South Korea - Country Commercial Guide
Information and Communication Technology

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country.  Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2021-08-13

South Korea has earned a reputation as a leading global information and communication technology center and is topping in Bloomberg Index of Most Innovative Nations 2021 followed by Singapore, Switzerland, and Germany. With its cutting-edge ICT infrastructure boasting the world’s fastest internet speeds, the country is home to global leading electronics and IT companies such as Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, SK Hynix and Naver. Korea is motivated to keep its reputation as a global ICT powerhouse by investing heavily into innovative technologies such as 5G Network, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity

ITA Code: ICT

Overview

 

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020 (est.)

Total Market Size

2,113.7

2,420.0

2,777.4

3,106.2

3,311.4

 

System & Product

N/A

1,886.2

1,896.6

2,032.1

 

Consulting & Service

891.2

1,209.6

1,279.3

Exchange Rate: 1 USD

1,161

1,131

1,110

1,165

1,180

  Source: Ministry of Science and ICT, Korea Internet and Security Agency (KISA), 2020, Unit: $1 million.

As the world becomes more interconnected, cyberattacks have become more serious and sophisticated. Due to the focus of global hacker groups and cyber terrorists, cyberattacks are better organized, more persistent and executed on a larger scale. That focus broadened to include not just critical infrastructure but also private sector assets. The borderless nature of the internet is contributing to the vulnerabilities of certain devices and data storage.

With South Korea’s introduction of a 5G network, high degree of network connectedness, high penetration of mobile devices, and significant intellectual property, the country has become a prime target for cyberattacks. According to the 2020 VMware-Deloitte’s Cyber Smart Index, South Korea is the second-most exposed country to cyberattacks in the APAC region. The ransomware WannaCry attack in 2017 shook the Koreans awake to the notion that their society was being attacked at every possible vulnerability, not just with real world weapons, but also through easily executable cyberattacks. Cyberattacks in South Korea continue to increase in both frequency and complexity. The latest attacks on South Korea include the use of advanced malwares, phishing mails, crypto-jacking and zero-day attacks.

Not surprisingly, as the awareness of cyber vulnerabilities became apparent, the market demand for cybersecurity products and services in Korea continues to grow. According to a Korean government survey, for the past five years, the cybersecurity market grew at a CAGR of 12 percent reaching $3.3 in 2020.

South Korea deemed cybersecurity as a matter of national security. Although the country boasts one of the world’s fastest IT infrastructures, it also has an infrastructure that is vulnerable to cyberattacks. The frequency and gravity of recent cyberattacks prompted the South Korean government to re-evaluate its cybersecurity strategy. In 2019, led by the office of the President, the Korean government announced its first.This strategy includes strengthening partnerships with foreign countries and companies and expanding investment to the domestic cybersecurity industry.

There is a growing number of domestic and U.S. companies providing cybersecurity services in Korea. As of 2020, 531 cybersecurity firms were registered in Korea. While most of these firms have developed their own products, some are opened to partnering with small and medium sized exporters from the United States. These Korean companies are interested in filling gaps in technology and product/service line-up, helping the company to meet a wide range of cybersecurity needs.

To enter the local public sector, foreign cybersecurity companies must understand local requirements.  Local public agencies require companies to receive common criteria (CC) certification to avoid any responsibilities from cyber threats.  The IT Security Certification Center (ITSCC) designated six agencies to perform the evaluation. The evaluation process can take up to one year. In addition to CC certification, foreign companies must obtain security clearance from the National Intelligence Service (NIS) before they can supply to public agencies. 

Sub-Sector Best Prospects for 2021

The Korean public and private sectors predict that the key sub-sectors for the domestic cybersecurity market in 2021 include solutions for ransomware, data security, operational technology, and AI for cybersecurity.

 

KISA

FSI

Samsung SDS

Key-Sectors

for 2020

Targeted Ransomware

Ransomware, Ransom DDoS

Teleworking Security

Fileless Malware

Advanced Fishing

Ransomware

IoT Security

Authentication

AI for Cybersecurity

OT Security

Data Protection

OT Security

Cloud Security

AI for Cybersecurity

Data Protection

DDoS

Teleworking Security

Cloud Security

 Source: Korea Internet and Security Agency (KISA), Financial Security Institute (FSI), Samsung SDS

Opportunities

Due to its leads in high-speed internet use and advanced ICT infrastructure, South Korea is an ideal market for U.S. firms seeking to test cybersecurity solutions before deployment in other markets. While firms that produce sophisticated and cutting-edge products for critical infrastructure are more likely to succeed, there are also opportunities for firms that provide cybersecurity related consulting and training services. Overall, the Korean market favors the quality and reliability of U.S. products and demand for American products is expected to continue.

To enter the cybersecurity market, the U.S. Commercial Service in Korea recommends that U.S. technology firms partner with qualified and capable South Korean companies which maintain existing sales networks in both private/public sectors and are fully aware of local market characteristics and unique regulatory requirements. 

