Getting online in super-wired South Korea

Billed as the most wired country on Earth, South Korea has ubiquitous smartphones and ultra-fast download speeds.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read
Part of Korea's love affair with high tech, Furo is a humanoid robot that gives out information and tips at a shopping complex in Seoul. Tim Hornyak/CNET

South Korea was utterly destroyed by war 60 years ago. Today, it's replacing all textbooks in public schools with electronic tablets.

The country's rise from the ashes mirrors that of Japan after World War II, but it now lays claim to the title of most wired nation on Earth, with high Internet penetration rates and bold plans for high-tech tools like household robots.

Developers are building a Robotland theme park that's slated to open in 2016 in Incheon, home to Seoul's main international airport, which of course has free Wi-Fi and public terminals with Internet access.

A study last year by Pando Networks ranked South Korea tops in download speeds. The U.S. placed 27th. Another study by Akamai found average Web connections speeds to be about 16Mbps in Korea.

I didn't feel the connections were particularly speedy, but traveling in the cities of Seoul, Busan, and the countryside, I got the impression that Koreans certainly are tech-crazy.

Subways are packed with commuters talking, texting, and playing games on the latest smartphones.

That's common elsewhere, but Koreans can use the Internet underground and in between stations since the entire subway is wired. Digital Station terminals on platforms and concourses, meanwhile, provide free terminals for those few people, or travelers, without a connection.

Ubiquitous PC "bangs," or Internet cafes, have rows and rows of terminals where young men and boys playing online games like Diablo 3. Even regular cafes have a terminal or two for customers. This trend has a dark side, however, and the government has set up camps for Internet addicts throughout the country.

Visions of wired Korea (pictures)

See all photos

Even when you're far from a PC bang, getting online is easy. In some of the cheapest motels in small port cities or up in the mountains, you'll find a PC, keyboard, and free Internet access in your room. It's simply de rigueur.

In a corner of Jirisan National Park, famed for its mountainous beauty, I came across a crew rigging high-speed online access in a forest outside a Buddhist nunnery.

Of course Buddhist nuns need high-speed Internet. It seemed perfectly natural.

For more Korea pics, check out the photo gallery above.