50 Years of Korea’s ICT and disruptive Technologies of the Next Decade
50 Years of Korea’s ICT and disruptive Technologies of the Next Decade
  • By Yeon Choul-woong (bruceyeon@koreaittimes.com)
  • 승인 2014.02.08 03:20
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“The Electronics Industry Was Born” – A Story of the 1950s

Electronics played the leading role in the development of human society and many industries in the 20th Century. It was a new challenge, but opened a new vista for Korea’s fledging economy in the late 1950s. It was the driving force for the economic development the country would achieve in later decades.


First Radios Produced in 1959
Since Joseph John Thompson, a British physicist, discovered the electron in 1899, electronics have made an enormous contribution to furthering the progress of science and technology in addition to revolutionizing the lives of mankind. An example of these progressive movements is the development of the vaccum tube AM radios in 1959, carried out by GoldStar (present-day LG Electronics) in Korea. The country’s first radios were then exported to the United States and Hong Kong.

In the 1950s, people welcomed the electricity industry as the state-of-the-art technological field that they believed would enlighten the future. The industry suffered from lack of technology and engineers until the latter part of the decade. There were only a handful of primary-level technicians and skilled craftsmen rather than well-informed and experienced engineers. In this period of time, the Japanese had left behind production facilities; unfortunately during this era there were no capabilities or technologies to operate them.

Joseph John Thompson discovered the electron in 1899

“The Electronics Industry Gains Momentum” A Story of the 1960s

The 1960s were full of social and political upheavals at home and abroad. The period was also characterized by new and exciting events and trends. In Korea, the decade dawned with two revolutions one by students and the other by military officers. These two events changed Korea’s political and economic landscape forever. Despite some controversy, the military revolution led by Gen. Park Chung-hee is generally credited with contributing significantly to the development of Korea's economy by shifting its focus to export-oriented industrialization.

It puts advertisement phrase, the moon landing on July 21


Until the early 1960s, only a handful of Korean electronics makers assembled radios and produced some electronic components. Their number was a mere 27 in 1963. But it soared to as many 145 in 1969. After the production of black and white TV sets started in 1966, 28 electronics startups were established in 1967 and 25 more in 1969. A total of 23 radio makers and eight TV makers had been founded by 1969.

The 1960s were also characterized by first cases of foreign direct investment and joint venture startups. In 1965, Joong-Ang Sangyuk, a radio and TV maker, was established as the first joint venture firm with an investment of US$88,000 by Royal Pac, an American company. A total of 13 such joint venture firms, including Korea Micro Electronics, Toshiba Korea, Samsung-Sanyo and Samsung-NEC, were founded by December 1969.

GoldStar began development of an automatic telephone exchanger in 1961 and produced public telephones the following year. In the summer of 1964, GoldStar started developing refrigerators and the company released the country’s first refrigerator model, GR-120, in April 1965. About 6,000 units of this model were produced and sold across the country. In addition, the government enacted the Electronics Industry Promotion Act in 1968, which went into effect the following year. This contributed to the country’s electronics industry gaining momentum.

“Color TV Production Opens a New Vista” A Story of the Early 1970s


Early 70

The 1970s was a decade of an economic leap forward for Korea. The then Ministry of Commerce and Industry formulated and implemented an “eight-year plan for the promotion of the electronics industry” for the 1969-1976 period.

Korea began black and white TV broadcasting in 1956. Production of black and white TV sets began in the country in 1966. In 1970, Korea started production of black and white transistor sets. Korea’s electronics industry met its turning point in producing TV sets in 1970s as Korea National, a joint venture firm founded by Anam Industries of Korea and National Electric of Japan, produced 29,000 color TV sets, a first for Korea in 1974. But the entire quantity was exported overseas. In the early 1970s, the country was not ready yet to begin color TV broadcasting.

Samsung Electronics was founded in 1969 and started production of 14” color TV sets in April 1977 under a patent license contract with RCA of the United States and exported them to Panama. By the mid-1970s, as many as 13 companies produced more than 1 million black and white TV sets a year. Under a similar contract with RCA, GoldStar also began production of 19” color TV sets in August 1977. As a result, the combined export volume of these three color TV makers reached 110,000 sets that year.

