Korea’s LBS Explosion Brings Talk of Regulatory Reform

In yet another sign of how smartphones are transforming Korea’s internet landscape, location-based services (LBS) are booming in the country, according to a new report from the Korea Communications Commission.

The number of business license applications for LBS start-ups has already hit 101 in the first quarter of this year, compared with 80 for the whole of 2010. There are also, according to the report, more than twice as many LBS firms in operation this year over last year.

For the purposes of this survey, according to the article, LBS doesn’t just mean the likes of Foursquare or I’m In, but any service that draws on locational information, including apps/sites offering traffic information or emergency services. However, the KCC said that while previously, LBS mainly consisted of “people tracking” services offered by phone companies or government-run traffic-related services, the current boom is being powered almost entirely by start-ups in smartphone apps and social media.

In light of this, the KCC is undertaking what it’s calling a “plan for the activation of use of locational information.” This includes an educational video that will help new services avoid legal pitfalls — something that the creators of Oppa Midji might well have appreciated — and an “LBS Support Center” under the Korea Association of Information and Telecommunications.

Promisingly, the government also says it plans to relax the regulatory environment surrounding LBS and — in order to provide more “precise” locational services to Koreans — begin research into technology that can place people’s locations to within 5 metres.

As has been well documented, Korea’s tech startups have often succeeded despite the dead hand of regulation. Here’s hoping ┬áthe Korean government can take a more measured line with its approach to LBS.

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