During the Internet boom, all eyes were on the United States as we were the first to leverage this new medium and create some amazing companies and uses of the Internet from ecommerce to search to online dating. Many of these companies did not know how they were going to make money except that they would figure it out. Over time the business models evolved, some became profitable and some simply went away. Entrepreneurs in Europe and Asia were able to learn from our successes and failures to launch their own modified clones of many US web companies. Today, the tables have turned. When I think about our broadband and wireless future, we in the US can look overseas for models that work and fail. Europe and Asia are clearly ahead of us in terms of deploying 3G and real broadband pipes to the home. As I think about how wireless and broadband will change how we live and the applications that will drive thoses changes, I would be foolish not to dive deeply into how it has impacted countries like Korea, for example. Peter Lewis of Fortune has a great article (unfortunately password required) in this past week’s edition outlining the impact that wireless and broadband has had on the country. A quote in Peter’s article from Hung Song can really open your eyes to the possibilities of broadband.
Hung Song, vice president of business development at Samsung, takes his broadband with him wherever he goes. On the drive home from work at 9 or 10 p.m., says Song, a tall, thin in-line-skating enthusiast, he uses the phone to check traffic. Because phone carriers can track the location of his third-generation (3G) phone to within a few meters, he has access to a location-based service that monitors real-time road reports and displays alternative routes around traffic jams. (The system also lets him call up a map showing the location of his children, who carry location-based mobile phones too.) If Song gets stuck in traffic anyway, he can always use the handset to watch television news, or go over his next day’s appointments, or download music (Koreans spend more on downloaded music than they do on audio CDs). More likely, though, he’ll do his banking or log on to his computer at the office to check e-mail. As Song drives his Renault Samsung sedan across the Yeongdong bridge, over the broad Hangang River that bisects Seoul, his phone buzzes as nearby restaurants automatically send text messages offering discounts to tempt him to dinner. Some restaurants even let him pay his tab by beaming a code from his handset to a scanner and punching in a PIN number.
“My life has changed” because of broadband, says Song, especially because of his mobile handset. “It’s essential to my daily business and my personal life. Even in the office I have instant access to almost any information or service without having to sit at my desk. I don’t have a checkbook anymore because I don’t need one. I can pay bills with my mobile phone.”
While there are cultural differences between the US and Korea and Europe, it is still helpful to look at the new pioneers of the digital revolution for ideas that will work here.