“Radios, cassettes and electronic watches change lifestyle” A Story of the Late 1970s

Late 1970s radios, cassettes and electronics are on display


Modern computing was conceived in the 1970s. The world's first microprocessor came out in 1971. Generally speaking, the decade was an era of inventions. But it was an era of strenuous efforts to catch up with advanced electronic technologies for Korea. Radios, cassettes and electronic watches experienced a surge in popularity, as the country’s electronics manufacturers were dedicated to producing and exporting many electronic appliances. The invention, mass-production, and exports of electronic appliances in the 1970s changed people’s lifestyle completely. To put it succinctly, their lives were different in this decade from what they had during the previous periods.

Topping the list of electronic appliances in the decade were radios, cassette tape players, electronic watches, and electronic micro ovens. Especially, mini cassette tape players, such as Samsung’s MyMy and GoldStar’s AhaFree, swept many young students off their feet as they found the gadgets very useful in learning foreign languages and listening to trendy music. These small, portable cassette tape players changed people’s concept of electronic gadgets, which had been bulky and heavy, and homebound. Samsung developed Korea's first micro oven in 1979 after dedicating a plant producing magnetron, the core component of micro oven.


“The Personal Computer Arrives” A Story of the Early 1980s



PC as Zeitgeist

A personal computer, a general term for what we know today as a desktop computer, a laptop or a palmtop, revolutionized IT and communication processes by decentralizing computing power and thus encouraging individual creativity. Two technical innovations, the integrated circuit and the microprocessor, made the PC possible. They were developed in 1959 and 1971 respectively. The first such desktop-size system designed for personal use appeared in 1974 following these two technical innovations.

The early 1980s saw the advent of the computer era in Korea, considering that the country's first PC (SE 8001) was developed by Sambo Engineering (predecessor of TriGem Computer) in 1981, only a year after IBM developed the PC. And the first-ever Hangul word processing program was developed in 1981. The following year, more than 3 million PCs were sold throughout the country. Finally, the government designated 1983 as the Year of Information Industry, and thus sent 5,000 PCs to nationwide schools for education.

The Birth of Telecommunication

After the Mechanical Telephone Exchanger was introduced, the world's first Electronic Switching System (E-10) was installed in 1970 in France. Next came some different types of Electronic Switching Systems, including No.4 ESS which was introduced and installed in the US and Canada. This was the start of the Electronic Switching System for our society.

In 1976, with the facts from Korean scientists, government and business leaders started to consider the needs for development of Korea's Electronic Switching System. Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) was founded in 1977 after which the ETRI began its first step in setting up the planning stages of an electronic exchanger and finally initializing serious process for its research and development.

In 1986, Korea’s first indigenous Electronic Switching System, TDX-1 was put into a commercial service in Songjeong-ri, Gyeonggi-do with 362 subscribers. An opportunity to level up the electronics technology in Korean industries was knocking at the door and if successful Korea would develop into becoming an advanced country in communications and electronic industries as well as internet industry. The following full scale developmental project of Electronic Switching System TDX-10 was completed in 1989. This exchange became later the basis of following CDMA mobile communication system.

Self driving car

Development and commercialization of Mobile WiMAX

A year of 2001 was the time Korea was buzzed with CDMA's export marketing to China and other nations after the commercialization of CDMA technology for the first in the world. In the middle of the sensational affair, Yang Seung-taik, the former minister of the Ministry of Information and Communication predicted “the mobile world will move on Wireless Data Communication” and ETRI started to prepare for the upcoming new age. In 2003, under the conduct of Chin Dae-je, the former Minister of the Ministry of Information and Communication, the Wireless Internet project became more active. ETRI and Samsung reserarchers co-developed the Wireless Internet and finally in December 2004, the development of mobile internet technology, Mobile WiMAX has finished. Although it was laboratory-diagnosis technology, ETRI and Samsung made a hit to possess the mobile internet technique officially as the first in the world and the universe.

