I attended the Social Informatics Cluster meting to hear Jee Hyun Suh present on: Co evolution of an emerging mobile technology and mobile services: distributed governance of technological innovation through the case of WiBro in S. Korea. These are rough notes taken during the presentation.
She presented the story of WiBro and the implications for the governance of large scale technological innovations for technology companies and government. WiBro was initiated from 2001 as a national R&D programme for high speed portable internet, it was harmonised with national and international standards (WiMax) and went to a commercial launch in 2006. It is widely seen as a case of market failure despite a successful technological innovation.
The research objectives were initially to examine the socio-technical factors in the development of the technology and the gap between the visions and outcomes of the technology commercialisation and explore the governance of large scale and complex innovations. The technology’s development was interpreted through social learning processes with a particular focus on building alignments between the technology, service evolution, standardisation and social learning within a wider development arena of R&D.
Over the course of the research period, 2001 to date, the focus of interest shifts from design & development of the technologies to a commercial focus on then on to a focus of the service evolution. The WiBro development was linked to broader policy imperatives of positioning S.Korea as innovation leader.
The technology itself was predicated on a problematisation of the inefficient use of 2.3 GHz and then enrolment of stakeholders to co-shape a generic vision of the using bandwidth portable internet service. This became co-evolved with drive towards a High performance portable internet and processes of standardisation.Standard setting closely linked to bandwidth/ spectrum allocation. Became conceived as a seamlessly interlinked innovation process. but different interests and objectives across stakeholders remained unresolved especially between focus on tech dev vs commercial exploitation through existing technologies. Also shifting alignments around adoption of differing international standards. The technology had been successfully developed and as pre-commercial produce was show cased at APEC 2005.
Commercialisation occured around processes of spectrum licensing. Again, different visions for WiBro, eg as an extension of fixed line services, as a differentiated service and as a complementary service to existing mobile networks. These different visions were rolled into different commercial aims eg, early market advantage vs emphasis on interoperability, adoption or blocking of VoIP as well as the emergence of 3G services. The later development of 4G mobile resulted in shifts to the vision of WiBro and how it should evolve.
Also, the commercial focus bifurcated on domestic versus a global market focus. In the domestic market, there could be seen the dynamics of trail and error on finding niche markets for WiBro, eg, mobile routers, digital shipyards, WiBro-Taxi. This market learning processes occurred despite tensions between players and their visions for the service.
The argument presented was that the ‘problem’ of WiBro should be framed in terms of uncertainties in innovation processes rather than in terms of a failure in diffusion/ commercialisation. So the coordination challenges and dispersed arenas of innovation enabled key players to interact in the social shaping of this particular technology highlighting the importance of stakeholder reflexivity and flexibility in large-scale technological innovations.
It was also noted during the Q&A that WiBro coincided with the testing and general failure of attempts at developing national technology champions that could then be exported in to global markets.
For more on social learning processes in innovation diffusion, see: