Seoul Public Wifi
Information and Communication Security Division, Seoul Metropolitan Government

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
○ Telecom expenses taking a much bigger portion of household expenditures Citizens obtain a lot of information over WiFi. They are using more smart devices than ever before, thereby increasing their telecom expenses dramatically. Increasing household telecom expenses have emerged as a serious social issue as well as an economic one. In 2009, according to data released by OECD ICCP (Committee for Information, Computer, and Communications Policy), telecom expenses accounted for 4.4% of household expenditures in Korea, the second highest among OECD member countries. Statistics Korea, a government agency, has announced that the average telecom expenses per household in Korea in June 2013 increased 17.5% over five years to 160,000 won (roughly US$152). Telecom expenses are a heavy burden on household economic health in Korea. ○ Widening mobile information gap in Korea in line with increasing dependency on wireless Internet Wireless information technologies began to develop at a fast pace in the second half of the 1990s in Korea. In 2010, Korea was number one among OECD member countries in the use of wireless Internet. In 2013, Korea ranked 1st in the use of smartphones (Strategy Analytics 2013) among OECD countries. Korea is now equipped with the world’s best wireless communication infrastructure. Due to this infrastructure, a majority of Koreans can and do obtain and use information on the Internet anytime, anywhere in the country and they increasingly do so by using their mobile devices. Low-income households cannot afford to do this, which increases to the country’s information gap between the haves and have-nots. According to statistics on the information gap in 2010, the use of smartphones by Koreans in the lower income bracket was 1.9% compared to the national average of 58.5%. The biggest reason for the low use rate of the impoverished was telecom expenses, which, even though only a small percentage were using smartphones, accounted for 47.6% of their household expenditures in that year. ○ Free wireless Internet service required to reduce the gap The three mobile carriers of the country (SKT, LGU+, and KT) have set up their own WiFi networks which are separate from one another and can be used exclusively by their respective service subscribers. In short, subscribers of one network must pay for the services provided by other networks. Their hotspots are still limited to indoors, mostly coffee shops, retail outlets, or private libraries whose patrons actually pay for wireless Internet service indirectly. A wireless network access point has a range of about 50m in Korea. For outdoor service, wireless Internet devices must be installed along the streets; this requires installing poles or other types of support fixtures. The problem is that it is very hard for any private company to secure such facilities along city streets. The Seoul Metropolitan Government has begun to consider building a city-wide free WiFi service by allowing mobile carriers to use its public facilities along the streets.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
○ The city government arranges public WiFi service to eliminate the information gap. In line with the increasing demand for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers, wireless Internet service is rapidly developing in Korea. However, the information gap between the haves and have-nots is widening because the poor can rarely afford mobile Internet service. The Seoul Metropolitan government has launched the “Public WiFi Network Set-up Project” to eliminate the gap and make Seoul a city of universal telecom welfare. Specifically, the city government is promoting the public WiFi project to enable its citizens to use public WiFi anywhere in the city, ensure that everyone has access to public WiFi regardless of one’s income status, and provide diverse public services through the public WiFi network. Expanding the free WiFi service to the entire city will sharply increase the proportion of the population taking advantage of the information available on the Internet. It will also enable the increasing number of local and overseas visitors to the city to use the free Internet service throughout the city. Thus, the initiative will contribute greatly to improving the competitiveness of Seoul in the global community. ○ The city government proposed the initiative to (private) mobile carriers The Seoul Metropolitan Government proposed the project to the three mobile operators (SKT, LGU+, and KT). To make free Internet service available throughout the city, the city government offered the carriers its own telecom network which connects through fiber-optic cables on CCTV poles 423 “dong” offices in 25 districts. The city government and mobile carriers had many meetings. Initially, the carriers were reluctant to participate in the initiative. They thought they would gain little financially compared to their potential investment. The city government emphasized the need for them to contribute to narrowing the information gap and highlighted the importance of free Internet service for the disadvantaged from the “telecom welfare” perspective. Eventually, the carriers agreed to take part in the project