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Page last updated at 11:33 GMT, Friday, 15 October 2010 12:33 UK

What would you do with gigabit internet speeds?

By Richard Taylor and Alex Hudson
BBC Click

Men walk past a phone advertisement
South Korean broadband speeds let content almost fly onto the screen

South Korea is already ahead of the global technological curve but it is looking to forge even further ahead by boosting broadband speeds across the nation.

It is not aiming at 100, 200 or even 500 megabits per second (Mbps). Instead it has devised a national plan for 1,000Mbps connections to be commonplace by 2012.

The government is encouraging enterprise to spend the 34 trillion Won (£19bn), required to complete the scheme. By way of a comparison, that figure is roughly the same as the nation's annual education budget.

In theory, this idea will give many homes in South Korea a connection speed 500 times faster than is guaranteed in the UK.

In practice, South Korea is already considered the country quickest for broadband. The current average connection, according to a report by web firm Akamai, is 12Mbps - the highest in the world.

How quick is a 1GB connection?
Download Tolstoy's War and Peace: 0.002 secs (2mbps: 1 sec)
Download a 45-minute album: 0.05 secs (2mbps: 26 secs)
Download a 90-minute HD film: 3 mins 36 secs (2mbps: 30hrs)
Watch 1-minute of Super HD: 6 mins 40 secs (2mbps: 200hrs)

The Kung family are just one of the families reaping the benefits of blisteringly fast broadband.

Click visited the family to find out how it used the high-speed link. On a typical day twenty-something Kevin would be in his bedroom immersed in multiplayer online gaming, an activity which South Koreans have adopted as something of a national sport

In the living room, Eunice and her toddler might be enjoying the television. Thanks to the fast connection they can watch and interact.

With a £12-a-month ($19) subscription to an internet TV service, the family has access to dozens of regular channels, tens of thousands of movies on demand, interactive services like Twitter, and English learning through subtitles and karaoke.

"At home I'm using 100 megabits right now and that satisfies me a lot because it's fast," says Eunice Kung.

"But 1,000 megabits in three years? That'll surprise people but I think it's a very natural conclusion because South Korean people are very impatient, they need everything quickly, quickly, quickly. They need more, all the time."

ship with wireless graphic above
Wireless networks are seen as key to the future of mobile data

In the UK, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that Britain will lead Europe into the era of super-fast broadband by 2015.

Some companies are already promising speeds of around 50Mbps and the government has guaranteed a 2Mbps connection for everyone by the end of the current parliament.

But what can a 1,000Mbps super-fast connection be used for?

Firstly, it is about speed - Hollywood blockbusters can be downloaded in 12 seconds or the entire James Bond back catalogue can be delivered whilst the kettle boils.

Super HD

And one thing that is becoming increasingly common is streaming television. While a Department for Media, Culture and Sport spokesperson in the UK says that "two megabits is sufficient" for streaming services, the next generation of hi-definition content will stretch the bandwidth limits worldwide.

According to the Blu-ray Disc Association, it takes a 40Mbps connection to stream full HD content but that is only the tip of the iceberg.

3D images, by their very nature, require a quicker transfer rate and Super HD, to be introduced over the next decade, goes even further.

It has 16 times as many pixels as today's high-end HD and the compressed version needs a minimum bandwidth of 320Mbps. The uncompressed stream requires 24 gigabits a second.

Two men experiment with phones
South Koreans are often seen as an entire nation of "early adopters"

The quickening pace of fixed line and wi-fi services seems not to cater for the growing trend of mobile users. In South Korea, a network of LTE - advanced cellular data networks - is being introduced.

But Lee Suk-Chae, chairman of Korea Telecom, says that these networks alone will not be sufficient to meet our needs.

"I think in the future we will really see a data deluge - data will explode over the network," he says.

"And you cannot handle that data traffic only through the mobile internet. Although there will be LTE, still you won't be able to handle all that traffic.

"Fixed line is essential to support that traffic and in that sense, I think people want to watch the content they want anywhere, anytime, and to satisfy their demands you need to have a strong network, maybe a gigabit internet."

He says that only 10% of data transfer is through 3G networks, 70% coming through wi-fi - which is not that surprising when you consider the number of hotspots in South Korea's urban areas.

And with a nation full of early-adopters, it seems only a matter of time before Koreans are surfing the net at speeds the rest of us can only dream about.

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