Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Annoying Things About Korea #5: Wi-Fi Hotspots in Korea....Ole, Ole, Ole, OLLEH (updated)

Connecting to Wi-Fi Hotspots is Difficult and It's (Largely) Olleh's Fault

This could also belong on the What Foreigners Need to Understand About Korea (and Koreans) page.  Korea is the well-known to be the most widely internet-connected country in the world.  Tell that to a visitor from another country.  There are plenty of places that Wi-Fi is available, BUT the fact is that many, many, many places are controlled by Korea Telecom's Olleh.  You need to be a member of Olleh in order to connect to Wi-Fi at these hotspots.  The problem with becoming a member?  You need a national identification number that can be validated by software.  And there begins the problem.

Even if you have a visa, and you have a national identification number, the identification number isn't recognized by the software.  This is a problem on many Korean websites, PC rooms, etc when you want to connect to the internet.  For example, you can join a PC room with a user ID and password and get a 10% discount, but it requires your national identification number (an ID also calculates the exact usage time, rather than rounding up to the nearest hour if you have no ID).  There is an algorithm embedded in the number itself, and software installed around Korea also recognizes the pattern.  However, foreigners that have visas have a national identification number which has a different algorithm, and as a result, if you try to enter your number at a PC room, then it usually doesn't work.

This is changing to some extent in Korea.  GMarket, the very popular website, has a special place for foreign buyers, who can establish an ID correctly.  It is a small pain, but it is do-able.

Best idea?  Meet a Korean-native friend, and use his/her Olleh ID.  Don't do anything illegal, and it will be fine, if you are just trying to surf the web.  Other ideas?  Avoid going to the coffee shops that use Alleh entirely.  I have found that Caffe Pascucci usually has publicly available Wi-Fi.  In any case, the difficulty in signing onto Wi-Fi hotspots in Korea is highly annoying to foreigners, resident or visiting.

Update:  I met with a friend in Seoul, and acknowledged the same thing to me.  Connecting to wi-fi is also difficult to him, because he doesn't belong to KT. One notable exception exists:  Incheon International Airport, thankfully, has free wi-fi, while many U.S. airports have wi-fi but you need to pay by the day or subscribe to network, called Boingo, that exists at many airports.


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