Local governments drive u-city initiatives

01 Jan 2006
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Last month Korea's Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC), together with the Ministry of Construction and Transportation, announced that they will jointly coordinate and regulate the burgeoning growth of u-city (ubiquitous city) projects in the country.

'At present there are no guidelines,' said an MIC source. 'We are at the beginning stage. We want to set requirements and standardize the technologies. We plan to have a standardized u-city model and to set up the legal base.' The MIC's u-city initiative is being implemented under the auspices of its broadband convergence network (BcN) division.

The u-city concept will feature widespread use of RFID and ubiquitous sensor networks. MIC minister Chin Daeje suggested last year that the RFID business alone might in the future become as large as the mobile phone business.

A rush of announcements relating to u-city projects have been made recently. Last month KT Corp and the Korea National Housing Corp contracted to jointly construct a 'u-city' in Unjeon, near the border with North Korea, by 2009. KT will install the latest wireless and FTTH infrastructure.

KT is involved in five u-city projects with local governments including those in Busan and Incheon. The company forecasts that u-city development projects will be valued at between $15 billion and $22 billion in 2010.

But it is local government that has been leading u-city initiatives, and each has its own unique perspective and plans. Cheju Island, Korea's tourist Mecca, has been one of the pioneers of the u-city concept. Its projects include u-traffic, u-museum, u-park and u-coupon projects.

The New Songdo u-city initiative near Incheon is the biggest u-city project and is unique because it is run by private enterprises and is designated as a free economic zone. It is set to be completed by 2014 at an estimated cost of $25 billion and will include a major RFID research center, which already has over $250 million in funding.

Ironically, MIC's IT839 blue print for U-Korea contains no reference to u-cities, although the u-city concept is largely based on the infrastructure and services in the plan. But it has now realized that u-cities offer an ideal means for showcasing the country's latest IT technologies.

The application of RFID and wireless sensors to residential life stirs fears of Big Brother and even opposition in other advanced countries where the u-city concept still doesn't go far beyond broadband.

Korea will seek to capitalize on this and through its u-cities give Chin Daeje's portrayal of Korea as an IT test-bed a new dimension.

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