Leveraging 5G Networks to bring VR to South Korea, with Korea Telecom’s Joonmo Park

For most of the world, a cross-country, gapless 5G network is still the realm of futurists. One exception is South Korea, where a 5G network is quickly proliferating. Korea Telecom’s Joonmo Park discusses how his company is using the network to evangelize VR.

Alan: Hey, everyone. Alan Smithson here. Today, we’re speaking with Joonmo Park, new media business development manager at Korea Telecom, the largest telecommunications company in South Korea. We’re going to be talking about 5G, virtual reality and transportation. All that coming up next, on the XR for Business podcast.

Joonmo, welcome to the show, my friend.

Joonmo: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Alan. And I’m really happy to be here.

Alan: It’s an absolute honor to have you on the show. I was really impressed with some of the work that I’ve been seeing come out of Korea. And I was very impressed to find out that it was the work of you and your team, that have put these things together. So maybe just talk about the projects that you’ve been working on at KT Tel.

Joonmo: Okay. Our company — KT — is the largest telecommunications company in South Korea, with more than 30 years of experience in mobile telephone service, and broadcasting, and Internet. And I’ve been with the company for over three years across a variety of different functions, including business strategy, B2C business, and B2B business. But about one and half years ago, as a company, we decided to establish a dedicated team that’s purely focused on what’s new and what’s next. So we focused on the emerging consumer landscape and the emerging technology landscape, and make sure that the KT brand continues to be relevant not only today, but five or ten years from now. So we are focusing on looking at new business models and emerging technologies, then tying those to our strategy businesses. So we wanted to make sure that any new innovation that we bring into the society has a lasting impact. But more importantly, a monetary impact that is actually moving the needle. So to introduce a little bit about South Korean XR market, South Korea’s telecom operators are really striving to create the right range of immersive mixed reality content to leverage their 5G network and attract more customers. And there are three local carriers, including SK Telecom, and Korea Telecom, and LG Uplus. And they rolled out their 5G network in the nation in April 2019, and together are drawing more than three million subscribers in the first seven months of the launch.

Alan: Sorry, three million subscribers to the new 5G network?

Joonmo: Yes, right.

Alan: So do these people have 5G devices? Is there a lot of 5G devices available?

Joonmo: Yes, right. Because as the launch of Galaxy S10 with 5G, and that many people bought that device and using 5G network right now.

Alan: That’s incredible. So how many would you estimate are using the 5G network with 5G devices?

Joonmo: I think until the end of the 2020, more than the five million people will use it.

Alan: Wow, that’s way far ahead of North America. In Canada, we have zero 5G deployment. We only have it in research parks and research areas.

Joonmo: Well, you need to think about that. South Korea is a very small country with very many numbers of populations. So it is really easy for companies to make the decision to build new 5G infrastructures, because even though they build small 5G networks, many people would use that. So many tech companies feel that building a 5G networks is attracting more money than just using 4G network.

Alan: So how is 5G — or just the ability to have this kind of massive data pipe — affecting your ability to do virtual reality, or augmented reality, or mixed reality?

Joonmo: Well, as you know, the VR devices right now do not support 5G network, and all of the devices are using Wi-Fi network. However, we use 5G– we use VR as the marketing attraction for 5G. And to talk about KT, KT launched the 4K High Definitions personal media service with the brand name “Super VR.” And we attract 5G users by selling the Super VR. And we are using Super VR as a marketing point for the 5G service.

Alan: Oh, that’s interesting. So Super VR– and for anybody wants to check it out, it’s actually pretty cool: it’s ktsupervr.co.kr. Did you guys do everything? So did you make the headsets as well or just the kind of the back end? Or did you partner with companies to do this?

Joonmo: Actually we partnered with a company called Pico in China and we use Pico’s G2 device. And we provide more than 10,000 immersive videos and features, over more than 500 4K high resolution videos, and more than 30 games in various genres, such as sports, and shooting, horror, and rhythm action.

Alan: That’s pretty awesome. So you basically control the content. You’re like the Netflix of VR in South Korea.

Joonmo: Yes, right. Exactly.

Alan: Can people buy the headset and subscribe to this service, if they’re not a KT customer?

Joonmo: When we first launched the Super VR device, it was only for KT users. But from the last November, we opened the device to all the platform users, even though they are not using KT.

Alan: That’s awesome. That’s really great. And how is the response so far?

Joonmo: Oh, well, many people are really satisfied about that. Where we are — according to some kind of customer report — more than 60 percent of customers are really satisfied with it, and more than 10,000s of devices are sold in nationwide. And the interesting thing is that many Korean customers are more satisfied with videos, rather than games. And I think it’s a really interesting point, because many VR users tend to buy VR to play games, including Steam or Oculus or HTC Vive. However, in Korea, many people consider VR as a second TV or personal TV, so they tend to use VR to watch video in cinematic situations.

