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A Glimpse into the Future: South Korea

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John Tate John Tate | 17:00 UK time, Thursday, 31 May 2012

Koreans looking at their phones on the train

Travellers on the Seoul Metro looking at their phones. Pic by Marc Smith, used under licence

Imagine if the UK's average connection speed was quadrupled to 17.5Mbps; superfast broadband penetration was cranked up nearly two-and-half-times to 83%; and the DAB network upgraded to send live TV to our mobiles. How far in the future would you have to go to see what that might be like?

Sadly the TARDIS outside Television Centre is in for a service. But if you do want to find out, take a look at South Korea. I was in Seoul earlier this month at the Korean Communications Conference to find out more about how Korea's impressive communications infrastructure is challenging some of our assumptions about broadcasting.

One of those assumptions is that people instinctively prefer to watch TV on a big screen whilst relaxing on their sofas. That might look like the case in the UK, where consumption of the BBC's TV services via smartphone is only about 0.04% of total consumption, and 0.05% by tablet. However it's not obvious in Korea, where mobile TV is now very popular indeed, driven by faster mobile broadband and Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB, essentially an upgraded DAB).

DMB allows high-quality TV reception on-the-move. Introduced by Korea in 2004, it's now very widely used on mobile phones, personal media players, tablet computers and is routinely fitted in cars. And whilst the auction for 4G spectrum is yet to take place in the UK, 4G LTE started in Korea midway through 2011.

These developments have meant that bigger mobile phone screens - between a tablet and a smartphone - have become extremely popular, squeezing the market for devices such as the iPad.

A second assumption challenged by South Korea's experience is that consumers by instinct prefer linear broadcasting to on-demand. In the UK, catch-up viewing of the BBC's TV services makes up about 1% of total viewing. On some measures, in Korea around half of total viewing is now via catch-up.

As the home of the world's best and fastest communications infrastructure, Korea also lays claim to some of the most innovative companies shaping consumer technology's future. They are leading the way in how we may interact with our TVs, already producing models that provide voice and motion control as well as face recognition. Significantly more advanced systems are in development however, including 'brain wave TV' which, via headgear, can identify broad categories of viewers' thoughts.

A potentially nearer-term consumer technology is holographic TV. At the moment, holographic technology is occasionally used for exhibition or advertising displays and can use a lot of data to transmit, but many pundits - such as the Korean Communication Commission's Dr Sang-il Park, a former CTO of Samsung - believe it will be far more significant and popular than current 'basic' 3D. It's certainly clear from Korean manufacturers that there is a lot more 'smartness' to come in TV manufacture, including artificial intelligence.

My sense after visiting South Korea is that in the UK we shouldn't be complacent about the continued success of the traditional broadcasting model.

The UK sector may evolve very rapidly indeed as the speed, availability and convenience of digital and IP functionalities reaches a tipping point into the fully mainstream.

John Tate is Director, BBC Policy & Strategy and Chairman, BBC Studios & Post-Production


  • Comment number 1.

    Personally I would love to see the DAB network ceased and replaced with something that was actually fit for purpose. Currently it is the Morse Code of radio and no amount of political posturing and artificial subsidies are going to convince me that it isn't a relic. OK a percentage of the population have invested in it already, but frankly it is a crippled legacy system which should have been killed off ages ago. Stop it now and replace it with DVB-T2 Lite which is fit for the 21st Century and can be made cheaper than DAB with better coverage, better battery economy and ready for video.

  • Comment number 2.

    "A second assumption challenged by South Korea's experience is that consumers by instinct prefer linear broadcasting to on-demand."

    Did anyone assume that? If so, why? With the exception of rolling news and 'event' TV (like say, the Eurovision) I think basically everything I watch is 'on demand' in some sense - either iPlayer (not all that much), or stuff I've recorded with a PVR. If I could have something like iPlayer that worked across channels, didn't remove things after a week, and worked in full HD, the PVR would be history.

