By Cho Jin-seo
High-speed wireless and wireline Internet networks will continue to drive technology evolution in South Korea this year. Telecom operators are becoming more aggressive in providing new services such as IPTV and Mobile WiMax (WiBro) at affordable prices in order to retain subscribers. Meanwhile, the monopoly of Naver in the Internet industry will weaken as the Web users look for more open, diverse and credible source of information, with the advent of faster Web browsing architecture such as AJAX.
Green industries, such as biofuel and hybrid car, look still far from bearing fruits in South Korea. It will be another boring year for the car industry as well, with no major technological advancement expected to be commercialized.
The Internet-Protocol TV will have a lot of competitions this year, once the government allows live broadcasting of three terrestrial channels ― KBS, MBC and SBS ― via the Internet lines. Some even expect that this type of TV will eventually replace cable and satellite boxes to be the norm of the pay TV service within a few years in South Korea and abroad.
Both KT and Hanarotelecom, the two largest Internet and phone companies, are determined to expand IPTV users this year with generous discount plans, believing the it will be vital in retaining their broadband Internet subscribers. KT already started to offer a three-month free subscription. NHN, the operator of Naver Web portal site, is working together with KT. Daum, the No. 2 portal, is on its own IPTV project.
The emergence of IPTV will exacerbate the already-suffering DVD market as more people will prefer watching movies at home with the video-on-demand service to going to rental shops. Around 3 million households are expected to use the IPTV at the end of this year.
Like businessmen in North America use Blackberry to check e-mails, many Koreans will use e-mails and other Web-based services on their mobile phones when telecom companies start to sell full-browsing handsets from the spring.
The three telecom firms ― SK Telecom, KTF and LG Telecom, spent massive amounts of money in setting up high-speed mobile networks all over South Korea last year, and so-called 3G (third generation) networks are ideal for Internet services. The popularity of touch-screen handsets will also boost the use of mobile Internet, and telecom firms will offer hefty rebates on those Internet-capable handsets.
Another factor that will benefit the “digital nomads” is the expansion of Mobile WiMax (WiBro) network to countryside. Phones will begin to use WiBro network to access to the Internet, which will be much faster, and probably cheaper, than using the previous telephone network. KT’s WiBro service is only 19,800 won per month for unlimited upload and download.
Flat-screen TVs have become big enough to fill a living room wall in many homes thanks to the heated rivalry between Korean and Japanese TV makers to make larger LCD or plasma panels. With the size race is almost over now, another race has taken off to make screens thinner and sexier-looking.
During the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, LG Electronics showcased a 4.5-centimeter thick LCD TV. It is so far the slimiest LCD TV that is scheduled to be mass-produced this year. Samsung Electronics also showed a 2.5-centimeter thick TV, due to hit the market early next year.
Japanese firms have been more experimental. Hitachi’s prototype LCD TV was only 1.9 centimeters thick, and Panasonic showed a 2.5-centimeter plasma TV. But no one could match Sony’s 11-inch organic light-emitting diode (OLED) TV, shown above, which is on sale for $2,500 in the United States and is only 0.3 centimeters thick. Samsung is also actively developing the OLED TVs with a plan to mass-produce them in two years.
TPEG (Transport Protocol Expert Group) refers to the technology that shows the road traffic conditions graphically on mobile devices. From the second half of last year, many high-end car navigation systems have been sold with built-in TPEG function.
Usually, TPEG navigator uses three colors to indicate the level of congestion: red, yellow and green. Road conditions on highways and major roads in big cities are updated by traffic monitoring companies 24 hours a day and then sent to car navigators through the frequency used by mobile TV.
Many drivers, especially cabbies, did not trust TPEG much because of delayed update of road conditions. But the service quality is expected to improvet greatly this year as service providers are increasing the number of monitors. The Korea Automobile Manufacturers’ Association estimate that one in two cars in South Korea will be equipped with such a device within three years. Most TPEG service charges little fees.
Koreans’ fondness to tall, big cars is not new. And the incoming Lee Myung-bak government’s plan to cut taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel will ease the financial burden on the drivers of gas-devouring sports utility vehicles (SUVs). Led by Renault Samsung’s QM5 and Kia Motors’ Mohave, a number of new SUV models will arrive from domestic and foreign makers this year. The Korea Automobile Manufacturers’ Association estimates that the SUV sales will reach 254,000 this year, surpassing 237,000 of 2005.
At the same time, economy-minded drivers will opt for compact cars and scooters. GM Daewoo’s Matiz was the only compact car that was granted with tax cuts and highway fee discounts until last year, but the government decided to give the same benefit to Kia’s Morning from this year. Japanese makers such as Mitsubishi are also considering selling practical compact cars in Korea, aiming for young generation who fancies the Japanese style.
Korean Web sites are notorious for having too many graphics and Flash animations and for requiring installing of plug-in programs. But the trend is beginning to change. More and more Web developers are now trying to make their Web sites lightly constructed so they can response faster to users’ requests.
Naver’s position as the dominant Web portal site will be weakened this year by the reemergence of old rivals Daum and Yahoo Korea. Daum already surpassed Naver in the number of news service visitors since last fall, while Naver faltered with a series of controversial news editing policies. Daum also leads in the video searching category. This month, Yahoo also caught Naver by surprise by offering a free anti-virus program, which Naver also offered last year but withdrew.
Naver processes more than 70 percent of all search quarries in South Korea. But a growing number of Internet users are becoming uncomfortable with its search result, that puts priority on information edited by its own staff. Naver may lose confidence if its Japanese search engine project fails to win the Japan market.