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Telecommunications In Korea Essay, Research Paper


Telecommunications is a tool providing information services to both private and public sectors. It is highly involved in society and helps a society grow and flourish. It affects the ideals and trends of a society and, thus, is a very important factor in a growing country. With an area of 99,019 square kilometers, and a current population of 44.6 million people, the Republic of Korea is a great challenge to connect through telecommunication tools and projects.

Even with such a great expanse of land and peoples, Korea has succeeded in becoming the eighth most advanced country in telecommunications. There are 337 telephones per 1000 people with an annual growth rate of 15.6% for residential subscribers, 10.1 % for commercial subscribers and 245 for leased line data services. Thus, the question of how Korea accomplished this in just a little over a decade comes to mind.

In this paper, I will give an overview of the developments of the Korean telecommunications industry. Then through other literary sources along with the telecommunications background information, I will show how the Korean Government’s practice of deregulation and liberalization has spurred on competition and, henceforth, progress in the Korean telecommunications industry.


History of Telecommunications

The first form of telecommunications in Korea began in 1885 with the first telegraph which linked Seoul and Inchon which were located 35 km apart. The periods of telecommunication development can be divided into three stages. In the first stage, 1885 to 1961, there was limited telegraph and telephone service available. They were mainly for official business service. The Japanese occupation from 1910 to 1945 and the Korean War from 1950 to 1953 stagnated telecommunication progress (Lee et.al 1). Only 120,000 telephone lines were installed in this period, supplying a minimal fraction of 0.4 phones per 100 persons.

In the second stage, 1962 to 1981, significant progress in telecommunications occurred. The government improved basic communications facilities by connecting rural areas by phone and by creating training centers for telecommunication employees to keep the phone lines running smoothly. Telephone subscriber lines increased to 4.1 million lines offering 8.4 phones per 100 people. More importantly, long-distance telephone calling circuits were boosted from 1,177 to 88,571 circuits, while international calling circuits were increased from 12 to 274 (Lee, et. al 2). During this period, the government installed the micro-wave network in 1967 and the scatter transmission network between Japan and Korea in 1968. The first two satellite earth stations were built during this period. In addition, a coaxial cable was installed to bring an automatic telephone call service between major cities. In 1979, the electronic switching system (ESS) was introduced to aid with the increasing number of phone subscriptions.

The third stage, occurring from 1982 to the present, illustrates a huge and dynamic change in the telecommunications industry. First, in 1982 to 1986 an addition of 6.2 telephone lines were installed. Within this period, the participation of Korea in the Asian Games and the 1988 Olympics placed telecommunications at a high demand. With the 10th Asian Games in 1986, an integrated automatic switching system was introduced. The capability to install telephones immediately upon request became available. The 1988 Olympics brought the idea of launching Korea’s own satellite in mind. Although a satellite was not launched during this period, it made the idea more of a future plan.

Government Policies and Telecommunication Companies

The development of Korea’s information society cannot be separated from the development of the Korean government policies. This is because all telecommunication sources were once controlled by the Korean government. Then as years went on, the government loosened its reigns for other private and publicly owned companies to develop telecommunication products which they could themselves market. This decrease in government control resulted to a more competitive environment where progress prospered.

In the early 1980’s, the Korean government Ministry of Communications (MOC) restructured the public telecommunications sector which led to the transfer of government operated telecommunications to a public corporation, Korea Telecommunication Authority (KTA) (Seo 154). Later in 1982, telecommunication powers were also given to a private company entitled the Data Communications Corporation of Korea (DACOM). This was a turning point for the telecommunications industry. Now the government did not have total control over the industry.

More importantly, later in its existence, KTA gave financial support to other telecommunications industries to create the necessary equipment for telecommunications such as coin telephone sets, a digital switching system, and fiber optical transmission system, etc. (Seo 154). KTA also aided in the development of the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI), the first step for Korea towards an indigenous and self-reliant technological society (Seo 156). Korea was to begin its own research and development of telecommunication tools instead of relying on other countries’ imports.