and build a city-wide public WiFi network using the city government’s telecom network and facilities. Their major reason for agreeing to the initiative was that they could set up the network with less financial commitment than they had originally thought. In June 2011, the two parties signed a memorandum of understanding on the construction of the infrastructure required for the realization of free WiFi service throughout the city. According to the MoU, the city government offers the carriers its own telecom network, allows them to use its poles along the streets to install wireless equipment, and supplies them electricity; the carriers install wireless antennas and operate the city-wide WiFi service system. Seoul will have significantly more outdoor WiFi access points when the city-wide service is completely operational.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
○ Paradigm shift in telecommunications services Mobile carriers’ WiFi service in Korea is exclusive, i.e., free WiFi service is offered only to that mobile carriers’ respective subscribers. The Seoul Metropolitan Government is now building a city-wide free Internet service so that anyone can access the service anytime, anywhere in the city. Korea is moving fast toward a smart society where the use of wireless Internet service must not be regarded as a privilege. The city government has taken actions to ease the burden of telecom expenses on citizens while reducing the information gap by building a public WiFi network throughout the metropolis. . ○ Collaboration between a local government and private companies The Seoul Metropolitan Government was able to convince a profit oriented businesses to consider the “social welfare” of disadvantaged citizens. As such for mobile carriers, the initiative is an opportunity for them to make very meaningful social contributions to citizens of the city. To do this the city had to show mobile carriers that they were not only spending money to install access points, but they were also saving significant amounts of money in other areas by working together as a single entity. Being able to show businesses how they benefit from “social welfare” is vital.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
① Recognizing the seriousness of the worsening information gap (January 2011) The city government’s Information System Planning Bureau struggled with the increasing information gap in the city. In January 2011, it concluded that the issue could not be solved through the local government’s efforts alone. It embarked on marathon negotiations with Korea’s three mobile carriers on how to address the issue. Following six months’ negotiations, they agreed on the set-up of a free WiFi service network which will make Seoul’s public WiFi network the highest-quality and most extensive in the world. ②MoU between the city government and three mobile carriers (June 2011) On June 15, 2011, the city government and three mobile carriers signed an MoU on the set-up of a public WiFi service network in public locations throughout the city. The MoU requires the city government to provide its own telecom network and the necessary facilities to the mobile carriers and the latter to set up and operate access points throughout the city. ③ Forming a task force team to facilitate the set-up of a public WiFi network (July 2011) Following the execution of the MoU in June, the city government, district offices, and mobile carriers formed a task force team to facilitate the set-up of a public WiFi network in the city in July 2011. The team held numerous meetings to determine installation locations, conduct site surveys, figure out optimal installation and operation methods, and maximize budget savings. ④ Pilot projects launched in major public locations (October 2011) In October 2011, the task force team launched pilot projects in some key locations in Seoul including 12 public buildings. In December 2011, free public WiFi service was expanded to 36 locations with 327 additional access points. ⑤ Developing the “Seoul Public WiFi Emblem” (January 2012) In January 2012, the Seoul Metropolitan Government developed the “Seoul Public WiFi Emblem” and posted it in public WiFi service-supported areas. The emblem is instrumental in popularizing public WiFi service among citizens and visitors. ⑥ Another MoU with the mobile carriers to expand the service using their telecom networks (March 2012) Public WiFi in Seoul became available on the city’s major streets, in traditional markets, in parks, and in tourist attractions through the city government’s own telecom network which connects CCTVs in 423 “dong” offices in 25 districts. Still, new fiber-optic cables had to be installed outside the coverage area of the city government’s network. The city government could not afford it. Following numerous negotiations, the city government and mobile carriers agreed on the use of the carriers’ telecom network. The agreement saved the municipal government a large amount of money. Between 2011 and 2013, a total of 1,918 access points have been installed in 473 locations throughout the city - 327 in 36 locations in 2011, 730 in 149 locations in 2012, and 861 in 288 locations have been set up in 2013. Free public WiFi service is now available in almost 2,000 public places throughout the city. By the installatioin of 3,000 bus stations and 7,000 access points, more than 10,000 access points are expected to be installed in the year 2015.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