    I can't honestly imaging why anyone would prefer 'linear' TV - it doesn't enable you to do anything you couldn't with on-demand, and it's more complicated.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    First of all DMB is not an upgrade to DAB it is a very different system. The DAB radio system is a legacy system which is technically obsolete and produces the worst quality radio. The BBC has waisted hundreds of millions trying to get people to listen to this awfull incarnation.

    Secondly the BBC is outputing a substandard HD service with very low bitrates and definition. This is dispite having plenty of bandwidth available on satellite. Freeview HD is just a joke.

    Sky has left the BBC in the dark ages with over 60 HD channels and a 3D channel. Sky is providing the 24 extra HD channels for the Olympics when the BBC can only manage 2. Eurosport is transmitting over 100 hours of 3D from the Olympics compared with the BBC's few hours.

    On formula 1 the BBC is only providing legacy stereo when Sky is providing 5.1 surround sound.

    My point is that The BBC talks about advanced technology when Sky actually delivers. Sky used DVB-S2 for HD from the start and the BBC continued to use DVB-S for years. Any advance in broadcasting technology is not likely to come from the BBC.

    I mainly watch live football and live F1 when on at a convenient time. Practically every thing else I watch on demand. The main benifit is being able to skip adverts and save alot of time.

    Once again the BBC is 3D bashing mainly because it does not want to make the investment in the service. It talks about such as super HD and holographic services which are far enough away for the BBC not to need to make any commitment.

    The problem the BBC has is a lack of money to finance technical developments. When colour started the BBC was able to increase the licence fee for colour. Right now it does not have the money for investment or making decent programs. It does however seem to find the money to send it's executives to travel half way round the world on expences paid jollies.

  • Comment number 5.

    #3 Oh a posting from Trevor, I wonder what he's going to comment on today, could it be....?

    (a) the poor quality of BBC HD
    (b) The lack of 3D broadcasting
    (c) F1/Olympoic Coverage

  • Comment number 6.


    It's nice to know I have been missed. I have not posted recently because I have been busy having too much fun producing my own 3D videos. It does however anoy me when the BBC starts to talk about the future when the should be fixing the present. What anoys me even more is that the BBC is delivering Super HD to the Japaneese paid for by the UK licence payer. I do resent being forced to pay for a service which is so badly managed.

  • Comment number 7.

    I should justify my comments on DMB.

    The BBC's DAB system uses the legacy mpeg2 audio codec which performs very badly at the low bitraes used by the BBC. The BBC's DAB system does not use full error correction making it very suceptable to interferance.

    South Korea uses DMB-T for its terestrial broadcasts. DMB-T uses the superior AAC audio codec and Reed Soloman error correction. H264 is used for video. There is a DAB+ system which also uses these technologies but the BBC refuses to adopt it.

    There is another standard DVB-H which is a subset of DVB-T and is the official EU standard for mobile television. It has a higher spectral efficiency and reduces reciever power consumption by about 90%.

    It seems that the BBC is looking to upgrade the current DAB system to use DMB-T. The DAB service has been the BBC's biggest failure todate. In upgrading they might be able to use the current transmitters but they would have to switch to DAB+. However there are other issues with the BBC DAB service. It uses a much higher frequency than FM and so indoor use is not so good.

    My own view is that we should not adopt either system but look to the future with 4G. Some would object to this on the basis that it is not free to air. Any system will still have to be paid for either through the out of date licence fee or a subscription.

  • Comment number 8.

    It's time to move away from all these legacy networks, and progress with what Korea is using... DAB and DMB networks. No reason why everyone can't have at least a 20Mbps wireless connection. The bandwith and infrastructure is available.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    If I may interrupt the slagging of of DAB I note that the 17.5 Mbps is an AVERAGE so some get less and some get much more. And of course you get what you pay for. After playing about for half a day when I was cut off (without telling me) BT give me the SK average down my no doubt antique wires from the exchange . but I do pay more in an interesting way.

    PS I find current digital audio in general acceptable... but then I am an ordinary guy. R3ers can get better. on the net.

  • Comment number 11.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 12.

    there definitley is better just have to find it. 20Mbps is attainable


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