In 1984, KTA Research Center (KTARC) was created to build a technology base and to absorb and adapt foreign technology according to the country’s needs. KTARC provided guidance and technical support to network operating group and industry based on the policy set by KTA. Thus, research for telecommunications were now being conducted by the country’s universities, by EERIE, by KTARC, and by other privately owned companies. As the capability of industry grows more and more complex, much of the work performed by EERIE will be taken over by industry, leaving EERIE to move into high risk research and development and advanced technological support. In 1987, the total research and development investment by KTA is around 70 million US dollars. Thus, much has gone to research and development, the base for telecommunications progress and technology.

Besides KTA and DACCA, two more telecommunication carriers were founded in the 1980’s. Korea Mobile Telecom (KMT), was established in 1984 to provide cellular and paging services. The availability of mobile phones in 1993 covers 107 towns and cities, reaching over 80 percent of Korea’s population. Korea Port Telephone Corporation was established in 1985 to provide communications services in the port areas. Furthermore, in 1991, the business relationship between KTA and DACCA was changed so that KTA could provide data communications services and DACCA international telephone services.

Results of Telecommunications Research and Development

Research and development performed by Korea would be lead to progress. First, it would increase the technological capability in a key sector of the economy by providing the necessary infrastructure for the introduction of advanced telecommunications services. Second, technological dependence on foreign sources, and import of technology would diminish. Third, the cost of acquiring technology especially in terms of foreign exchange would diminish at least in the long run, by the substitution of import for local production and by export earnings. Furthermore, “enhanced indigenous technological capability provides Korea with a stronger bargaining power in negotiating with the foreign suppliers, which will ultimately be reflected in better condition of technology transfer and lower cost system acquisition” (Seo 153). Thus, Korea would benefit greatly by performing its own research and developing its own products instead of relying on other countries for its telecommunication tools.

Development of Different Systems to Extend Calling Lines

The first generation of Electronic Switching System (IS) appeared in the early 1960’s. But within a few years these were superseded by the system which reflected new concepts based on the combination of communications and computers. Over the same period, digital transmission techniques have also been greatly improved.

Computer control of exchanges, time divisions switching and the transmission of information in digital form are the basis for the successful large scale telecommunications connections throughout Korea.

The recent development of microelectronics, space and optical fiber technologies made it possible to spread new telecommunications services around the world. Besides voice and text, huge quantities of visual information are being transmitted. Videotex systems connect subscribers to data banks and display economic, financial and scientific information as text or graphics on a television screen. In addition, services such as video-conferencing, teletex and electronic mail are widespread.

All of these services could be integrated into a single global network called Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN). An ISDEN comprises digital switching, computer control and optical fiber digital transmission.

Telecommunications network consist of subscriber terminals, subscriber lines, local exchanges, toll exchanges and interexchange circuits.

Subscriber terminals have evolved from the simple telephone set designed to provide basic voice telephony. The current trend is toward increasing intelligence in the terminal, enabling subscribers to perform a range of functions which enhance the telephone utility. The terminals associated with other services such as facsimile and data have also become more versatile and sophisticated. Already the concept is emerging of a multipurpose terminal for text, data and other non telephone services as well as being used as a telephone. An ordinary telephone line will be able to carry many of these services and devices of this kind and would make it easier and cheaper to provide non telephone services to rural and remote areas.

Subscriber terminals are normally connected to local exchanges by a physical pair of conductors. The physical conductors are expensive, representing around 30% of the total capital cost of plant in urban areas. However, in highly populated areas, a suitable local network distribution system can be planned and installed that can be expanded economically. Local networks use overhead or buried cables in various size and flexibility points, allowing sufficient capacity to accommodate new subscriber. Various means of concentrating traffic are available so that more than one subscriber may share each physical pair of conductors.

However, local distribution represents the major problem of providing telephone service in rural and remote areas. In rural areas, subscribers may be at a distance over 30 to 50 kilometers from the exchange and the terrain and environment communication transfer even more difficult. Local network cost may represent as much as 70 to 80% of capital plant cost which are themselves normally 4 to 5 times of urban cost.

