Korea change

This week presented a change of scenery for the Informer, who fled the glorious British summer into the typhoon-soaked arms of Seoul, South Korea, the home of LTE speeds so fast that your phone downloads stuff before you even know you want it.

July 25, 2014

4 Min Read
Korea change

By The Informer

This week presented a change of scenery for the Informer, who fled the glorious British summer into the typhoon-soaked arms of Seoul, South Korea, the home of LTE speeds so fast that your phone downloads stuff before you even know you want it.

Seoul is so far ahead of the rest of us in terms of wireless infrastructure that the Koreans are considering sending humanitarian aid to the UK. There are charity campaigns here featuring despondent Brits staring forlornly at their smartphones, waiting in vain for the football highlights to stop buffering.

“Imagine a life devoid of basic necessities like streaming video, mobile gaming and location-based services,” pleads the charity TV ad. “Imagine sometimes not being able to update your social media status whenever you want. This is the living hell endured by millions of people in the UK. Just 10,000 won will buy a PAYG SIM for one day; 100,000 won a month’s contract; and a mere zillion won will provide the infrastructure to ensure Brits never again have to suffer this kind of stone-age indignity.”

metro phonesA trip on the immaculately clean metro rubbed further salt in the Informer’s wound, revealing as it did constant, ubiquitous smartphone use in the station and on the train itself. The Informer was able to confirm that people were using the network, rather than just playing games or listening to music, and the Korean commuters were remarkably tolerant of having a strange foreigner peering over their shoulders to eavesdrop on their IM exchanges.

smart toiletWalls covered with video screens serve to further emphasise Seoul’s obsession with technology and, while London commuters have to put their house up as collateral to get hold of an Oyster card, even single journey Metro tickets in Seoul take the form of NFC-infused smart cards, requiring a small deposit that is easily redeemable when you’ve finished with them. Even toilets are not spared from the irresistible march of technology, although the Informer lacked the courage to field-test the many features on offer.

Mobile data envy reached a crescendo when the Informer got hold of an LG G3 smartphone which, incidentally, is a very nice device in its own right. This one, however, used a Qualcomm modem supporting LTE-A Cat 6. This allows a theoretical maximum download speed of 300Mbps, which even UK fibre broadband users can only fantasize about.

LTE cat 6 speedtestOne technological challenge the industrious Koreans have yet to master, however, is traffic and Seoul is the home to world-class traffic jams. Still, these do at least afford the opportunity to lark about on your smartphone once more and the Informer can confirm that, when stuck in traffic, owners of this herculean device can stream 4K video without so much as an initial on-screen swirly thing to interrupt the experience. A quick speed test at the time revealed an actual download speed of 91.56 Mbps – not quite 300 but still inconceivably fast from a UK perspective, and there was not so much as a hiccup once we started moving.

No trip to Seoul could possibly be complete without a trip to Gangnam, the subject of that most viral of pop hits from Korean rapper Psy. Gangnam apparently means ‘south of the river’ and can be broadly attributed to the newer half of Seoul that grew incredibly rapidly in recent decades as Korea became wealthier. It is also a more defined area that is the home of jaw-dropping skyscrapers, designer shops and a metro station that doubles as a flea market.

Samsung dlightGangnam is also the home of just one of many skyscrapers devoted to Samsung Electronics. It’s hard to overstate the extent of Samsung’s presence in Seoul, and that’s not even where it’s headquartered. The logo is ubiquitous, as are its products, and it’s such a premium brand here it has a three-storey showroom where locals can come and fondle Samsung shiny things to their heart’s desire.

Anyone with an interest in mobile technology should pay Seoul a visit. The Koreans really are living the mobile dream and are already developing the kinds of products and services that are only really viable with reliable, fast mobile data. In many ways it feels like a western city on steroids, with many familiar shops, brands and slogans, but visitors shouldn’t be surprised if they encounter examples of English words and phrases having lost some of their meaning in translation.

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Take care.

The Informer

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