Why City Insights Matter for Business Strategy: Is South Korea Home to the ‘Smartest’ Cities in the World?


By: Iryna Sychyk

    Hyper-connectedness has emerged as one of six key long-term themes shaping the world’s cities in a strategy briefing Why City Insights Matter for Business Strategy. No other major city globally is permeated with technology to the extent that Seoul is. Moreover, the latter is not a standalone example of tech savviness in the country: all 11 South Korean cities that Euromonitor tracks, from Busan to Gwangju to Cheongju, boast the highest proportions of households with access to broadband internet among 1,150 world cities, namely 99-100% in 2016. Businesses have been both driving and benefiting from the pervasiveness of technology in South Korean cities.

    Percentage of Households with Access to Broadband Internet: Top 10 Major Cities Globally in 2016

    Percentage of Households with Access to Broadband Internet: Top 10 Major Cities Globally in 2016

    Source: Euromonitor International

    South Korean urbanites live with a strong tech edge

    Ubiquitous access to fast-speed internet has been underpinning a myriad of public and private smart city projects in the South Korean capital. For example, online electric vehicle technology enables buses to be re-charged wirelessly from underground electrical cables while in movement. By using M-Voting, a system under which citizens are invited to vote for proposals via their smartphones, Seoul Metropolitan Government collects citizens’ opinions for administrative decision-making and policy planning.

    Tesco has been running virtual stores in Seoul’s public spaces since 2011, whereby it is possible to fill up a shopping basket by scanning QR codes displayed on the virtual ‘shelves’ with products. A Seoul-based company, Ecube Labs helped the local authorities deal with frequent waste collection and overflowing waste bins through the real-time monitoring of the status and fill-level of 85 newly installed Clean Cubes in especially crowded parts of the city centre. Cisco has been working on bringing together the different systems of Songdo International Business City via fibre optics, which is a new master-planned development in the city of Incheon, part of metropolitan Seoul.

    Beyond Seoul, Samsung and South Korea’s largest telecommunications company, SK Telecom, are partnering to construct a country-wide network for linking IoT devices in smart cities across South Korea. The city of Daegu was chosen as the site for a pilot project, which will see the city-wide sensors connected to gather data on traffic, weather and air contamination.

    Adoption of broadband and smart technologies is happening in all world cities

    Smart city development is so advanced in South Korea that the latter’s expertise is being sought after even by outsiders. In April 2017 Kuwait announced that South Korea would construct a USD4 billion smart city, west of the capital. The idea is to replicate the city of Bundang in Seoul metropolitan area, with the project being South Korea’s first time experience exporting its smart city concept.

    While the Asian country is home to the world’s ‘smartest’ cities yet, uptake of fast-speed internet and IoT technologies is ongoing across cities in different regions of the world. Continuous urbanisation – population growth, traffic increase and pollution concerns – is urging city authorities to ensure an efficient delivery of services and a good quality of life for residents.

    Percentage of Households with Access to Broadband Internet in Cities per World Region

    Percentage of Households with Access to Broadband Internet in Cities per World Region

    Source: Euromonitor International

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