NBN vs the world: The Korean experience

South Korea is targeting 1Gbps speeds for its broadband network

Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) is an ambitious program to provide high-speed networking across the country. It is far from alone, as countries around the world forge ahead with their own programs to provide super-fast Net access to their citizens.

In the coming weeks, Computerworld Australia will be presenting a series of articles on how other countries have dealt with their own broadband networks and what Australia could learn from their experiences.

South Korea

South Korea first introduced high speed internet in 1998, building its broadband network throughout the late 1990s with a policy designed to deliver 2Mbps for every person in the country.

Korea is now one of the most connected countries in the world and its broadband network is internationally renowned. However, citizens are demanding ever better broadband networks and speeds, according to Mark Gregory, senior lecturer in electrical and computer engineering at Melbourne’s RMIT University.

“They want better connections, they want everything to be converged [and] they want … voice over IP over the fibre network. So they’re really very similar to us – different implementations because of the nature of how it’s being done, but overall, the outcomes are very, very similar,” he says.

Gregory says the country’s broadband network is now a combination of several different types of technologies, including fibre to the home (FTTH) — which is the technology being used by Australia's NBN — asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), very-high-bitrate digital subscriber line (VDSL) and wireless.

Korea made the switch to FTTH in 2004, according to a BuddeComm report, and since 2006 it has targeted a 50Mbps to 100Mbps speed. The government's Broadcasting Communications Network Long-Term Development Plan now aims to build an all-IP high-speed broadband network.

However, the country has faced numerous challenges along the road to high-speed broadband. For example, Korea’s cities have a large number of high-rise residential and commercial buildings, which Gregory says are being connected through VDSL.

"If the buildings are older then they will have limited copper within the building and access to the ducts necessary to put fibre [in] can be an issue. In some cases the ducts cannot be accessed and putting fibre into the building becomes a major issue - not insurmountable, just more expensive and time consuming," Gregory says.

"A design where fibre is run to the building and then VDSL2 is used over copper within the building is one of the key approaches being utilised around the world ... But their [eventual] goal is to replace all of this with fibre to the home."

Korea is also a highly populated and mountainous country, so implementing regional wireless in some areas has been difficult, according to Gregory. This has posed issues with installing FTTH or making wireless available.

The Korean government approach

The Korean government has strongly encouraged the uptake of broadband use by citizens through several different initiatives.

It developed e-health, e-learning and e-government services when it began constructing its broadband networks, according to BuddeComm, which allowed the government to pinpoint early on where problems were and commercialise the technology earlier. This allowed citizens to become accustomed to online services such as online banking and e-trade.

The Korean government has also put in place a competitive environment to allow as many broadband operators as possible, according to Gregory.

"We’re seeing a very aggressive campaign from their government... promoting and making broadband networks available. One thing that we can learn is that there is a place for government to put into place policies and best practice to ensure that operators are able to make available the services that the customers want," Gregory says.

"The government involvement is something that we can see in South Korea and that we can learn from ... We can [also] learn in terms of things that are happening there and things that are happening here in ... how these technologies are being implemented, how it is being used [and] how businesses are able to improve the way they do business."

Australia can also learn from Korea's successes and mistakes as we roll out our own NBN - Korea will potentially finish its broadband upgrade sooner than Australia, Gregory says.

“So we will have some time to actually see what their business and what their residential customers do with that network as the rest of Australia is connected,” he says.

Korea is now targeting a speed of 1Gbps on fixed lines and 10Mbps on wireless connections, with completion scheduled for 2012/13, according to BuddeComm.

Australia may not be far off reaching broadband speeds at 1Gbps as well.

"With the new 10Gbps or what we call 10GPON [gigabit passive optical network], at some point during that rollout up to 2020 NBN Co is likely to change over from the 100Mbps typical speeds that consumers get to 1Gbps. All it means is changing the modem at one end and the optical line terminals at the other end,” Gregory says.

“All you’re really doing is you’re changing the modems – the actual box in the customer’s premise – and the box that all the fibres connect to at the other end.

“The last round of standards finalising [10GPON] occurred ... towards the end of last year, so we’re really going to see companies making equipment available for 10GPON sometime later this year or early next year.”

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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More about: BuddeComm, etwork, MIT, RMIT
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