Wi-Fi hot spots are numerous throughout Seoul

Julia Greil

Editor’s note: This is the first story in an occasional series about international travel written by WT students and faculty.

The Gangnam area of Seoul is one of the city’s Wi-Fi hot spots.
The Gangnam area of Seoul is one of the city’s Wi-Fi hot spots.

Just for a minute, imagine a world where Internet connection was no problem, where your smart phone would always have connection to all of the resources it has to offer. Destination: Seoul, South Korea. With 97% of the city connected to Wi-Fi, according to tnooz.com, this city is one of the most connected cities in the world.
Back in 2011, the city of Seoul spent $44 million to allow residents to connect to Wi-Fi any way possible: Buses, cars, subways, street corners, stores and just about anywhere you can imagine. Anywhere you look, people are on their phones. It’s as if face-to-face interaction is no more.
“Koreans have a need for Wi-Fi,” said expat Tab Burnett. “Their culture is so fast and up to date, including the use of technology. They spend their days with it day in and day out at their fingertips – literally.”
Walk into any subway station and look around. All that is seen are people on their phones with their headphones in their ears. It’s so quiet on a subway ride that you can’t help but notice when a foreigner boards.
This constant connectivity is a high contrast to its neighboring country, North Korea, where Internet signals won’t go into the country or out of the country. It’s a part of the Korean peninsula that is cut off to any outside contact. It’s amazing what Seoul has done with their culture and high profile IT status.
“This hyper connectivity allows Korea to lead innovation in many ways,” said Hannah Bae, a former resident of Seoul who has since returned to the United States. “For example, there’s a lot of smart use of QR codes – like you can scan a QR code at a bus stop and find out when the next bus is coming. In addition, Seoul’s previously impossible-to-navigate back alleys are not as much of a maze anymore, thanks to GPS on our smartphones.”
It’s easy to spot a tourist on a subway system because of the giant, hand-held maps they are carrying. One will notice, upon entering almost any subway station, that not only is everyone glued to their phones, they are also looking at maps. If someone has a smart phone, there is an app that allows the subway map to show on the screen, which many residents take advantage of when looking for a place to go.
“If you look around the subway, you’ll see almost everyone glued to their smartphones. We’re addicted to our mobile devices,” Bae said.
Seoul’s connectivity is not just for residents, either. Meet Samantha. Samantha is a typical American tourist who is used to texting, Facebooking and being on any social media site non-stop. She walks the streets of Seoul missing her friends and family back home, wondering what they are doing. Samantha stops at a coffee house in the morning and begins receiving messages. Her next stop: a temple, and even there the Wi-Fi signal is strong. Throughout the day, Samantha has no problem keeping up with her friends or surfing the web because not only does the country have its own Wi-Fi to connect to, but also a lot of Wi-Fi is open for tourists and out-of-country visitors.
“Wi-Fi is a life savior as an expat,” Burnett said. “Having Wi-Fi constantly available helps me plan my days, figure the route if lost, and most importantly, fit in with the locals. Koreans are always on their phones, iPads, laptops, etc. – always.”
Not only does the free Wi-Fi offer an interesting atmosphere, it also drives a culture fueled by innovations and technology. Minju Kim, a Korean graduate student studying in Seoul, uses Wi-Fi on a daily basis to keep up with friends, schoolwork and to find her way around. Kim realizes the importance of Wi-Fi but also how Korean connectivity is vital to her culture and others.
“I do think innovations [from] Seoul are driving other countries to be more reliant on technology,” she said. “Samsung constantly provides fast, convenient, multi-function smartphones to Korean markets and Korean people react to the products by buying the products. I heard that Korea is the country of the highest percentage of its population using smartphones.”
Korea is a unique place, and not just because of the culture. There are many sights to see, parks to visit and people to meet, and Seoul has provided the gift of Wi-Fi to help make this happen. The city’s heart is reflected in the niceness of the people and the ability to connect within this beautiful city.

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