Alan: So basically what people are using is something like big screen, where they sit on the couch with their friends and watch a large movie in a screen. Which is actually, if you think about it now: now that a lot of people in the world are are stuck in their houses, not everybody has a IMAX sized screen in their house. I know I don’t. But being able to put a VR headset on and watch a movie on an IMAX sized screen is actually pretty wonderful. And you guys are streaming these in 4K, which is really beautiful.

Joonmo: Yeah, right. And actually, as we are the IPTV– and we serve our TV service, which is the IPTV Broadcasting System. And we first launched IPTV for a full year on Pico headset, which means that people can see the exact same TV, while they are putting on the HMD.

Alan: So you’re basically broadcasting the regular television into the headsets.

Joonmo: Yeah, right.

Alan: That makes sense. I think the next thing is you’re going to have a big screen, or however many screens you want for maybe your computer, or your laptop, or whatever. And I also think you can have a little– like a second screen where you see your cell phone as a screen in VR. So you can check your messages quick with your phone.

Joonmo: Yeah. That is our goal, to merge mobile service, VR, and TV all in one by using our network.

Alan: Very, very cool. And you said the adoption is picking up. Are you seeing an acceleration now that less people are out? How is the economy downturn affected your business?

Joonmo: You mean because of the coronavirus?

Alan: Correct.

Joonmo: Yeah, but actually — as you said — there is a big change for our marketing strategy, as until the last year we’ve tended to focus on retail stores in order to sell our devices. However, after the outbreak of coronavirus then most of the people don’t visit the physical retail store. So we tend to focus on B2B business, including using ENGAGE VR for online conferences. So we are selling our VR devices to schools, or transportation services, or academies for that said, those devices for those enterprise customers.

Alan: Let’s break this down by, I guess, enterprise or business, and then education. How are your business customers using these technologies right now?

Joonmo: After we commercialized the VR service for enterprise called Super VR Biz — and Biz refers to business, which is often used in Korea — we composed this Super VR Biz with Pico VR headsets, and the contents and network services. And many different kinds of industries wanted to apply our service. We started the first service in transportation and we launched a pilot VR service in express bus in November 2019 with a company called Kumho Express Bus, which is similar to Greyhound in America. And really the goal was to understand how our VR technology and content can apply to other industries. We have two ultimate objectives. And one was to drive employee adoption. So our enterprise clients make sure they’re adopting the technology. And the second one is passengers adoption on the other end of it, making sure that passengers are adopting on innovative but emerging technology while traveling. And if we can do this first, everything else will come together.

Alan: So what was the finding of that? Did people use it? Did they like it? What was the outcome?

Joonmo: After we are running the VR service for transportation and we got the survey answers from hundreds of passengers, there are several interesting results. The first one is people thought about three to five dollars was enough per use, which means that — as it takes about three to four hours to move from city to city in Korea — so it refers to the fact that a dollar per hour is considered as not that expensive for the passengers. And secondly, people preferred 3DOF devices than 6DOF devices for travelling. As I mentioned before, many Korean people like to use VR for watching videos, rather than playing games. So I think this is also seen in transportation businesses.

Alan: It’s really interesting you should say that, because I think over here, there’s a misconception that everybody that uses VR wants to have a six degree of freedom experience, or being able to move around. But think about it, when you’re on a train, let’s say — for example — you set up a stationary space. As soon as the train starts moving and turning — or in a car or vehicle, anything that’s moving — you have to recalibrate that. Whereas if it’s just a heads-up display where you’re watching a video and you’re just — not even a 360 video, just a video — you can then relax. But the headsets themselves, I guess because you don’t need all of the sensors to have a full six degree of freedom experience with these headsets, can they make them into a lightweight pair of glasses, and is that something Pico’s looking at? I’ve seen some of the– Huawei come up with a pair of glasses and Samsung, they’re all kind of teasing at these. And even HTC is teasing it, these lightweight pair of glasses. But for now, we start to wear these big VR headsets. Have you seen any prototypes that have come out, that look really good for just sitting down in a train, watching video?

Joonmo: You mean something like the Nreal AR glasses, or something like that?

Alan: No, not AR, but more VR, but in a small form factor.

Joonmo: We tried very different kinds of devices, including Oculus Quest, or Pico device for 3DOF, and Samsung Gear. And the interesting thing was that as many passengers are not that familiar to VR devices, they had trouble with using 6DOF devices on the bus. However, the 3DOF devices are rather more easy to use than 6DOF. So people felt more comfortable to use that while they are traveling. And while they are riding on the bus, then they feel a little bit nausea while they are traveling, so they tend not to play games. Rather, they tend to see relaxing videos.

