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The Man Behind Korea’s 5G Strategy
The Man Behind Korea’s 5G Strategy
Former Vice Minister of Science and ICT Min Wonki speaks on how he sees ICT industries around the world would change.

By Jenny Lee WIRED Korea

A video conference with life-sized holograms of business partners, a vehicle that operates without a driver on board, a factory equipped with machinery that detects anomalies and repairs itself on its own, and a healthcare professional who diagnoses diseases, offers treatments and prescribes medication, all remotely.

These were some of the sneak peeks into the imminent era offered in April 2019, when Korea rolled out the world’s first nationwide 5G mobile networks, poised to revolutionize the way people live, work and socialize with their greatest promises—high speed, super-low latency and massive connectivity.

After the commercial launch, the Korean government, aiming to secure the lion’s share of the global 5G market, outlined its plans to create the world’s best 5G ecosystem in what is called the “5G+ Strategy.” It said through tax breaks and government investments totaling $27 billion by 2022, it would foster new 5G-based industries and services as well as actively promote private investment.

This government initiative was virtually started by Min Wonki, former vice minister of science and ICT.

“The 5G+ strategy is a digital industrial policy that can drive national economic growth," Min said. “5G is not just a mobile network service but a technology that shakes up a wide range of industries.”

Having worked as a public servant for 31 years, Min is a “living witness” to Korea’s ICT history, playing a leading role in formulating and implementing national strategies that turned Korea into the world’s ICT powerhouse; he contributed to the commercialization of the CDMA-based 2G network and high-speed internet networks as well as the creation of IT839, a 2004 development strategy for the IT sector anchored on establishing new services, infrastructures and growth engines.

Min also has extensive international experience, including serving as chairman of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Committee on Digital Economy Policy and Artificial Intelligence (AI) Expert Group, as chairman of the 2015 ITU (International Telecommunication Union) Council and as senior ICT policy specialist at the World Bank.

Although he is a leader who foresees future trends and embraces technology currently reshaping Korea's ICT industry, he says it was pure “luck” that allowed him to serve his country and achieve what he had achieved. When he left office earlier this year, he took on his new role as president of the State University of New York, Korea (SUNY Korea).

WIRED Korea met with Min to hear what he hopes to accomplish as an educator and how he sees ICT industries around the world would change.

WIRED Korea: You have chosen to become an educator after 31 years of public service. Is there any particular reason why you made such a decision?

Min: After I stepped down from my role as deputy minister of science, ICT and future planning (in 2015), I taught at SUNY Korea for about a year. I have never imagined serving as president here, and it was not even on my bucket list. But I had many great memories while working here as a professor, so I thought it would be nice to teach students again.

WIRED Korea: While serving as vice minister of science and ICT, you led major policies with regards to telecommunications. What did you focus on the most at the time?

Min: When I took the post, I told my colleagues to do two things. The first was to create a new digital industrial policy. After the Ministry of Information and Communication was dissolved, the Korea Communications Commission and the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning were established, but there were no policies for the digital economy industry that could represent the post-IT839 period. The nation needed a new digital industrial policy to grow once more fast and strong. Then came the 5G+ Strategy, which is designed to make 5G not just a new mobile service, but a technology that transforms a wide diversity of industries.

The second thing I personally wanted to do was create a new directorate dedicated to emerging technologies. AI and blockchain have recently become the talk of the town, but there was no directorate in charge of them at the second vice minister's office. My colleagues and I worked hard to establish an agency directorate committed to AI. I'm glad that I've achieved the two goals I've set, and I'm grateful to those who helped me.

WIRED Korea: Were there policy goals you pursued but weren’t able to achieve while you were in office?

Min: What should have been speeded up but didn’t happen was growing the information security industry.

Information protection should be viewed in two ways. One is to secure network security to help users safely operate in the digital economy, and the other is to greatly expand the industry itself so that Korea can lead the global information security sector.

I had many conversations with information security industry leaders as science and ICT vice minister, and we (the ministry) designated the information security industry in the 5G+ Strategic national plan as one of the 10 industrial sectors to be developed by 2022.

The acceleration of 5G deployment is increasing the demand for edge computing, a network architecture that processes large amounts of data quickly at the network edge, closer to where data is generated, instead of large, centralized cloud data centers. As a result, a new market is opening up as data protection at the edge is being called for.

Our strategy was to take advantage of this opportunity and grow the information security industry. But I think it was too early to see tangible results when I was in office. Although I couldn't do it during my tenure, I hope there will be a leap forward in the information security industry this year or next, when 5G matures.

WIRED Korea: One of your achievements while serving as vice minister is the commercialization of 5G networks and services. How do you evaluate the current 5G industry in Korea and in what direction should it head?

Min: I don't think 5G is simply the evolution of existing mobile communications. Thus far, the evolution of mobile communication was all about increasing speed and data transmission, with related apps built primarily for customer usage.

However, self-driving cars, unmanned drones and telemedicine are industrial applications. Just as new IT technologies have changed industries across the board, 5G too has the potential to do so. And in order for us to benefit from this new era, we must increase the added value of many industries through 5G. But this takes time.

Korea has started its 5G services on the 3.5 GHz band and is working on adding 28 GHz. Once that is done, new industrial solutions will further emerge.

The government will have to create a market for them in the beginning because companies will hesitate to use these new services as they are not confident of success, and the cost will inevitably be high.

Once the 5G ecosystem matures, however, many positive effects from this new market creation will be felt in Korea, but there will also be opportunities for industries to make inroads into foreign markets.

WIRED Korea: How do you think new technologies such as 5G, big data, AI, augmented reality and virtual reality will develop?

Min: 5G, big data, cloud, Internet of Things (IoT) and AI are called emerging technologies. They're actually all connected. AI cannot be developed without data, IoT is needed to collect data, and cloud is needed to store data. 5G is essential for fast data transmission. As such, an ecosystem exists in digital technology. Developing them together will lead to a good ecosystem.

Recently, many people are interested in combining biology and digital technology to push the envelope in terms of medical treatment as well as for gene recreation and engineering highly interconnected neuronal networks on nanowire scaffolds.

Implementing real-world machines, equipment and objects in a computer-generated world is called the "digital twin," which currently runs on separate devices. But what if these devices are connected together? The amount of information we can store will increase to infinity as it can be saved on different servers. These innovative technologies will continue to emerge. Personally, I think we should invest in these technologies.
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