Resources

Trade Shows

SECON 2020 (July, Seoul)

Hosted its first event back in 2001, SECON is Korea’s largest security exhibition covering all sectors of both cyber and physical security. In 2019, 500 companies attended the event and exhibited their products and solutions.

ISEC 2020 (September, Seoul)

Hosted by Ministry of Interior and Safety, ISEC is the largest cybersecurity conference in South Korea. The conference provides 35 sub-sessions and opportunities to engage with relevant domestic ministries and companies.

Key Contacts

  • Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT)
  • Korea Communications Commission (KCC)
  • Korea Internet and Security Agency (KISA)
  • Korea Information Security Industry Association (KISIA)
  • Korea Information Society Development Institute (KISDI)
  • Korea Institute for ICT Promotion (KAIT)
  • IT Security Certification Center (ITSCC)

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

ITA Code: ICT

Overview

South Korea is developing its AI capabilities and has expressed its ambition to position itself as a global contender in AI technologies markets. ROK officials see AI as a crucial element for the country’s prowess in the ICT sector and are committed to making Korea an AI powerhouse. In support of this goal, in 2019, the ROK Government announced its first national AI strategy which included focusing on heavy investments in AI infrastructures and greater use of AI technologies across all industries. Last year, the government released the Digital New Deal which envisions state-led industrial and educational efforts on the potential opportunities in AI.  Also, the government released a fiscal 2021 budget plan that calls for more than $2 billion in funding for AI technology related projects.   

South Korea recognized that there is an engineering gap for experienced and skilled AI talent and therefore the ROK designated ten universities as AI Engineering schools as of 2021. Many in the country see the creation and development of AI startups and businesses as vital to building a strong AI ecosystem. As a result, a number of government agencies have created AI-oriented startup incubation program to help develop emerging AI businesses in South Korea.

The major Korean ICT companies are aggressively pursuing AI technologies. Two leading electronics companies - Samsung and LG Electronics, the top internet companies - Kakao and Naver, and the major telecom companies - SK and KT, have invested significantly in Artificial Intelligence. Just to highlight a few investments:

  • Samsung Electronics has opened seven AI centers in five countries and worked on various projects such as advanced machine learning algorithms, AI Chip and On-Device AI.
  • Naver, Korea’s largest search engine and portal site, acquired Xerox AI research center Europe in 2017 and developed its own core AI engines for speech/image recognition, machine learning platform and text analytics, etc. Also, the company is considered as the most active Korean investor for AI startups.  
  • KT, the second largest mobile carrier in Korea, committed $300M investment on core AI research until 2023, and announced a plan to expand its AI engineer headcount and partnership with other AI companies.

Regardless of the size of the firms or solution’s countries of origin, these companies are seeking cutting-edge technology and applications to enhance their AI capabilities and implement AI technologies to their products and services. 

Sub-Sector Best Prospects

  • On-Device AI: In order to lower the power consumption of devices and increase the speed of AI computation, the Korean electronics companies are interested in developing light and fast deep learning solutions which allows devices to perform AI computation independent of any external server.
  • AI Chip: By reducing the need to send and receive data over the internet, AI chips enable devices to perform intensive AI computations on all IT devices. All the major Korean ICT companies are investing heavily on developing AI chips for adding new product and services based on AI. 
  • Monetization of AI: As Korean companies are leveraging AI as part of core technology stacks, they need to monetize the technology on a large scale. These companies are actively seeking to learn more on how to monetize AI through their new/existing products and services.
  • Explainable AI: As the influence of AI technology spreads across sectors such as healthcare, finance and defense, companies are looking for the AI models that provide greater interpretability or users and guarantee the reliability of the model.

Resources

Trade Shows

AI EXPO Korea (September, Seoul)

Organized by KORAIA, AI Expo is the largest AI exhibition in South Korea.  In 2019, 127 Korean/global companies and 21,000 participants attended the event. The exhibition also featured technology seminars and network events.

AI Korea 2021 (September, Busan)

AI Korea, hosted by Busan Metropolitan City, focuses on Korea’s AI capabilities and provides a platform for global companies to convene and discuss trends in AI.   This year’s theme will include AI application for smart cities, mobility, healthcare, manufacturing, and government policy in AI.  

Resources

  • Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT)
  • National Information Society Agency (NIA)
  • NIA AI Hub
  • Korea Artificial Intelligence Association (KORAIA)
  • Artificial Intelligence Industry Association (AIIA)


Semiconductor

ITA Code: ICT

Overview

Semiconductors is one of South Korea’s core industries.  According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, in 2020, the industry makes up 19.3 percent of exports ($99B).  Thanks to solid demand for chips for new IT devices, data centers, and innovative services like cloud computing, the global demand for chips has grown, resulting in the industry posting strong growth over the past few years.

Korea is home to two memory chip giants – Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix. According to the DRAM exchange, these two Korean companies held 72 percent of the global DRAM and 45 percent of the NAND flash memory market. Additionally, Korea has many small and medium-sized companies producing various semiconductor products.

