Yoshio Takahashi, a 60-year-old Japanese man visiting Busan with his wife, is pleasantly surprised on a city tour bus moving across Gwangahn Grand Bridge. He can buy bullet train tickets to Seoul by using an onboard laptop that connects to the wireless Internet even as the bus is moving at 70 km/h.
"Old" Busan, which marks 130 years this year since the port opened, is transforming itself into a new city with ubiquitous information technology. It started a U-City Project to become a ubiquitous IT-based city that makes such convenience possible.
Busan city mapped out the strategy with telecom provider KT in November 2005. The southern city will pour a total of W140.9 billion (US$1=W938) into five major sectors -- U-Port, U-Traffic, U-Tour and Convention, U-Health and U-Disaster Prevention -- by 2012.
The city government is accelerating the project. For example, it will complete building an "information highway network" (974km of optical cable network) that covers small administrative districts by September. The network aims at rapid communication and accumulation of information in those five sectors. It is five times longer than Seoul's, and the level of connectivity is one of the highest in the world.
Lee Cheol-hyeong, a Busan planning official, says the U-City Project "will change concepts about time and space since the entire city serves a role as a hospital or a convention center under the project." He also added, "Through the project, Busan will change its image of old and obsolete city into a new and young city."
Already it's affecting daily lives. Small touch screens are installed on the back of seats on double-decker city tour buses which offer travel information in English, Korean, Chinese and Japanese when you touch the name of tourist attractions on the screen such as Haeundae and Taejongdae.
If you touch a mobile phone or a U-terminal that works as a RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) reader on landmarks with RFID chips at local tourist attractions, you get not only information about the attraction but also about local restaurants and other facilities. U-terminal also offers a "walking navigation" service in tourist attractions. Busan has finished development of the U-terminal and plans a test operation at Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) venues and Haeundae Beach in October.
U-City policy team leader Kim Kwang-hoe says if you touch a U-terminal to the festival booklet, you can watch a video clip about the movie. You can hear songs of Cho Yong-pil when you touch the terminal to the monument of the pop singer at Haeundae Beach. You can also read information about local restaurants via the U-terminal. "Busan city plans to distribute a total of 1,300 U-terminals, mobile phones and reader devices to citizens so that they can experience and enjoy U-PIFF services during the festival period," he said.
German businessman Andreas Aberle, who attended the 2007 Busan International Machinery Technology Fair at BEXCO from May 30 to June 3, was impressed. "That was an interesting experience," he said. He said he was surprised to see a message saying "Welcome, Mr. Aberle" on the small monitor at the gate when he passed the entrance with his pass.
The video clips about products instead of heavy catalogues were another pleasant surprise. "Korea has a better state-of-the-art convention system than Germany, where the convention industry is very advanced," he confessed.
Other cutting-edge facilities at BEXCO include U-IT equipment that automatically recognizes people who enter and counts them, and a screen system that automatically focuses on a speaker by following his or her voice. Lee Young-jung, a management team leader at Bexco, said, "BEXCO's U-Convention system is among the most advanced in the world. This system played a substantial role in winning us the bid to host the 2012 Lions Clubs International convention." What's more, the city government uses the system in the competition to host an International Water Association (IWA) meeting of Asian academics.