After that, WiMAX got a nickname, ‘WiBro,’ in Korea taking the name from ‘Wireless’ and ‘Broadband.’ In 2005, KT and SK Telecom were granted ability to be the operators of the technology.


IT 839 Strategy Lays the Groundwork for Korea Leading the Global IT Maket

Back In 2003 when President Roh Moo Hyun took office, Chin Dae-je, the former Minister of Information and Communications strongly felt that something fundamental should be done to create new growth engines. After much deliberation, he came up with a well thought-out strategy called "IT 839".

At that time, IT 839, thrashed out by the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC), was designed to help Korea set standards a step ahead of others by providing new communications & broadcasting services and to lift Korea to the ranks of developed nations by creating upstream new growth engines. "IT 839" means eight new services, three state-of-the-art infrastructures and nine new growth engines. First, under IT 839, nine new growth engines were chosen. Then, to nurture the nine selected new growth engines, eight services and three infrastructures were seamlessly interwoven.

The following were selected as the eight new services: WiBro(WiMAX), DMB, home network, telematics, RFID, W-COMA, DTV and VoIP (Voice over IP). The three infrastructures included BcN (Broadband convergence Network), u-sensor networks (USN) and next-generation Internet protocol IPv6. The nine new growth engines were next-generation mobile devices, digital TV/broadcasting equipment, home network equipment, IT SoC, next-generation PCs, embedded software, DC (digital contents) & software solutions, telematics equipment and intelligent service robots.

Introduction of IPTV

Self-drive Cars

“The introduction of IPTV is essential not optional.” KT stressed. IPTV has been a long time in coming. The installation and introduction plan of IPTV was first discussed by the Presidential Commission on Broadcasting and Communication Convergence in July 2006. At the same time Hanaro Telecom started to provide a service known as 'Hana TV', which was a 'pre-IPTV' service using Video on Demand (VoD) technology.

In July 2007, KT launched 'Mega TV' and in September of the same year LG responded with 'myLGTV'. In December 2007, the long awaited dream of the 'Internet multimedia broadcast law' was finally passed.

In September 2008, three telecom companies, Hanaro Telecom (now, SK Broadband), LG Telecom (now, LG U+) and KT enjoyed the honor of being selected as IPTV service providers. Within two months, KT began service commercialization for the first time. SK and LG followed with their offering in January 2009. IPTV subscribers surpassed the one million mark in October 2009. In April 2010, IPTV reached 2 million subscribers and the industry has high expectations for these numbers to continue to grow in the future.

Looking at the global trends of IPTV, PCCW now TV from Hong Kong was introduced IPTV in 2003. After 3 years, the American firm Verizon FiOS TV and FT Orange TV from France made IPTV available to its customers and other companies around the world followed suit. The base of IPTV has broadened continuously ever since. Today, subscribers worldwide total approximately 64.29 million, which demonstrates a rapid increase when compared to 11.09 million subscribers in 2007. This shows that IPTV continues to have the potential to develop further in the future.

The New Era of Smart Devices

Since Smartphone commercialized for the first time in 2007, the industrial buzzword became ‘smart’. From smartphones to smart home appliances, all machines get smarter and smaller and change the technology paradigm from hard work to smart work.

According to a count in June 2013, the number of smartphone subscribers in Korea reaches 35 million along with eight million subscribers for IPTV, which signals the wide distribution of smart devices. Apart from the IT industry, major industries such as the automobile, machine, and shipbuilding industries are also climbing on the smart bandwagon. For instance, the automobile becomes smarter equipped with more mobile devices and electronic control units (ECU).

The key to competitiveness in the new era of smart devices is the software. The power of smartphones, such as iPhone and Galaxy S, are derived from their abundant supply of application software, and the success of ECUs that control a car lies in the software. Without a doubt, fast development of software industry under the huge demand of smart devices will provide people affluent lives and 2014 could be a year that will mark the beginning of such development.

