Most Wireless Nation: In Korea More Mobile Broadband Subscriptions than People
It’s official. There are now more wireless broadband connections in Korea than there are people, according to just-released OECD data (which is unfortunately only reflective of the situation through December of last year).
Looking around a typical street in Seoul, it’s really no surprise. People have so many internet-connected devices that you have to wonder if the average person in Korea is becoming more machine than man.
Things I see on a regular basis:
- Motorcycle messengers with two or three smartphones affixed to their dashboards, coordinating deliveries for several companies.
- A group of businesspeople sitting down around a portable 4G WiFi hotspot like the KT Egg between meetings.
- Every single person on a subway train staring at a tablet or smartphone screen.
Demand for wireless broadband is extremely high. It’s difficult to say whether this is a result of the near-ubiquitous availability of a strong 3G or 4G signal, or if its the other way around. What’s clear is that Koreans love to be connected at all times.
So what are all the options for getting online while on the go in Korea?
By far the most popular method for mobile internet in Korea, more than half of all Koreans now carry smartphones. And that’s all Koreans, not just adults. If you narrow it down to working age people, the smartphone penetration creeps up into the 80 or 90% level. Smartphones only took off in 2007 in Korea with the introduction of the iPhone to the market but now local player Samsung has the highest market share thanks to the popular Galaxy series. LG is also making a comeback with its large-screen phones like the Optimus Vu.
You can find mobile phone shops selling 3G or LTE capable tablets in almost any neighborhood in Korea. The iPad remains the most popular choice but there are a fair number of Galaxy Tabs around town too. While it is officially a smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Note is a hot selling option right now because of its giant 5-inch screen, that puts it on par with many tablets for reading and web browsing.
Portable 4G WiFi Hotspots
While I’ve seen these in other countries, I haven’t seen them being so popular anywhere outside of Korea. For about W10,000 a month (about $10) you can get a super-high-speed portable internet connection in any city in Korea. The most popular option is the KT Egg.