Why Does South Korea Have the Fastest Internet?

South Korea already has the fastest internet in the world, and it’s about to get a lot faster, with commercial 5G connections (upwards of a gigabit per second, or an HD movie in about two minutes) predicted within the next six years. According to internet research firm Akamai it holds a 40% average connection speed lead on Japan (in 2nd place) and a 55% advantage over US speeds. The 5G project is only the latest in a long line of initiatives designed to ensure that the Korean internet is in a constant state of evolution. 

But how does this Indiana-sized country between Japan and China, two modern tech giants, manage to sustain its undefeated speed record? And why doesn’t the rest of the world have anything like it? I went looking for answers, and came back with five:

  1. Government planning
  2. Healthy competition
  3. Urban population density
  4. Private-sector growth
  5. Korean culture

These are less entertaining than my initial explanation, which was that the South Korean internet is actually magic. However, taken together they make a great deal of sense. None of them is individually responsible for the blazing-fast speed of Korean data, but combining them reveals a country in the right place, at the right time, with the right mindset. Perhaps the thing that sets Korea apart the most, though, is how hard and long they worked to build an excellent system—which may be why moving there is probably the only way you can hope to get Korean-level internet speeds in the near future.

Government Planning

I interviewed Linda Butcher, Director of Media Relations and Public Affairs at the Korea Economic Institute, and she consistently described its evolution as: “top-down.” Culturally, Koreans trust their government and each other a little more than most western citizens do—though they do turn out in droves to protest if they feel betrayed—so government-led initiatives, as we shall see, are an important part of getting things done in Korea.

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Andrew Braun

Andrew Braun has an eclectic taste in music, a crippling addiction to change, and a time-consuming learning habit. He has held jobs as a writer, a web designer, a farmhand, a handyman, and a teacher, and plans to travel the world, teach, write, and work towards a master’s degree in political science.

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