An alternative to physical conductors, especially in rural areas, is radio telephony. Ultra High Frequency and Super High Frequency systems have direct line of sight paths between transmitter and receiver at a distance of 50 to 70 kilometers. In practice the environment and terrain reduce this distance, Improving the utilization of frequency spectrum is possible by using the cellular radio concept and other methods of dynamic frequency assignment.

Manual systems with operators setting up connections using key plugs and jacks are still used in developing countries. If attended for 24 hours a day, these provide reasonable service with low investment, low consumption of power and simple maintenance.

In automatic analog systems, speech is converted into a electrical signal with varying frequency and amplitude and calls are connected through separate switches in the system. The oldest automatic switching system is the step-by-step system with

electromechanical switches. Although extensively used, it becomes obsolete.

Cross bar systems operate at higher speeds, are less costly to maintain, and give subscribers greater capabilities. But this system also will be obsolete and it is expected to remain in a limited lifetime only to provide for the expansion of existing systems.

The most recent generation of analog ESS have Stored Program Control (SPC). In SPC systems the control functions are performed by a computer, and the switching matrix can use solid state electronic crosspoints. Advantages include extensive remote operation and maintenance facilities, built-in test and signaling units and practically no open contacts, which make them less sensitive to dust and humidity. Normally SPC exchanges are built in compact form and so require air conditioning, especially in hot and humid climates. These systems are not yet obsolete, but most manufacturers are switching their product line to digital ESS.

Digitalization of Telecommunications

It is the digitalization of telecommunications that has accomplished much of its telephone connections. The TDX is a digital system. In digital ESS, voice or signal is converted from the analog signal to a code form consisting of high speed on/off pulses. Pulses of different conversations are separated from each other by discrete time intervals and switched in turn by the time division switching system so that many calls are multiplexed by the same switch. Digital exchanges are cheaper to install and maintain than analog exchanges particularly in the larger sizes. Among the advantages of digital switching are its compatibility with computers and potential cost and space savings when operated in conjunction with digital transmission systems (Lee 27).

The links carrying calls between exchanges may be symmetrical pair cable, quad cable, coaxial cable, optical fiber cabled. The choice of medium depends upon bandwidth or traffic volumes to be carried, the distance and terrain to be covered, the performance required, the distribution of the traffic and the cost. Interexchange transmission system in the past were analog but are now being superseded by digital systems.

Technological developments are reducing cost and improving the quality of service. Optical fiber cable is particularly suited for high capacity routes, leaving longer distances between repeaters, further reducing cost and increasing reliability. Optical fiber cable will be replacing coaxial and quad cable systems as the preferred medium. Microwave systems are particularly suitable for medium and high capacity routes in inhospitable terrain. Coaxial or optical fiber submarine cable is also an economic choice in numerous cases for long distance or international transmission.

There are many advantages of digital switching and transmission. Such a network carries data traffic as easily as voice traffic and therefore is used by many types of service. The result is economies of scale and resilience when traffic on particular services peaks. The computers within exchanges monitor and control the behavior of the network as a whole system and open up new capabilities and techniques of operation. The flexibility of digital systems also simplifies the physical design of networks so that the limitations on serving large areas from a single exchange are reduced. KTA hopes to digitalize all phone lines by the year 2005.



One specific industry that was directly in the reigns of the Korean government was the media. The communications media in South Korea was under the dictatorial governmental press control. This changed in 1987. A major historical Declaration released the media from this tight hold. Future Korean President, Roh Tae Woo, would make the 29 June Declaration explicitly calling for “freedom of the press” (Won 215). With the abolition of regulations that previously limited the number of regional newspapers to one to a province, a large number of newspapers were reopened or newly founded. Religious bodies and other corporations began broadcasting on new radio channels. Now people could express their opinions and publicize topics which were once prohibited by the government. There was also a dramatic increase in the number of periodicals on the market. In addition, with the lifting of the de facto prohibition against the establishment of new newspaper, three general-interest daily newspapers, Hankyoreh Shinmun, Segue Ilbo, and Kookmin Ilbo, began publication in Seoul with nationwide distribution. The effect of the June 29, 1987 Declaration can be seen by the skyrocketing of media sources. Whereas Korea had only 30 national and regional newspapers being published at the time Roe Tae Woo made his famous 1987 liberalization declaration, by the end of 1989, this number had more than doubled to 68. The number of periodicals published daily, weekly, monthly, bimonthly or quarterly increased from 2,241 prior liberalization to 3,441 in December 1988. Another 109 periodicals were registered with the government in January 1989 (Won 217). Furthermore, information Ministry figures for December 1989 show that Korea had 4,400 periodicals, including 68 dailies, two news services and 819 weeklies (Won 217).