Alan: And the videos wouldn’t give you that, because it’s fixed to a main plane. You know, it’s something that I think a lot of people over here have almost missed that opportunity, or forgot about this opportunity. And when I got into virtual reality in the beginning, the first thing we did was we filmed 360 videos, because we thought that was what VR was. And then we got into 6DOF experiences. It’s interesting that something as simple as like a company like Bigscreen, where they just have a big screen, or what you guys are doing is just providing regular 2D content in a much more immersive way for travelers who have to spend time travelling. And I think this is a use case for the technology that we in North America — and maybe other parts of the world — have just neglected. And have you seen anybody take the same concept and allow business workers to conduct business — or at least to work while they’re doing that — replicate their computer screen rather than video? Have you seen that?

Joonmo: Not really in Korea, but I’ve seen similar services on the airplane. I saw the device called Skylight or Aerospace, which–

Alan: Oh yeah, how was that?

Joonmo: Yeah, yeah. Running the HMD device for first class passengers. And I think the concept is very much similar to that one. And actually, we are preparing for the same business for the planes, too. But as more people are using express bus and trains in Korea, so we are preparing the VR devices, in order to make more people to experience VR more easily and more comfortably, without much knowledge about the VR device.

Alan: Yeah, I think that’s the key, is just making sure that everybody understands by putting this thing on, you have a nicer experience. I think we try to– a little bit go crazy and say, “Hey, you have to swing your arms around like an idiot when you’re in VR.” But just sitting, relaxing, watching a nice video on a huge screen with nice sound. It’s funny we take it for granted how amazing this technology is in a very simple way. You talked about driving employee adoption of this technology. How is KT using this technology within their own business units to drive value?

Joonmo: The employee engagement was the main challenge for us. And it has really important things, because if people don’t use then it’s kind of useless. So for us, it was critical that we had a comprehensive training program for VR adoption. So we worked with our technical partners and marketers to really build a robust end-to-end training program that clearly communicating the benefits of the technology, the practical application of it, and what it means for our clients. So when I was training employees for the transportation businesses, my ultimate goal was to provide unique travel experience to passengers. And I also talked to the bus drivers that you don’t need to be intrigued by the passengers who are driving, because we are supporting the technical issues. So I always told to the crew that here is a technology that can not only help you provide unique travel experiences, but also increase revenues in the long term with increased number of passengers. And I also said that we must support customers’ complaints about VR with our engineers on phone while you are driving. So it was really clearly outlining the benefits of the VR technology, and let them know that they don’t have to worry about technical issues. So the fact that we piloted in two bus lines and sold the reserves for our service, and that allowed us to take it to the balance of the organization and tell them “I showed the benefits, and we have done this before, and this is what it looked like.” And that allowed us to drive employee adoption. And it was really critical, because the consumer adoption can accommodate our colleagues who don’t adopt the technology. So we were able to cross others as the other one becomes a lot easier to.

Alan: That’s incredible. As part of your training program, what are some of the business use cases that you’re using this for, or you’re promoting this for?

Joonmo: We started our pilot service with a Club Med Resort in China, and I trained the reception desk workers on the Club Med about how to handle this device, and how to explain about the contents or etc. And at the first time, the reception workers were not that eager to learn about that, because they thought that they were too busy to just handling with the hotel works, and they thought that the VR device was just so burdensome to them. However, as I taught them in person and I also practiced so many hours for them to use it, and then they get– once acclimated to use them, then they got easy to serve the device to the tourists.

Alan: And what is the response been? Have you been able to document an increase in revenues or a decrease in times? What are the results?

Joonmo: I cannot say that there were more increased customers because of VR, because of the outbreak of the coronavirus at the hotel.

Alan: Oh, no! So you were launching it right as–?

Joonmo: Yes. So I cannot say that the numbers are increased because of the VR. But however, as there was the survey — when people were checked out from the hotel — and many people were really satisfied about that additional entertainment surveys for the hotel. Many tourists thought VR is very good entertaining service for the kids. So many moms and fathers who were really satisfied about serving VR at the hotel.

Alan: A great toy and experience for kids that have never tried it, as well. I love it. So I actually had a thought. Are you guys doing so when people are watching– let’s say they’re watching videos on a train, or a bus, or wherever they’re consuming your content. Do you have inside of their special advertisements in 360?

Joonmo: Oh, we are. To talk about our service, we have advertisement sections in our device, which is composed of images and 360 videos. And for the Club Med, we received Club Med advertisement videos from them, and we put that on the device in the internal memory. And whenever people click that advertisement, then they can experience the resort in 360 degree video. So the client was really satisfied about that, because the VR is considered as really immersive media and immersive environment can give the customers with more deeply understand about the resort. So many people experienced that video, that advertisement.

