South Korea And Japan Are Blitzing The World At Internet Speed - InformationWeek

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South Korea And Japan Are Blitzing The World At Internet Speed

Between 60% and 70% of South Korean households have high-speed Internet connections, the U.N. Communications Group says, while Japan offers the fastest speeds and lowest prices.

GENEVA (AP) -- South Korea holds a large lead over the rest of the world in the percentage of inhabitants who have high-speed Internet connections, with Japan poised to catch up, the U.N. communications agency said Tuesday.

Between 60 and 70 percent of all households in South Korea have a broadband connection, and cybercafes where students play online games are "almost on every corner," said Taylor Reynolds, one of the authors of a report by the International Telecommunication Union.

"Broadband is just an essential part of everyday life. They use it for E-mail, they use it for chat, for music, all sorts of things," said Reynolds.

Broadband is the term for high-speed connections, created mainly by hooking up computers to phone lines using so-called Digital Subscriber Line technology--DSL--or by using extra capacity on TV cable networks.

People use it for downloading music, movies and programs, as well as making international telephone calls no extra cost.

"Around the world, there were around 63 million 'broadband' subscribers at the start of 2003 compared with 1.13 billion fixed-line users and 1.16 billion mobile phone users," said the ITU's 196-page report "Birth of Broadband."

More than 10 million of the world's high-speed users are in South Korea alone, a rate of 21.3 broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants. Hong Kong was in second place with 14.9 percent and Canada was third at 11.2 percent.

Japan is currently in 10th place, with 7.1 percent of its inhabitants on broadband, but it the report said it looks set to move up the global standings because it is now offering the world's fastest speeds and lowest prices.

Broadband service is available in Japan for US$24.19 a month, and opening a page on the World Wide Web is 520 times as fast as standard dial-up modem, the report said.

"It's nearly instantaneous," said Reynolds.

Monthly subscriptions--which are flat-rate so there is no extra charge no matter how long people stay on line--are generally between US$30 and US$50, but run as high as US$165.89 in Finland, the report said. The average cost in the United States is US$52.99.

The United States is in 11th place, with a subscription rate of 6.9 percent. However, the country has the largest number of broadband subscribers--19.9 million.

The report stressed that the technology was just in its infancy, and was expected to grow rapidly.

Japan, which at first concentrated on developing broadband over the long term by concentrating on expanding optical fiber networks, has been catching up since changing its approach to include more use of broadband over old-fashioned copper-wire telephone lines.

The result is that Japan now offers download speeds of 26,000 kilobits per second, compared to 50 kilobits per second over a standard dial-up modem.

A Japanese user can download an entire movie over the Internet in 20 minutes. South Korea is almost as fast--26 minutes.

"You can download a movie faster than you can watch it," said Reynolds.

But the rest of the world is considerably slower. It takes six hours to get a movie in the United States and 12 hours in Switzerland. For somebody trying to download it over a standard dial-up modem, it would take 7 1/2 days.

Reynolds said a key reason why Japan and South Korea are so far ahead is because of heavy competition among broadband providers. Also, the Japanese and South Korean governments have taken steps to encourage use of broadband, such as requiring telephone companies to let competitors use existing lines at low cost.

"In economies where there is effectively no competition, where there is no choice except for the incumbent operator like Swisscom (in Switzerland), prices are going to be higher and the speeds are going to be lower," he said.

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