○ Information System Planning Bureau: planning and implementing public WiFi service in Seoul The city government planned to improve citizens’ telecommunications welfare, improve Seoul’s competitiveness, and make Seoul the world’s leader in providing high-quality and extensive public WiFi access. It asked the country’s three mobile carriers to take the initiative and set up wireless access points across the city for free public WiFi service. The carriers were reluctant to accept the city government’s proposal because they had to invest considerably in upgrading their facilities for new 3G and LTE services. Financially, setting up a single wireless access point costs a mobile carrier 3.8 million won (US$3,619) 3.5 million won (US$3,333) for installation and 300,000 won (US$286) for yearly maintenance. Assuming they agreed to install 600 access points a year, it would therefore cost them 2.28 billion won (US$2,171,400) every year. The city government’s plan to build a city-wide public WiFi service network faced a serious challenge. But as a result of the city government’s persistence, the carriers finally agreed to invest in the city’s public WiFi. The officials of the bureau also worked hard to identify the best locations for WiFi service. They checked the locations recommended by citizens and 25 district offices, observed the volume of human traffic and residents’ current use of IT services, and closely monitored local situations in candidate locations. ○ Mobile carriers playing a key role in the establishment of the Seoul Public WiFi Network Public WiFi service requires telecom cables connected to the Internet. In areas where the city governments’ own telecom network is not connected, mobile carriers had to lay optical cables and install telecom equipment. For areas already within the city government’s telecom network, the city government worked on the necessary connection; and mobile carriers installed access point equipment for the ultimate provision of public WiFi service in all areas.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
○ Financial resources - money saved by mobile carriers’ investments Mobile carriers in the country are private companies pursuing profits by operating a wireless telecommunications network business. But they have struggled to secure wireless telecommunications networks in Seoul in a competition among themselves for more customers. Through an agreement between the city government and the carriers, Seoul’s public WiFi service can use the carriers’ existing wireless telecom networks. For areas where they have no wireless telecom networks, however, the carriers have to set up new telecom networks. In addition, they agreed to pay for the maintenance of the public WiFi access points they set up. The mobile carriers agreed to pay an average of 2.28 billion won (US$2,171,429) for the installation, operation, and maintenance on setting up about 600 WiFi access points a year. ○ Infrastructure resources - the city’s own networks combined with mobile carriers’ networks and facilities Mobile carriers have installed and maintained wireless routers in areas where the city government’s own networks are available. For areas where the networks are not available, mobile carriers have set up all the required telecommunications facilities and equipment to connect them to their own wireless telecom networks. ○ Human resources - city government’s officials and mobile carriers’ employees ICT experts are needed to set up public WiFi and operate it effectively. Experts in both the city government and the mobile carriers have joined forces to work out all the details of the project design through on-site investigations. Afterward, they performed monitoring and repair work jointly for outdoor systems to make sure that the networks offered top-quality WiFi service at minimum cost to both the city government and carriers. They have worked hard with a commitment to deliver free WiFi service to the disadvantaged in society in particular.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
○ Developing public WiFi set-up and operational processes - Collaboration in the set-up processes: The city government receives recommendations for priority locations for the set-up of public WiFi networks from citizens and 25 district offices. City government officials have conducted on-site investigations with mobile carriers’ staff as well as officials of the relevant district offices. They have checked the volume of foot traffic, proportion of citizens not be able to use the Internet, and the expected impact of the initiative. - Establishing persuasive objectives First, the initiative is aimed at making Seoul the world’s leader by having the highest-quality and most extensive free public WiFi network in the world. Second, the initiative is intended to provide free WiFi service to everyone in the city regardless of status or nationality. ○ Creating an effective WiFi emblem and developing the Smart Seoul Map - The city government has created an effective Seoul WiFi emblem, which informs people of different linguistic backgrounds of the availability of public WiFi service simply yet effectively. - The city government has also