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What PyeongChang 2018 Means to Korea’s ICT Industry

Reading news about the 2018 Winter Olympics, it’s hard to tell if we’re talking about a major sports event or a booming tech convention. And that’s apparently how it should be, with the Korean government branding the event as the “K-ICT Olympics” and the “IoT Games.”

Hosted by South Korea in the city of PyeongChang, the upcoming winter games is gearing up to be a packed demonstration of Korea’s “cutting-edge ICT industry.” The invested parties intend to prove everyone – tourists, international spectators, and maybe most importantly, the domestic crowd – how Korea is worthy of its largely self-proclaimed status of a world-renowned IT pioneer. This is their opportunity to convince consumers worldwide that Korea equals IT.

The event infrastructure has been designed with ambition and grand vision, and is being backed by Korea’s leading tech and communications creators. Advertised features include the prelaunch of Korea Telecom’s 5G network, scheduled for full commercial reveal in 2019; autonomous shuttle buses created by Hyundai Motors and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport; an intelligent translation app by local software provider Hancom Interfree and the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute; and 360-degree virtual reality recordings of the games. In addition, unelaborated “IoT services” will be utilized to up the convenience level of the Olympics experience, probably meaning that attendees will connect to a massive IoT network of sorts to transmit data about their location, schedule, and more to support efficient management of the event and affiliated services, such as restaurants and hotels.

Both the public and private sector are deeply invested in bringing all hyped tech keywords to life during the Olympics. But words and promises aside, the only thing that matters is whether everything will run as planned, smooth and secure, once the masses begin to pour over to PyeongChang.

And it’s turning out to be slightly intimidating, timing-wise, to put together all this go-big-or-go-home technology. Korea’s uncontested tech giant Samsung has yet to finish cleansing its reputation, tarnished by exploding products and entanglement in the recent presidential crisis. Media headlines have been dominated by politics, from the impeachment of Park Geun-hye to the new presidential election. With more urgent issues on the table, any organic buzz around the Olympics has been minimal, if not virtually nonexistent. Right now, the new government, in cooperation with the existing committee, must figure out how to breathe positive vibes into the PyeongChang promotions and revive public interest in the spectacle. 

If the 2018 Winter Olympics manages to deliver what it promises, it’ll be a huge momentum for the domestic crowd. The average Korean will give credit and praise to national ICT expertise, and maybe even feel incentivized to restore its relationship with the top 1 percent. Internationally, Korea might finally earn recognition for its own name by proving to the world its potential extends beyond Samsung and LG. Now, that is if all technology is demonstrated as planned, with everything from IoT networks to AI-powered interpreter robots operating as they should. But more connectivity and devices means more risks and vulnerabilities. Be there any scenario that requires the organizers to publicly apologize for a transmission quality problem or a glitching robot, the ashamed domestic public is bound to unleash its criticism at Korea’s ICT industry and the PyeongChang organizing committee for acting incompetent when the world is watching. 

The sports spectacle is a high-return opportunity for Korean tech, but if virtually anything fails to meet the expectations, the industry must be ready to fall into a PR slump far deeper than Samsung.