The level of broadband rollout in South Korea (it's now in 67 per cent of households) is the envy of many countries. However, government support and funding aside, there are several aspects of Korean society which make comparisons ineffective.
The writers of the 'Investigating broadband technology deployment in South Korea' report from Brunel University and the DTI yesterday identified several key factors. They include:
Population density and housing
Whereas the UK and much of western Europe is considered densely populated -- on a level with east Asia -- South Korea's population is more densely concentrated than most. It has 480 people per square kilometre versus 245 in the UK, and 80 per cent of people live in urban areas. More importantly, however, any visitor to Korea will notice many families live in high-rise blocks that can have 600 dwellings or more. Each building has been built with a single communications room, usually in the basement, and this is where a lot of broadband exchange equipment is often located. Typical rates of 2Mbps -- and in the future, up to 20Mbps -- are possible because over 90 per cent of the population live less than 4km from a KT exchange. As Antony Walker, taskforce member and senior executive, ICT, Intellect and the Broadband Stakeholder Group, noted: "There are economies of density for rolling out broadband networks. It's the ideal geography." The 'PC Bang'
No, not a boom in PC ownership, though that, helped by subsidies for those on low incomes, did happen too. PC Bang refers to a type of cybercafé, similar to those found elsewhere around the world. They took off in Korea alongside the broadband rollout and, in addition to providing cheap access to the internet (about 60p per hour) they educated many users in what broadband access allows. They are popular as a social meeting place -- especially for the young -- and for gamers, many of whom may even crowd around a single computer. Gaming and multimedia
The gaming culture in Korea is strong and the report found 74 per cent of broadband users consume audio and video content over their connections; for example they pay a small fee to watch a TV show they missed earlier in the day on their PC. Gaming has been a strong driver for broadband uptake, with the old and young taking an already-established game-playing obsession online. NCsoft is now the world's largest online gaming company with about two million users paying around £15 per month for services. It now plans to export its offerings to countries where broadband is taking off. Adult services, inevitably, factor in the Korean market success. However, Mike Locke, UK marketing and communications director at Eutelsat, said: "They did claim the adult market was there but we were never shown it." Micropayments system
At the heart of successful content offerings is the ability to let users pay for them. The most popular method of payment in Korea is through pre-paid accounts that use mobile phones. These account for 48.8 per cent of transactions by value. The other systems are ARS, similar to the above but using landlines, at 24 per cent by value, credit card payment (20 per cent) and having charges added to monthly ADSL bills. Cultural
Perhaps the over-riding factor in broadband take up relates to most Koreans' view that it is simply a 'good thing'. As Dr Heejin Lee from Brunel University put it: "It is taken for granted [by families] that it's what they should buy."