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Last Updated: Friday, 3 November 2006, 16:40 GMT
South Korea pushes mobile speeds
Richard Taylor
By Richard Taylor
Editor, BBC Click

South Korea is well known as a nation of broadband addicts and soon the speeds people enjoy at home will be available while they are out and about.

Wibro bus
Wibro has been tested onboard a bus driving around Seoul

In Seoul a technology with the formidable name of High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) is behind this boost to wireless speeds. It piggybacks on the 3G cellular networks, but HDSPA has been especially tweaked to give speeds which are about three to four times faster than regular 3G.

In South Korea it is in much wider use than most other places, and consequently it is one of the first places in the world where people are actually beginning to use it.

But the Koreans do not rest on their laurels, they have other technologies in their sights for high-speed mobile broadband.


Seoul is just starting to roll out Wibro, which stands for wireless broadband.

Imagine a city enmeshed in a veil of super-powerful wireless hotspots, each beaming out the internet at broadband speed to everyone in the city, wherever they may be.

Korean looking at Google
Four out of five households have access to the net

That is Korea Telecom's vision for the South Korean capital, and they saw the launch of Wibro this summer as a significant step towards that goal.

Local residents are given a hands-on demo of the virtues of Wibro's impressive capabilities, happily browsing and watching streams of last night's football at the respectable broadband speeds of several megabits a second, all while being chauffeured around the city.

Unfortunately, out in the real world Koreans cannot actually use Wibro on their phones because no-one has figured out how to cram in the bulky and power-hungry Wibro chipsets, and make what is essentially a data service work alongside voice calls.

Technical gremlins mean the connection keeps dropping when users move between Wibro base stations, and it is only available in five districts of Seoul.

Wibro may have arrived in this world-beating mobile metropolis, but it is just that little bit too early.

Mobile features

There are lots of other cool mobile stuff going on here too, especially in the new generation of handsets.

TV on a mobile phone
Mobiles in S Korea offer a variety of TV channels

You can take your pick from 10-megapixel camera phones, to bespoke phones with elementary mixing for budding teenage DJs.

If you have got more serious musical inclinations, a fancy candybar phone should see you right, with a whopping 8GB in its hard drive - enough for 2000 tracks.

Also competing for your attention on the handset is a virtual pooch, who responds according to affection you bestow, and if you happen across a similar phone owner you can cross-breed a puppy and then give it up for adoption to another user.

Then there are the handsets with built-in motion sensors, so you can play games, make music or enhance the core functions of the phone - like speed dialling by waving your arms in the air.

Arguably less gimmicky is a phone with a built-in breathalyser, which checks you are not over the limit if you have been out drinking.

Trailblazing TV

Outshining all of those have got to be phones with great hi-res screens, where you can watch several dozen channels of TV content in amazingly decent quality.

The pictures come courtesy of a technology called DMB - Digital Multimedia Broadcasting - which is now being watched by over a million Koreans since its launch last year.

Depending on the handset you can pick up either a free terrestrial service or a premium satellite offering. Definitely a trailblazer for the rest of the world to watch in awe.

It should come as no great surprise that the Koreans are already thinking about 4G networks which will deliver blisteringly fast speeds.

In a recent display of mobile muscle, a few Samsung execs were given a taste of things to come - a 100 megabit stream of data whilst moving at 60 kph.

That is enough for video on demand, a live broadcast, and web surfing simultaneously.

And that is not all - when they were stationary it was 10 times faster, enough for 32 HD channels of streaming video at the same time.

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