Another important result of this 1987 Declaration was its repeal of the Basic Press Law, the government policy which created hierarchy and multiple regulations for the press. The Basic Press Law, effective in January 1981, contained a number of measures that facilitated the government’s control of media. This law contained a number of harmful provisions allowing the government to confiscate media material, such as newspapers and magazines, and which strictly defined the responsibility of the media. In addition, it enabled the government to close a publication in instances where a publication engaged in activity that went against its stated purpose of publication or disturbed the public order by inciting violence or other means (Won 218). Publications could also be closed down if they were found publications were found aiding and abetting or praising North Korea. Thus, the repeal of the Basic Press Law led to a more open media. Journalists now had a broader field to work with and were able to freely inform their audience of public concerns.

On November 10, 1987, at the same time that the government repealed the Basic Press Law, the National Assembly enacted new legislation for the broadcast media and amended the Korea Broadcasting System Law. This legislation established a broadcast committee that would ensure that radio and television stations were managed in the public interest. This committee began operating on August 3, 1988. The committee founded the Seoul Broadcasting System as a privately owned broadcast corporation, bringing Korea’s broadcast industry into a period of dual structure of private and public ownership (Won 219). Legislation also worked further to keep broadcasting monopoly from occurring through the Broadcast Culture Promotion Association which made the environment better for other companies to open up. Thus, government has created a more open environment for other media companies to start business.

Effects of “Freedom of the Press”

With the change in media consumers, from the elite to the general public, and from the general population to the specialists, there has been a trend toward specialization. The trend leads to a specialization according to ideology, political learning, specific consumer state, or outlook on the news. This environment for a “free-press” leads to a wider variety of news, opening up new avenues to express more opinions and more viewpoints in a wider scope. This broadens audience knowledge.


Present State of Telecommunications in Korea

At present, Korea has 20 million lines with 17 million subscribers which adds up to 42.6 lines per 100 people. The number of cellular mobile phone subscribers amounts to 785,000 lines and paging service numbers reach almost 5.5 million (Apt 338). There are some 285,000 public payphones in the country and coin operated units are being replaced with cardphones.

As a result, Korea now has one of the largest telecommunications networks in Asia and is the world’s eight ranking nation in terms of the number of telephones installed.

In 1984, Korea successfully developed the TDX-AA, a domestically developed digital electronic switching system, becoming the 10th nation to develop native switching system. Enhanced systems like the TDX-1B and TDX-10 followed shortly after. In particular, the TDX-10 system which has a capacity of 100,000 circuits and high interoperability, enabled the installation of a large quantity of telecommunication lines.

Currently, Korea deploys about seven million lines with this TDX system, and exports this system to various countries. Now Direct Distance Dialing (DDD), long-distance service and international telephone services are available anywhere in the country, including rural and remote area.

Other services currently available to Korea are E-mail, voice mail, electronic data interchange, on-line data retrieval and database processing, code and protocol change, and enhanced facsimile services.

Presently, KTA is developing the HiTEL data communications retrieval service allowing information to be retrieved by personal computer or HiTEL terminal and facsimile machine for graphics, from various databases covering many subjects. Some 35,000 users are currently linked to this system. In 1993, KTA’s HiNET-P service was expanded to become a national packet switching service offering a Korean interface. A packet leased line service is available plus dial-up database access. A HiNET-C service has also been expanded to become a national service. Value-added services currently offered by KTA include voice information, voice mail, E-mail, Hi-FAX facsimile and HiVICON domestic conferencing, launched in 1993. KTA is also involved in the R-J-K submarine cable project linking Korea, Japan, and Russia, that was due for completion in 1995. KTA is also a part of the Asia-Pacific Cable Network (APCN) project to connect ten Asian countries.

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