developed the Smart Seoul Map, which enables anyone hooked to the Internet to find free WiFi locations around him/her instantly. ○ Reducing municipal expenses and easing citizens’ telecom expense burden The city government is planning to secure 10,000 public WiFi access points in the city by 2015 to reduce the telecom expenses paid by citizens and offer visitors free Internet access as well as boost the city’s competitiveness. As of 2013, the city government has saved 7.2 billion won (US$6,941,333) in telecommunications expenses through the mobile carriers’ setting-up of the 1,918 access points. By 2015, it will have saved a total of 38 billion won (US$36,190,476) through the carriers’ setting-up of a total of 10,000 access points in the city. Citizens can save 42 billion won (US$39,990,300) in telecom expenses a year or 70,000 won (US$69.5) per person a year assuming an average of 300 citizens access each of the 1,918 access points set up in 473 locations as of 2013 for about five minutes a day; the savings results from the fact that an Internet connection normally costs 200 won (around 20 cents) per 5~10 minutes in Korea. By 2015, 10,000 access points will have been set up. Then, citizens’ personal savings in telecom expenses will reach 219 billion won (US$208,500,000) a year.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
○ Developing an integrated control system and the Smart Seoul map to ensure top-quality services The city government has developed an integrated control system that indicates public WiFi locations on a digital map developed through a numerical map of the places. The system automatically identifies the locations and causes of any glitch through glitch indicators. It checks login records by setting up IP (Internet Protocol) values in the system when telecommunications services are obstructed. The system ensures a quick response to problems. The city government has also developed the Smart Seoul Map App so that smartphone users can easily get information on the availability of public WiFi service in the city.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
○ Reluctance of mobile carriers due to the anticipated high set-up costs A single access point costs 3.8 million won (US$3,619) in installation and maintenance costs for one year. Therefore, installing 600 access points costs mobile carriers 2.28 billion won (US$2,171,429) a year. Initially, mobile carriers were reluctant to cooperate with the city government due to the high costs they had to bear. ○ Success in persuading mobile carriers through continuous efforts The city government succeeded in persuading the mobile carriers (SKT, LGU+, and KT) to make joint investments in the initiative. It emphasized the values of working together toward improvements in telecommunications welfare for the disadvantaged in the city and the enhancement of the city’s global competitiveness by providing an increasing number of local and overseas visitors with free Internet access. The mobile carriers eventually agreed to collaborate and signed an MoU on the set-up of free public WiFi networks in the city.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
○ Realization of free Internet access in the entire city through the mobile carriers’ agreement to share telecommunications resources with others Free WiFi service is realized through the collaboration between the city government and mobile carriers. The Seoul Metropolitan Government is offering its citizens and visitors free wireless Internet access in key locations of the city. It has helped boost the city’s competitiveness and opened the path toward making Seoul’s free public WiFi network the highest-quality and most extensive in the world. The information gap is being narrowed. And citizens’ telecom welfare has been improved considerably. ○ Making Seoul the world leader in providing a high-quality and extensive public WiFi network As of 2013, 1,918 access points have been set up for public WiFi in 473 locations. A single point can serve a range of 50m. Currently, 15 square kilometers of Seoul is being served by public WiFi. The area accounts for 5.68% of the populated areas of Seoul (264k㎡), excluding forests, fields, streams, railroads, and roads from the total area (605k㎡). By 2015, at least 10,000 access points will be set up throughout the city. The range will then reach 31% of the city’s populated areas. ○ Realizing telecom welfare by concentrating on marginalized areas in terms of Internet service Typically, mobile carriers offered free WiFi service to some highly profitable areas such as movie theaters, department stores, cafes, and restaurants. Through the MoU, the city government and mobile carriers have set up free public WiFi service in 100 locations in traditional markets, a typical spot in Seoul with poor Internet availability, in addition to 95 locations in major streets, 16 locations in tourist attractions, 135 locations in parks, 18 locations in plazas, and 63 locations in welfare facilities.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
