Bandwidth a Barrier for (Dis)Connected TV in South Korea

KT-SamsungKT, South Korea’s leading telecoms provider, has blocked internet access to Samsung’s smart TVs because they say they place too high a burden on overall network speed.

“Internet-enabled TVs increase network traffic by up to 15 times compared to conventional IPTVs. At the current growth rate and the number of users increases, the network will be unable to accommodate traffic requirements and consequently it could slow down overall internet speed,” said KT’s Kim Hyo-sil.

“TV manufacturers are free-riding on our network, while our capacity to invest and upgrade it is shrinking due to worsening profitability. We need to draw a better business model through discussions with TV makers,” he added.

LG have been managed to escape the block on access in South Korea as they have been willing to open negotiations with KT.

South Korea has the world’s most sophisticated broadband infrastructure and the country consistently tops the world charts for broadband speeds. South Korea enjoys a national average of 16.7 Mbps and a highest peak connection speed of 46.8 Mbps, according to Akamai’s last State of the Internet report.

A Sign of Things to Come?

If bandwidth is already an issue in South Korea, it seems inevitable that we’ll see similar conflicts arising in countries where broadband infrastructure is less advanced.  And if the market can’t resolve these issues, regulators may have to intervene to ensure ISPs don’t abuse their role as the gatekeepers to the Internet.

Forcing hardware companies to independently strike direct deals with ISPs will provide huge incentives for the big players to acquire ISPs of their own, assuming competition laws wouldn’t be a barrier of course.

KT’s argument that device manufacturers are ‘free-riding’ on their network is a weak one – the cost is of course already paid for by KT’s customers. The telecom provider’s logic is akin to manufacturers and publishers saying ISPs should pay up because they make money off the back of the devices, services and content they create.

The issue ties in with debate on net neutrality. Those in favour of net neutrality argue that broadband providers shouldn’t be allowed to provide a service that discriminates against particular forms of content, applications, devices or services. Those against – mainly telecoms companies and their suppliers – say that upgrading the infrastructure is costly and that publishers (and now hardware manufacturers it seems) should pay their fair share.

Without net neutrality, we would have a ‘two-tiered’ web, where some content can be downloaded faster than others. So News Provider A could be streamed more efficiently than News Provider B if they were willing to pay for it, for example.

In Europe net neutrality has been enshrined in law in the Netherlands. Mobile operators, for instance, aren’t allowed to treat VoIP traffic from people using Skype on mobiles any differently from other traffic. The idea of net neutrality is also gaining traction at EU level.

However, regardless of the arguments around net neutrality and the debates around who should pay for what, the bandwidth issue will need to be resolved as swiftly as possible if connected TV is going to maintain the momentum gained at CES 2012.

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