While South Korea is considered a leader in technological competitiveness in memory chips, other types of semiconductor products such as microprocessors and sensors still need to be improved to compete on the global stage. In order to expand the country’s semiconductor leadership beyond memory chips, the country announced a series of national development plans to support the industry.  In 2019, the government announced the system semiconductor vision and the AI semiconductor initiative in 2020.  To achieve 20 percent of global market share by 2030, these national plans include focusing on state-led investments on local fabless companies and educational support to foster competitive semiconductor professionals at a national level.  In April 2021, President Moon called the semiconductor a “core national strategic industry” and laid out plan to develop a new comprehensive national strategy.

Opportunities

As South Korea is a leading producer of semiconductors, there is an enormous market for suppliers of equipment, materials, and services for semiconductor production. According to a survey by SEMI the semiconductor equipment market was estimated to reach $15.7B, representing a growth of 59 percent over the previous year, while the domestic material market was about $9.2B. South Korea still imports significant amounts of semiconductor manufacturing equipment and materials from other countries—mainly from the United States and Japan.

The rapidly growing AI and cloud computing markets are key growth factors for semiconductors. Market demand will be driven further by increasing connectivity through innovative technologies such as 5G network, connected car, and IoT. As one of the world’s major semiconductor manufacturers, Korea will be among the primary beneficiaries of such technology innovation. Moreover, as the total production increases, more equipment and materials will be needed, including imports.

To retain its leadership in the semiconductor market, local governments and companies are proactively investing in the next step of miniaturizing semiconductors with innovative processes such as utilizing extreme ultraviolet lithography, developing new materials, and diversifying its supply chain beyond existing suppliers. Another promising sector is core technology used in specialized chips for AI, cybersecurity etc.

Samsung Electronics: In 2019, Samsung announced that it will invest $116B in non-memory chips through 2030 to change its current dependence on the volatile memory chip market and develop specialized chips for AI and Autonomous Driving Vehicles. In 2020, the company announced plans to expand its foundry capacity at Pyeongtaek to accelerate the company’s capabilities for sub-5nm process and extreme ultraviolet lithography-based solution.
SK Hynix: In 2019, SK announced a $107B long-term investment plan which includes building four fabrication plants after 2022.  This year, the company committed major investments to expand its foundry business.  


Resources

Trade Shows

SEDEX (October, Seoul)

Organized by Korea Semiconductor Industry Association, the exhibition covers the full spectrum of the semiconductor industry supply chain and products including SoC, memory, sensor, equipment, and material. During the 2019 event, 192 companies including Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix presented their products to more than 60,000 participants.

SEMICON KOREA (February, Seoul)

Focusing on semiconductor equipment and materials, SEMICON is one of the major trade events for semiconductor industry in Korea. The event features keynote speeches from global companies such as Intel and SK, 469 exhibition booths, technology conferences and network events. 

Key Contacts

Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy

Ministry of Science and ICT

Korea Semiconductor Industry Association

Cloud Computing

ITA Code: ICT

Overview

With Korean enterprises and government institutions adopting cloud services with increasing frequency, the cloud computing market in Korea is expected to grow at a faster rate than other IT services market sectors. According to Gartner, despite COVID, the South Korea cloud computing market was estimated to reach $2.4B in 2020, a 19 percent increase over the previous year. The market is forecasted to continue to grow at a CAGR of 16 percent until 2022. 

South Korea was one of the first countries to establish a national cloud computing strategy. The government presented its first blueprint for the promotion of the cloud computing industry in 2015. To stimulate the sector, the government released new guidelines in 2018 on the use of the private cloud services for the public sector. The guidelines designate cloud computing as an alternative measure to network separation for cybersecurity and for storage of important data such as financial information.  Last year, the government included cloud computing as one of the sub-areas for its Digital New Deal projects with the goal of transitioning to cloud services through state-led projects and investments.

Global players such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, and Google have led the cloud computing market in Korea.  In order to further increase their market share, the global players have accelerated their investments in Korea.

AWS opened its third data center in Korea in 2019. 
Microsoft plans to open its third data center in Busan this year.
Google opened its first data center in Seoul early in 2020.
The recent boost in demand for cloud computing has caught the attention of Korean companies. Major Korean IT companies (Naver, NHN) and mobile carriers (KT, LG U+) have entered the market, but struggled to increase their presence. As the global companies’ presence is expected to strengthen further within the IaaS and PaaS sectors, there will be more opportunities for SaaS companies in the Korean market as more local companies seek to adopt various and customized applications and services on their cloud.  Also, cloud management service is another promising sector as a smooth cloud migration is critical for local companies new to cloud computing.

Resources

Trade Shows

  • Grand Cloud Conference (December, Seoul)
  • Cloud Impact Conference (February, Seoul)
  • Key Contacts
  • Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy
  • Ministry of Science and ICT
  • Korea Association of Cloud Industry

Local Contact

Mr. Chan Hyuk Kim
Commercial Specialist
U.S. Commercial Service, Korea
U.S. Embassy Seoul
188, Sejong-daero, Jongno-gu
Seoul 03141, Korea
Tel: 82-2-397-4466
Chanhyuk.kim@trade.gov
https://www.trade.gov/south-korea