○ Sustainability secured through collaborative relations with mobile carriers The city government has signed an MoU with the country’s three mobile carriers to promote the initiative jointly. By 2015, they will set up at least 10,000 access points in all the major locations of the city including traditional markets, main streets, tourist attractions, plazas, parks, libraries, welfare facilities, and public health centers. A large number of citizens and visitors will then be able to access the Internet for free. ○ Transferability of the initiative to other jurisdictions Other local governments also have their own telecom networks. Therefore, they can easily replicate the experiences of Seoul in their jurisdictions in collaboration with mobile carriers. They can set up free public WiFi service networks in their municipalities in very economical ways. They will be able to help reduce the burden of their constituents’ telecom expenses while improving the level of telecom welfare for all their constituents. ○ Benchmarking cases The Public WiFi Set-up Project in Seoul is the world’s first case realized through the collaboration between a city government offering its own telecom network and mobile carriers installing wireless routers and operating the system. The Seoul model was introduced to the central government and the country’s regional and municipal governments. The Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning representing the central government has benchmarked the Seoul model and joined forces with private telecom companies to set up wireless Internet networks for childcare facilities, adolescent facilities, and libraries. Major cities in the country such as Busan, Gwangju, Daejeon, Incheon, Ulsan, and Wonju and overseas municipalities like Fukuoka have visited the city government for benchmarking purposes. They are working hard to improve their telecom welfare for their citizens through the implementation of the Seoul model in their municipalities.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
○ Eliminating the information gap Korea has been struggling to eliminate the information gap since 2000 when it began to recognize the seriousness of the issue on the part of the underprivileged. For some time, the focus of efforts by both the central government and local governments was in offering the impoverished used PCs and free IT education and lending telecom support to the disabled (providing IT devices and helping improve their web access). Still, such measures are no longer sufficient for them because of the rapidly improving telecom services and subsequent rises in telecom expenses. Through its collaboration with mobile carriers, the city government has been able to promote its public WiFi project successfully. It has significantly improved thetelecom welfare for its citizens, offering free Internet access to visitors, too. The Seoul Metropolitan Government is boosting its global competitiveness in the area of sophisticated telecom services. The city-wide free WiFi service has yet to be achieved due to budget restrictions. Nonetheless, major locations in the city are already connected to free wireless Internet service. The Seoul Metropolitan Government is now on the path toward becoming the world’s leader in providing a high-quality and extensive free public WiFi network to its citizens. ○ Paradigm shift in accessibility to Internet information under the leadership of the public sector In the 21st century, people live in a sea of information. Providing people with opportunities to access information digitally should be considered a basic right such as the right to equality or freedom of speech. It is no longer a benefit given by the government to its constituents. The Seoul Public WiFi Project has been promoted under the city leadership’s conviction that everyone in Seoul must be able to access the limitless information on the Internet free of charge. The efforts of the city government have triggered a paradigm shift in the area of accessibility to Internet information. Yet the city government will not stop there. It will continue to take the lead in completely eliminating the information gap suffered by the disadvantaged in the city, just as it strives not to leave anyone behind in food, clothing, and shelter. ○ Collaboration between the local government and private companies For some time, telecom carriers in the country turned their back on those who could not afford the benefits of the Internet age. The government was unable to do much, either, because of the huge financial burden involved. Collaboration between the two was the answer. By joining forces with mobile carriers, the city government has been able to offer free wireless Internet services to a large number of citizens who otherwise would not have it. For their part, the carriers have been able to improve their corporate image considerably through their active participation in the public WiFi project. The initiative will be recorded as a very successful collaboration case between a local government and private companies in the country for a win-win situation all around.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Information and Communication Security Division, Seoul Metropolitan Government
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Myung won Lee
Title:   Competent  
Telephone/ Fax:   82-2-2133-2863
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   Seoul Seosomun City Hall - Seoul City Hall Seosomun Building 15 Deoksugung-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul 100-738
Postal Code:   100-738
City:   Seoul

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