo vowed to work together to take advantage of KT’s wireless network and infrastructure to develop a smart lock device based on Internet of Things (IoT) technology that relies on narrowband radio technology, called NB-IoT, and launch a campaign to expand the bike-sharing market.

Ofo, which was founded in 2014 by five members of Beijing University’s cycling club “to rekindle China’s lost love of cycling,” currently operates over 10 million shared bikes across 250 cities in 20 countries. Its name comes from the letters’ resemblance to a bicycle.

Ofo has been running a free trial service with more than 100 bikes in Busan since January to study the potential of the Korean market. Korea is set to become the 21st country Ofo has entered. The company’s paid service is expected to begin in the latter half of this year, but the number of bikes and where they will be offered has yet to be decided, according to KT.

“Ever since we launched the free pilot service in Busan, we have received upbeat responses from users,” said Yangqi Zhang, the chief operating officer of Ofo, who attended the signing ceremony on Wednesday. “We hope to help the local community through our bike-sharing model.”

“The partnership won’t just stop at simply supplying an IoT service and throwing joint marketing activities,” said Kim Joon-gen, head of KT’s GiGA IoT business.

In the longer term, the combination of KT’s big data analysis and Ofo’s service capability is expected to help them react to larger issues, including fine dust, said Kim.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government has been running a paid bike-sharing service named Seoul Bike, or “ttareungi,” over the past two years. The service attracted a total of 620,000 users up until March 20, according to the government. There are hundreds of rental locations where the green and white bikes can be found. They cost 1,000 won ($0.94) per hour for the first two hours, and after they pass a 1,000 won surcharge is added every 30 minutes. Riders can pay either with a smartphone app or with a voucher.

Ofo is different, because its service does not use docking stations, meaning users may pick up bikes anywhere, except for some restricted area. Ofo uses a smartphone app to unlock bikes.

The start-up saves on the sizable expenditures required to build the station, but bikes parked improperly — blocking sidewalks and pedestrian access — have become a headache in many cities across the globe.

Shinhan Card will use Ofo services with its mobile app Shinhan FAN as part of its user royalty program, while NHN KCP will handle payments for the service that use credit cards, money transfers and smartphone payments. NHC’s Payco mobile payment platform will also be available for the Ofo service.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]
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