Korea Playing Bluetooth Catch-up
Korea Playing Bluetooth Catch-up
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  • 승인 2007.04.18 17:19
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Westerners generally think that Korea is a kingdom of ultra-high technology - a place where people work through the night on the latest breakthroughs and where IT gadgetry is everything. Europe, by contrast, has been something of a dinosaur when it comes to developing new technological advances. As incredible as it may sound, though, there is one area of wireless hi-tech expertise where Korea surprisingly plays a lowly second fiddle to the dinosaur of Europe - Bluetooth.

Cable-free, immediate information transfer is standard on many new devices in Western Europe, but trying to get a notebook or a mobile phone with Bluetooth installed can be a problem for customers here.

For the many Koreans who will admit to being at the same time both PC literate and ignorant of exactly what Bluetooth is, here is a short definition. Bluetooth uses ultra short-wave radio waves to transfer information almost instantaneously between devices. Files, such as documents, pictures or even MP3s can be sent, say, from a notebook to a mobile phone in seconds.

Unlike infrared, which is notoriously slow and fiddly, Bluetooth can work at higher speeds and at a distance of up to 100 meters from a target.

The uses of Bluetooth go way beyond simple file transfers, though. Wireless headsets for mobiles or PC operators mean that communication has been simplified.

In the UK, where the use of a mobile phone whilst driving is now a prosecutable offence, drivers are using inexpensive Bluetooth hands-free headsets on the road.

This has meant there are now less road accidents as a result of drivers being distracted by phone calls in the country and also that British people with cars can use their mobiles without fear of punishment.

In the past, sound quality in such headsets has been traditionally mono, and poor.

However, with Enhanced Data Rate (EDR) Bluetooth, which uses a faster transfer speed, Bluetooth chips will be able to transmit high-quality stereo sound to cable-free headsets that will mean MP3 players will no longer require annoying and unsightly wires.

Keyboards, printers and mice that use Bluetooth can de-clutter the workplace and eliminate the need for an ugly, tangled mess of wires in the office and at home. The uses of this simple technology seem to be remarkably diverse.

What is more surprising is that Korean companies like Samsung and LG have been releasing mobile phones with Bluetooth functions for around three years in Western Europe, but are yet to market Bluetooth phones on the majority of their mobile devices in Korea.

Song Sang-hyun, a Bluetooth Researcher for KorWin, Korean wireless communications specialists, says the problem is that Koreans have still to learn the benefits of Bluetooth.

"Many people in this country don't know the first thing about Bluetooth, and those that do have seldom considered its advantages," he said.

But just why has this simple, inexpensive technology been largely ignored in end user products in Korea One of the reasons, says KorWin's Song, is that Korean customers somehow feel limited by the idea of Bluetooth. "People here like to use the Internet rather than what they perceive to be a narrow network."

He adds, "Koreans think they don't need Bluetooth, but that is usually because they have never used it." However, he points out: "If Korean customers do use it, even once, they will want more. They will want devices with this function as standard."

Most experts think the problem is that Samsung and LG are unlikely to want to invest money in Bluetooth. With other research projects afoot such as Wireless LAN and the like, the major Korean retailers are likely to continue to import foreign cores for modification.

KorWin's Song agrees. He says: "Korean manufacturers feel they can just buy and modify Bluetooth chips, rather than make the effort to design their own."

Won Seung-hyun is Certified Technical Director at iNet Korea and believes that Korea has a long way to go in terms of Bluetooth technology.

He says: "Korea is very weak at developing chipsets and software for Bluetooth. We still have to rely on Europe, and even other Asian countries like Taiwan for this kind of thing. The problem is that Korea has not invested into developing its own original Bluetooth technology."

Bluetooth was first developed by Swedish company Ericsson, now Sony Ericsson. The Ericsson T36, the world's first Bluetooth phone, came out in the year 2000.

It was not long though before they were joined by Nokia, Intel and IBM; and in 2001, Microsoft and Motorola also followed suit in embracing the new technology.

While Samsung's answers to the European mobile models like the very popular and Bluetooth-enabled E370 have been available for GSM customers for several years now, domestic phones have all but neglected Bluetooth technology. The first Bluetooth-enabled mobile to become widely available in Korea was the Samsung BlueBlack, released as late as spring 2005.

Moreover, Korean Bluetooth sales have only started to pick up very recently.

Samsung reported that early 2006 Bluetooth headset sales were as low as 30,000 units per month, while in November of last year that figure had climbed to 700,000.

Indeed, Samsung has recognized the need for Korean companies to hurry up and get on board the Bluetooth boat.

Lee Ki-tae, Chief Executive of Samsung Electronics, said: "Samsung is making every effort to develop Bluetooth headsets."

And Lee recognizes that some Koreans are starting to actively seek out Bluetoothenabled products. He talks of "a forthcoming Bluetooth explosion" in the Korean market.

What is more, the communications giant has recently unveiled a special new Bluetooth task force called the Mobile Applied Business Team. A spokeswoman for Samsung said: "The purpose of the new team is to investigate ways to invade the international Internet market and strengthen Samsung's Bluetooth market share."

Since Bluetooth was first developed by European companies, perhaps we should not be surprised by the fact that countries like Sweden and Britain are paving the way in terms of Bluetooth.

Cho Jae-wook, a technical researcher at Korean mobile phone manufacturer Pantech Curitel, agrees. He says: "As Europe developed the original technology, it is naturally better disposed for using Bluetooth."

However, European companies have been keen to search for further avenues that Bluetooth may open up, while Korean research into Bluetooth has been much slower. Experts predict that while Koreans are slowly starting to introduce Bluetooth into mobile devices on the peninsula, European companies are looking for new ways to use the technology.

Pantech Curitel's Cho says: "Europe has applied Bluetooth technology into real life. It's not just wireless technology, but you can expect to see Bluetooth being used there for things like public transport and vending machines in the next few years."

And iNet Korea's Won is unequivocal in apportioning the blame for Korea lagging behind Europe on this issue. He says: "The reason why we are still undeveloped is that the Korean government has been tight-fisted when it comes to Bluetooth technology. We have been caught napping."

Hardware companies in Korea may be gradually advancing the Bluetooth cause, but the peninsula is still playing catch-up with the Western European dinosaurs. For the moment, the market leaders in Bluetoothenabled products are still European, and a wireless Korea still a fantasy.

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