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Korea Seeks Ubiquitous Connectivity
Along with mobile communications, the broadband Internet access market has been the main driving force for Korea's information-technology sector. By the end of 2002, 26 million Koreans comprised the world's fifth largest market. This accomplishment demonstrated significant growth since 1995 when fewer than one Korean of 100 used the Internet. By 1999, Korea surpassed the average penetration rate of developed nations in Western Europe and North America.
Korea now leads the world in broadband Internet access penetration, with more than 84 percent of the country's 30 million Internet subscribers using digital subscriber lines and cable modems. Korea's 22 broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants in 2002 was the world's highest rate by a wide margin, followed by Hong Kong with 14.6 subscribers per 100 inhabitants.
According to figures from the International Telecommunication Union, Korea has the world's third-highest Internet penetration rate with 63.3 percent, behind Iceland's 67.5 percent and Sweden's 63.8 percent.
Commercial Internet services started in 1994, with local fixed-line carriers KT Corp. and Dacom Corp. being given the licenses. The Internet population reached 10 million in 1999, with newcomer Hanarotelecom Inc. adding to the competition, and exceeded 20 million in 2001.
KT, which controls 94.2 percent of the local fixed-line market and 51 percent of the broadband Internet market, reported 11.6 trillion won in revenue and 830 billion won in net income for 2003. The company also owns 46.9 percent of its mobile affiliate, KT Freetel Co., which is the country's No. 2 mobile-phone operator.
Hanarotelecom is the No. 2 fixed-line telephony and broadband Internet carrier with a 23.5 percent market share.
Korea's advanced broadband infrastructure is expected to play a major role in helping the government reach its goals for universal, high-speed broadband access. One of the most notable government projects is the installation of the broadband convergence network, or BcN. The broadband convergence network is seen as Korea's most significant attempt to create an integrated service environment that combines wired and wireless communication, broadcasts and data transmission.
The concept of the broadband convergence network is a massive Internet protocol to which people can connect from a wide range of terminals from nearly everywhere.
Although there is no exact picture of what the future network will look like because the Korean mobile and broadband networks evolved separately and are in different architecture. However, government officials say the broadband convergence network will provide Internet access with nationwide coverage at speeds of 50Mbps to 100Mbps, which is about 50 times faster than the current conventional broadband services.
The new network infrastructure is expected to provide the base for future communication and information services, such as Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6), next-generation mobile telephony, sensor-based network computing and radio-frequency identification technology.
The government hopes to attract 67 trillion won ($58 billion) in investment for the broadband convergence network project, which officials believe will generate 111 trillion won in equipment sales and $50 billion in exports by 2010, while covering more than 20 million domestic households.
In September, the government picked three consortia, respectively led by KT, SK Telecom and Dacom, to conduct the broadband convergence network trial operations that are scheduled for next year.
Next year's trial operations will focus on developing services based on voice-over-Internet protocol, IPv6, satellite-based mobile broadcasts, next-generation mobile telephony and sensor-based computing.
The government plans the broadband convergence network trial operations until the end of 2005, with commercial adoption planned as early as the start of 2006.