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  • Author Becky Roberts
  • Published April 30, 2014

Seoul, South Korea: Tech Cities

Seoul uses the rest of the world’s visions of the future as its present. Home to LG headquarters, this megacity is a tech-lover’s paradise.


Seoul uses the rest of the world’s visions of the future as its present. Home to LG headquarters, this megacity is a tech-lover’s paradise.


Londoners are all too familiar with having to stand in the rain to send texts before descending down into a signal-free Underground. So are New Yorkers and Parisians. Citizens of Seoul? They’ve had mobile reception on the tube since 2010. Whether you’re two storeys below ground or 20 above – even atop the city’s bordering mountain peaks – smartphones in Seoul always have signal-bars. The city is one humungous hot spot – and it prides itself on its vast tech infrastructure.


It’s clear why. Seoul is the most wired city, and has the fastest broadband speeds, in the world. Want to watch ULTRA HD content on the internet? Piece of cake. In fact, according to CNN Travel, a whopping 95 per cent of Korean households have internet access. Just 60 per cent of the USA is hooked up.


The capital city of South Korea (‘Seoul’ means ‘capital city’ in Korean) is made up of 25 mini-cities and is home to 10 million people (that’s a fifth of the country’s population). It’s huge – and a bizarre blend of sacred old and futuristic new, where modern skyscrapers tower over centuries-old Royal Palaces and historic treasures.


Smartphones everywhere
The city promotes ‘smarter living’ integrating information processing into almost every daily activity, it’s a metropolis of technological innovation and forward-thinking.


That about 70 per cent of Seoulites own a smartphone should come as no surprise but that they aren’t exclusively used for Angry Birds and Facebook might be: here they’re used as credit cards and at ATMs.



You’d be hard-pushed to cover Seoul in one sitting, but Gangnam (yes, you’ll have seen snippets of it in Psy’s YouTube sensation) in the South will provide all the glitz and glamour of the modern megacity. Walk its teeming streets at night (Seoul is a good place for nocturnal souls and renowned for its safety) and a blitz of illuminated glass structures, neon interactive billboards and the hubbub of chock-a-block traffic are inescapable. Think Times Square on steroids.


You might think you’ve stepped into some futuristic urban dystopia. It’s not quite a scene from Logan’s Run but it’s not far off Fritz Lang’s vision in Metropolis. Providing you’re not constantly eyes-to-the-ground, you’ll clock a ton of state-of-the-art high-rises worth a double-take. SK Telecom’s (Korea’s largest mobile carrier) headquarters looks, purposely, like a giant mobile phone, and GT Tower East looks like it’s made out of waves.


Amazing tech buildings
And if they aren’t eye-opening enough, wait until you see the Tower Infinity, which is due to be unveiled this year. With cameras capturing real-time images of its surroundings and displaying them on the building’s millions of LED panels, it’s designed to blend in with the landscape it would otherwise physically block. A camouflaged 450m tall building? If that’s not impressive, we don’t know what is. (Just don’t fly near it.)


Heck, even the bus stops showboat tech to display interactive Bus Information Systems (BIS) on their touch-operated glass canopies. How many times have you sat waiting for the bus in the UK and started idly wondering what the carbon monoxide levels are? A lot, yes? Of course you have. No problem in Seoul: the answer is literally at your fingertips.


Even nipping to the shops – Seoul has a throng of huge malls for fashionistas – encounters digital this-and-that with e-trolleys and virtual changing rooms where you can try clothes on without even getting undressed.


The place to see the future
And that’s just what you’ll stumble upon from day to day. If you’re on a mission, head to Digital Media City – a not-to-be-missed district in northwestern Seoul. Home to over 500 tech companies and residents so tech-mad they’re called Denizens (Digital Citizens), the 550,000 square metre complex is an electronic nirvana and a continually blossoming one.


The T.um museum showcases the newfangled tech existing today, as well as what’s likely to shape the near future. After all, you can’t just go anywhere to see a simulation of an auto-drive car electronically selling electricity to a passing car or living room wallpaper changing with a simple motion gesture…


Thanks to a highly educated population, tech-driven government and enormous tech companies such as LG generating more than 80 per cent of South Korea’s exports and hiring the majority of its college graduates, Seoul is steaming forward at the front of technology. It’s just waiting for the rest of us to catch up.


Becky Roberts is staff writer at What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision magazine.


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