Alan: That’s fantastic. What are some of the solutions that you’re offering in Super VR Biz? And are you guys experimenting at all with augmented reality, as it pertains to maybe Hololens or Magic Leap or these types of things, where– for factory worker in manufacturing, and these types of things? Or is this mainly consumer facing application?

Joonmo: Right now, we only serve VR for Super VR Biz. However, we are planning to serve AR and MR service in our business services, and we are actually preparing for AR engineering service, or AR touring service, or MR education services. And you can see that in the close future.

Alan: So when you’re making — for example — augmented reality, is that taking off mobile phone based AR experiences? Is that something that’s happening in Korea at all?

Joonmo: Yeah, about one or two years ago we tried to use AR glasses, such as Magic Leap or Nreal. However, because the high price of the device, it is not that easy to sell to the ordinary customers right now. So we are focusing on mobile AR right now in the market.

Alan: What are you seeing people using mobile AR for? Because I agree with you, mobile AR is the way to go right now, because it’s accessible to everybody and everybody already has a phone. So if everybody has a nice phone in their pocket, what can we do with that? Or what are some of the business use cases you’ve seen that use mobile based AR?

Joonmo: There are some differences between tech companies, and my company is focusing on AR travelling, which means that you can put on your mobile phone to the building, and then you can see the explanation of the history of that building. However, some other companies tend to use AR for games, like Harry Potter or AR animal zoos.

Alan: You mentioned two things. One, Harry Potter, which was made by Niantic, which made Pokémon Go, the same game mechanics. But just this week they bought a company called 6D.ai, which is a cloud mapping company — who was actually on this podcast previously as well — but it’s interesting, you said that and then you said adding a zoo. And this week — again — Google released the ability to see animals just from the browser, using their 3D Model Viewer, I think it’s called. So being able to see animals in your space using AR.

Joonmo: But right now, not many people are using AR right now, because I think it is because of the coronavirus. You mean people cannot go outside right now. So many companies are having some hard time with using AR. But I think it’ll be a popular and in here soon.

Alan: What about using this opportunity that everybody’s at home, to maybe show them what products and services look like in three dimensions in their own space? So maybe bringing the shoe store to them, or bringing 3D experiences to their phone? Maybe it’s not even AR, maybe just 3D experiences. Have you seen anything like that?

Joonmo: Well, I saw a AR funny tourist, like Ikea. And many online e-commerce stores are serving AR as tours and also KT also serves AR shopping, which is based on the TV. You can see augmented commerce on the screen, so that people can see the product in more augmented way.

Alan: Okay, that’s really cool. Would they be using image recognition, then?

Joonmo: Yeah. Yeah. Right.

Alan: Man, it sounds like you guys are doing so lot. And I think the ability to have so many devices in prevalent 5G network has really unlocked the ability to drive these some of these experiences.

Joonmo: Oh yeah. Yeah, I think so too. The ability to support 5G network, as well as bringing content for the Korean users was the basis of the VR and AR service in Korean market.

Alan: Something that I’m really excited about personally is the new Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 chip that’s 5G enabled. So the glasses coming out next year will all be 5G enabled right out of the box.

Joonmo: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to that, too.

Alan: Yeah, it’s gonna be exciting times in the next few years.

Joonmo: Yeah, I believe so.

Alan: Very cool. Well, Joonmo, I just wanted to give the website before I forget: the website for your company is corp.kt.com/eng or kt.com, which is in Korean. And then if people want to visit, they can also visit ktsupervr.co.kr, and that’s the Super VR product that you guys have there. Any last words that you want to share with everybody?

Joonmo: I shared many things with you, and what I learned from the VR project is that I need to really focus on what I’m trying to solve for the client. So identifying a problem that you’re trying to serve and figuring out practical applications is really important when you’re having a VR or AR business.

Alan: That is some true words right there, my friend. What is one problem in the world that you want to see solved using XR technologies?

Joonmo: I really love to see that VR or AR can be used in a very diverse context, that every people can use VR and AR in the real physical world. So I think VR, MR and AR technologies will be merged into physical experiences, such as traveling or engineering. And those technologies will have enterprises to differentiate them from other companies, by creating all these experiences that mimics the physical experience. So obviously I’m at the center of it for some parts of it, but I’m really interested in seeing how that comes to life. And not only does the sort of consumer pain points, but also in assets and augments that experience.

Alan: Well said, my friend. Thank you very much, Joonmo. And thank you, everybody, for listening. This has been the XR for Business podcast with your host, Alan Smithson. Please don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast. Click the button so that you don’t miss any of these amazing episodes. Again, my guest, Joonmo Park, new media business development manager at KT Tel or Korea Tel. And thank you again, Joonmo. It’s been a wonderful experience.

Joonmo: Thank you, Alan. Thanks for having me.

Looking for more insights on XR and the future of business? Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify. You can also follow us on Twitter @XRforBusiness and connect with Alan on LinkedIn.

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