Answer Me 2023 Disruptive Technologies of the Next Decade

Da Vinci Surgical robot, one of the most well-known robotic surgical systems, was released in 1999

One morning, salary man Kim Jin-yong wakes up with an acute abdominal pain. He rushes to see a doctor. The doctor simply tells Mr. Kim to swallow a smart pill - i.e. a diagnostic bio pill based on Ingestible Capsule Technology (ICT). As soon as the pill gets into his system, his biological information is sent to hospital.

Five minutes later, Mr. Kim is diagnosed with acute appendicitis. Then, his smartphone beeps on a new text message saying, “Your medical examination has been booked. Please come to our hospital right away.” Upon reading the text message, Mr. Kim hops into his self-drive car to go to the hospital. His self-drive car, which makes the most of real-time traffic data feeds, stays clear of traffic jams and any other delays to find the shortest route to the destination. Thus, despite his acute abdominal pain, Mr. Kim can go to the hospital without asking someone for a ride.

Kim arrives at the hospital after only a 10 minute ride. He immediately finds his doctor. American surgeon Albert, wearing smart eyeglasses equipped with a speech-enabled language translation system has no trouble communicating with Mr. Kim. Following the face-to-face medical examination, they are headed to the operating room.

Dr. Albert operates on Mr. Kim with the help of “the 4th generation robotic system,” which serves as a surgical hand promising enhanced dexterity and precision in dissection and suturing. Dr. Albert orchestrates all the surgical procedures while watching 3D images from the outside control seat. The entire surgical procedures are broadcast live to interns and other relevant visitors through the smart goggles Dr. Albert is wearing. The surgery takes only10 minutes.

After the robot-assisted surgery, Mr. Kim is sent to a recovery room and stays the night at the hospital. Generally speaking, an appendectomy requires the patient to be hospitalized for at least three days. Thanks to the newly-developed medical materials used in the closure of the surgical incisions, however, Mr. Kim is good to go after a one night hospital stay.

This story is not an excerpt of some future science fiction that is set in 2040. This is either already happening somewhere in the world or will become a reality within 10 years.

Medical Biotechnology

Google Glass

At the HT (Health Technology) Forum 2012 on Health and Medical Technologies of Today and Future Outlook, the bio diagnostic pill given to Mr. Kim was mentioned as one of the most promising technologies expected to be developed within three years. At the HT Form 2012, smart pills, intelligent diagnostic imaging, patch-like pain-free shots, super flu vaccines, cancer biomarker, etc. were put on the list of new technologies anticipated to be developed within 10 years.

In addition, researches on new medical materials, such as stem cell therapies for incurable diseases, artificial blood vessels, surgical mesh, dental implants, etc., have gone into overdrive. And researches on 3D printing-based synthetic organ transplants are also underway in a sustainable manner. Thus, our society is projected to evolve into a much healthier one over the next decade.

Self-drive Cars

Efforts to develop self-driving cars like Mr. Kim’s autonomous car have been made around the globe. At the CES 2014, BMW demonstrated its self-drive coupes, which skillfully hurtled round a racetrack and controlled a power slide without any driver intervention. Using 360-degree radar, ultrasonic sensors and cameras, the cars sensed and adapted to their surroundings. Furthermore, Ford, Toyota, Porsche, etc. have been continuously putting their unmanned self-driving technologies to the test.

As a matter of fact, automated parking systems (APS), which have already been put to good use in our daily lives, can be viewed as the early version of self-drive systems. For example, Hyundai and Kia Motors have already introduced SPAS (Smart Parking Assist System) to their vehicles. Once the driver pushes the SPAS button at a parking lot, distance-measuring, obstacle-detecting ultrasonic sensors attached to the front bumper and both sides of the car pick out suitable parking spaces and control the wheel to pull into them automatically. What’s more, the Volkswagen Tiguan, a compact SUV, comes with “Park Assist,” which helps with not only parallel parking but also perpendicular parking.

