Cellphones in South Korea

WSJ writes how cellphones are being used for a wide variety of purposes:

Stuck on a cramped bus in this congested city’s rush-hour traffic, Oh Hye Rin whips out her cellphone and puts it to work. The 25-year-old Web designer logs onto her wireless Internet service and starts downloading Korean pop songs to the MP3 player in her phone. Then she switches to online banking, pays some bills and transfers money.

South Korea, where about 70% of the country’s 48 million citizens have mobile phones, and where the broadband penetration rate is one of the highest in the world, offers a glimpse into a future in which cellphones play an increasingly multifunctional role of connecting people to the Internet. For local cellphone providers, the challenge is to feed this expanding market with new data services.

Simple data services, meanwhile, like SMS, a cheap method of communicating through short text messages sent via mobile phones, are no longer major revenue earners either. So, while the carriers are placing new emphasis on data services, they have to be very creative. Residents of Seoul already use their phones to watch movies, activate home appliances, bank online and post photos and commentary on Web sites. So the trick now is to work in partnership with banks and credit-card companies, appliance makers and even construction companies to devise even more services to maximize phone usage in everyday life.

Turning cellphones into remote-control devices for home appliances is seen as a particularly promising area. Since April, residents of a large Seoul apartment complex who sign up for the service with SK Telecom have been able to control lights, TV sets and other electronic appliances with their phones while they’re away. The user dials into a control module in their home that is linked to their electronic devices. Lee Hee Won, a 56-year-old recent retiree who spends a lot of time traveling, says the service is convenient. “You don’t have to worry about leaving the lights on because you can always check with your cellphone whenever and wherever you want,” he says.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.