Friday, 25 April 2014

Connected Korea

South Korea is famous for its high-speed Internet access, but even so I've been impressed by the breadth of connectivity since I arrived here last week.

Online access is fast to very fast, yes. But here are a few other things I've noticed, which add up to this being one of the most seamlessly connected nations on Earth:

Underground access. Most notably, in the Seoul Metro. My phone, with its temporary South Korean SIM card, works perfectly when navigating the labyrinthine depths of the city's excellent underground railway. It doesn't skip a beat, whether below or above ground.

There are a couple of negatives associated with this, however.

Firstly, because phones work underground, everyone is almost always staring at a screen, even when walking through stations. This raises the chances of a collision, though Seoulites do seem very good at sensing such dangers while walking and texting.

Secondly, it raises the risk of missing your station. While you're busy being amused by witticisms on Twitter, it's easy to miss the announcement of your train's arrival at Jongno-3 Station.

I've also noticed that the phone's signal often holds up well below ground in shopping malls, presumably because repeaters have been installed.

Experimenting, I even had an excellent signal one day while sitting two floors below ground level within the ice-cold "igloo room" of a jjimjilbang, a traditional local bathhouse (though I was taken to task by a colleague on Twitter for mixing spas and phones).

Wifi backup. At various strategic locations, my SIM card's telco supplements its 3G access by providing wifi connectivity. The phone automatically connects itself, without me even noticing it's happened. It's a great backup which must keep the network from overloading in busy locations. Australia's telcos should have a look at this too.

Tunnels. As with underground locations, South Korean telcos have solved the problem of maintaining online access when passing through road tunnels. I've been through several over the past few days, some very long, with no break in service.

Wifi in cafes. It's extremely common for cafes to provide wifi access here, handy when you're sitting back to relax and a spot of social media seems a good match with caffeine.

Wifi in trains. Finally, the country's impressive high-speed rail network is equipped with reliable wifi on its trains. In fact, that's how I uploaded this post, while zipping through the countryside from Gyeongju to Seoul. Expression by express!

Disclosure time... On this trip, I travelled courtesy of the Korea Tourism Organisation.