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Friday, 11 October, 2002, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Broadband lessons to be learned
Koreans celebrate World Cup 2002
Net communities spurred on World Cup fever in Korea
South Korea has become the unlikely home of the most successful broadband rollout in the world and there are plenty of lessons the UK can learn from its experience of high-speed net access.

Putting education at the top of the broadband agenda and increasing competition among network providers are just two of the key points to come out of a UK government fact-finding mission to South Korea.

Over 60% of Koreans have a broadband connection and high-speed access has become a part of everyday life in the country.

Net communities were largely responsible for the huge wave of public enthusiasm displayed during the 2002 World Cup where millions of South Koreans met up on the street to watch matches.

Government commitment

Broadband in Korea
2MB broadband costs $25 per month
8MB broadband costs $33 per month
10 million connections by end of 2002
74% of surfers use audio/video
90% of population live near a telephone exchange
"Broadband internet is embedded in ordinary family life and they take it for granted that they should have it," explained Dr Heejin Lee, computing lecturer at Brunel University and one of the team who spent time in Korea.

For the UK, committed to being the most competitive place for broadband in the western world by 2005, there are some crucial lessons to learn.

One of the most important factors accounting for the hugely successful rollout of broadband in Korea was government commitment and investment.

The government provided $1.5bn to create a backbone network and another $1bn on loans to ensure companies took broadband to rural areas.

Its determination to convert the country to a knowledge-based economy was total and it offered PC subsidies for low income families and put 10 million Koreans on a one month training course.

Education, education, education

Perhaps most importantly broadband was integrated into its education policy so all teachers had web pages and pupils were required to submit their homework via the internet.

Korean gamers
Gaming is huge in Korean PC clubs
"The power of education was a major driver for residential broadband and I would put a lot more eggs in that basket," said Antony Walker, member of the broadband stakeholders group and one of the fact-finders.

He advised the government to increase the amount of bandwidth available to schools and make sure that teachers were properly supported.

Education is taken very seriously in Korea and mothers tend to stay at home to look after the children, so broadband advertising is aimed at mothers and the benefits of high-speed access is intricately linked to educational achievement.

In the UK there is a far greater emphasis on the business benefits of broadband, something which was largely ignored in Korea.

Alongside education, entertainment has become the most popular use of the technology.

Gaming is huge in Korea, and many young people meet up in so-called PC bangs - similar to internet cafes - to play tournaments.

These clubs started appearing in 1998 and there are now 21,000 of them around the country. They have been credited with driving the take-up of broadband.

Video-on-demand is also very popular and is used to record popular TV programmes to watch at a more convenient time.

Watching TV on the PC is common practice in Korean households.

This is partly enabled by the much larger amounts of bandwidth available in Korean homes. Whereas the majority of broadband connections in the UK are less than one megabit, most connections in Korea are much faster.

By 2006 the government wants to provide 20 megabits to every home in Korea.

More competition

Operators are crucially not reliant on one network as in the UK where BT dominates the broadband infrastructure.

68- storey apartment block in Korea
Majority of Koreans live in high-rise blocks
"It may be controversial, but for broadband to really roll out in the UK the government needs to provide loans to get a second infrastructure player," advised John Frieslaar, one of the fact-finding team and Senior Manager at Lucent.

Geography has played a large part in why broadband has been rolled out so quickly in Korea.

80% of the population live in urban areas and nearly half of those live in large apartment blocks with a single communication room for broadband connections.

Despite having a much more widely dispersed population, the UK could still achieve its broadband targets.

"It can be achieved if the UK determines a clear policy for broadband and applies an appropriate amount of public money," summed up Dean of Technology at Brunel University Professor Ray Paul.

See also:

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