Nov 8, 2015

Lessons from IoT Week Korea

I had the good fortune to attend IoT Week Korea 2015 in Seoul during the week of 26-30 October. This was a great opportunity to check in on Korea’s 2014, IoT Master Plan [1] and gauge how this leading edge country is mastering the IoT opportunity.

It was interesting to note that the corporate sponsors for this event were SK Telecom and PTC (owner of ThingWorx). PTC, of course, has made strategic and investment commitments to capitalize on what it views as a significant market opportunity.

There were two parts to the event – a sizable display zone and a full-day conference with four parallel sessions focusing on key technologies and solutions. 

By my estimate, the display zone contained stands for about 100-150 companies. The largest ones were occupied by Korea’s mobile operators – SK Telecom, LGU+ and Korea Telecom (KT) – as well as key public-sector agencies involved in promoting IoT (ETRI, KETI and the Korea IoT Association).

Among the MNOs, SK Telecom identified platforms as the launch pad for IoT business opportunities. This looks to be core to its strategy and supported by several demonstrators using: its ThingPlug, standards-based IoT platform; an open platform to connect appliances in the smart home (similar in concept to Deutsche Telekom’s Qivicon initiative); and. an end-to-end platform to apply contextual data about smartphone users to support digital advertising opportunities (in competition with offerings from companies such as IBM and SAP).

The neighboring stand, belonging to LGU+, focused much more on the smart home (using the logo “IoT @ Home”). This focus seems entirely in keeping with the home appliances offered by LG Electronics. In contrast, KT’s display focused on enterprise applications which ranged from smart agriculture to advanced metering for the utilities sector. I was informed that KT’s logo – “Giga IoT Alliance” – referred to the massive IoT market opportunity (“giga”) that KT planned to address by creating alliances to enable the SME sector in Korea.

The strategies of these corporate giants align with Korea’s 2014 IoT Master Plan which highlighted the need for an IoT platform, especially to help the SME segment compete locally and reduce their dependence on solutions from non-Korean market-leaders.

The nucleus for Korea’s IoT platform is OCEAN which stands for the ‘Open allianCE for iot stANdard’. In December 2014, KETI (Korea Electronics Technology Institute) and the Korean Government established OCEAN to share a oneM2M standards based, open source IoT platform [2]. OCEAN featured prominently in the display zone and was the main topic for one of the four parallel tracks in the conference session. This suggests that it is beginning to take hold in Korean industry based on the number of different company speakers for the OCEAN track in the conference agenda.

In addition to the industry swell behind IoT in Korea, it was interesting to note a wider societal impact. In particular, there wasn’t the usual lull in activity on the last afternoon of most industry shows. Instead, I witnessed a tremendous buzz in the display zone as the organizers found a way to encourage the general public and students to attend the event. Remarkably, there were queues to pay for entry tickets even as late as the final few hours leading up to the end of the show.

As a leading market for mobile technology and service innovation, Korea’s actions will spill over into the wider world. Korea’s concerted effort to create a shared, IoT platform and eliminate the development burden for small and medium enterprises should accelerate the development of IoT applications amongst its hardware community. The choice of the oneM2M standard, which looks ahead to inter-operability application opportunities, is also telling not just in local market terms but also for global application opportunities. Some of the presentations in the conference session alluded to inter-working efforts with the Allseen Alliance and Open Interconnect Consortium initiatives.

In terms of other future implications, the final word from IoT Week Korea goes to a presentation [3] by Ben Edwards, one of the founders of SmartThings and now a part of Samsung. He highlighted the importance of an open platform approach. Ben’s presentation pointed out that SmartThings cannot and should not develop all (application) experiences and solutions itself. SmartThings sees a greater need for broad developer and partner engagement to support the rapid growth of IoT devices and supporting solutions and experiences. This is an important lesson for the many companies in the market that continue to believe in a walled-garden approach to the IoT. These efforts will struggle to compete against the economics of large developer eco-systems and the broader scope for innovation this will foster.

[1] Korea-IoT Master Plan 2014, of Things) Master Plan - 2014.pdf 

[2] OCEAN web site, 

[3]  SmartThings - Building the Open Smart Home, Ben Edwards, Founder & VP Community, SmartThings,

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