Robot-assisted Surgery


Surgical robots have been widely used in many hospitals in South Korea. One of the most well-known robotic surgical systems is the da Vinci Surgical System, which was released by Intuitive Surgical back in 1999. The da Vinci Surgical System allows surgery to be performed remotely using robotic manipulators like 3D high definition vision cameras and a robotic surgical wrist. As is the case with many standard laparoscopic procedures, a few small incisions are made to insert robotic manipulators during laparoscopic surgery assisted by the da Vinci Surgical System. Armed with three-dimensional high-definition images (which can be magnified up to 15-fold) and patented EndoWrist® Instruments allowing for enhanced dexterity, precision and control, The da Vinci Surgical System has continued to produce improved clinical outcomes (e.g. small incisions for less scarring; shortened hospital stay; and fast recovery and return to normal activities), thereby proving how effective surgical robots can be in the operating room.

Voice-activated Translators

The voice-activated translation system exploited by surgeon Albert is not a thing of the future. We have been taking advantage of real-time text translation and video translation technologies albeit somewhat disappointing accuracy-wise - via Google Translate, Google's free online language translation service that instantly translates text and web pages. In addition, as Google is employing voice recognition technologies in developing a new translation system that translates foreign languages into mother tongues, a voice recognition translator of decent quality is likely to be available within three to five years.

The Smart era Moves Forward with Wearable Smart Devices.

The smart eyeglasses worn by Dr. Albert during the surgery are a wearable device similar to Google Glass, a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD). Google Glass is capable of recording what the wearer is seeing in real time and comes with navigation and voice recognition systems.

At the IFA (Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin) 2013, Samsung Electronics also took the wraps off the Galaxy Gear, a smart watch that syncs with Galaxy smartphones to enable the wearer to see messages as they arrive.

Google Glass and the Samsung Galaxy Gear are not the only two that lead the wearable device market. Various smart watches have been released for instance, the Sony SmartWatch, the i'm Watch, The Pebble. And a variety of wearable devices, based on the Internet of Things (IoT) technology, is increasingly being put on the market.

In the late 1990s, Korean portal sites such as Hitel and Chollian spearheaded a boom in personal computer communications based on ISDN (integrated services for digital network) and PSTN (public switched telephone network). Today, we share our thoughts and everyday life stores with others by reciprocating SNS messages, videos, photos, etc. Our wild childhood fantasy of delicious-looking food shown on TV popping out of the screen with a single button press has gotten much closer to becoming a reality. Now, we can order what we want via TV or smartphones.

It is said that looking back on the past teaches us something about the future. Technologies that we thought would be available in the very distant future have materialized much sooner than we expected. If so, now seems like a good time to take a closer look at future technologies and make preparations for upcoming new trends.

The 13 most promising future technologies announced by the National Information Society Agency (NIA)

1. 3D printing and materials: 3D printing-based innovations in manufacturing and the revitalization of the 3D materials industry.

2. Connected TV: The development of connected TV technologies that seek the convergence of broadcasting, communications and computing; and speedy development of contents.

3. Wearable computing: wearable computing based on Augmented Reality (AR), which includes HUD (Head-up Display) and Semantic Technology

4. Wireless charging: the acceleration of the development of wireless charging technologies in tandem with the spread of smart devices.

5. Near-distance data sharing: new mobile ecosystems like Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi Direct, etc. are budding.

6. Self-directed robots: The next-generation computer hardware market (e.g. self-directed robots based on the convergence of different information technologies) is expanding.

7. 3D computer sensors: The transition to 3D computer sensors from sensor technology imitating the five human senses is underway.

8. Internet of Things (IoT): The promotion of platforms based on hyper-connectivity technologies such as IoT

9. Mobile payment systems: The expansion of mobile payment systems based on apps, barcodes, OR codes, etc.

10. Ultra HD Transmission Technology: The sophistication of UHD technology in consideration of each medium’s characteristics

11. MMT (MPEG Media Transport): The acceleration of convergence with application industries based on MMT, a next-generation media transmission technology.

12. Social Curation: The emergence of professional social curation services that offer information tailored to each individual’s taste on the Internet.

13. HTML5: The expansion of next-generation web standard technologies and growth in demand

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