KT Korea

How KT is Trying to Stand Out in the Crowded South Korean Voice AI Market

Korean conglomerate KT wants to be a player in the voice and AI market in South Korea and is making moves to build out its AI and robotics services for businesses, according to a recent report from the Korea Herald. Whether the company is actually positioned to do so may be much less certain than the optimistic vision the company sees for itself.


KT is a large South Korean company with real estate and other activities to go along with its technological products. The company debuted its GiGA Genie AI smart speaker for consumers at the tail end of 2017. Since then, the company has been looking into bringing its AI to businesses as an interface for cars, televisions, and other devices. KT claims that its voice assistant now has two million subscribers, the largest number in South Korea and that it is integrated into 60,000 apartments and 1,000 hotel rooms in the country. KT’s AI is also built into robots at some of the hotels. Guests can make a voice request to the AI, which will activate a robot to bring toiletries or other amenities.

The comments in the report from KT’s executives highlight the company’s accomplishments and the fact that the South Korean government is investing plenty of money in growing the AI economy. What they leave out is how crowded the voice assistant field is in South Korea, and how KT is viewed in the country. KT is sometimes described as more conservative in its technology and not very good at anticipating and building to serve what the market is looking for. The fact that the GiGA Genie smart speaker came out relatively recently only makes the innovation gap larger for it to cross.

South Korea Scramble

KT has plenty of South Korea-based competition in AI. SK Telecom, the other telecom leader in the country, sells plenty of its own brand of smart speakers, as does Naver. All of them focus exclusively on South Korea and have built up their own loyal customer bases. While Samsung is also South Korean, it has struggled to get much of a foothold in its home country. The Bixby voice assistant had to be almost immediately revamped and relaunched and the Bixby smart speaker has yet to emerge onto the shelf.

Until recently, it was only South Korean companies that offered voice assistants in the country at all. The Korean language is notoriously difficult for natural language understanding programs to understand. Google started trying to get into the market last September when it began selling Google Home and Google Home Mini smart speakers in South Korea, not long after adding Korean to Google Assistant’s language options. The dominance of the Android OS in the country gives Google Assistant a better shot at competing than it might have had otherwise, but adoption rates are thought to be pretty low overall. That may be in part because South Korean developers don’t have the option of monetizing their voice apps yet. Amazon, meanwhile, has yet to add Korean to Alexa’s languages and is not selling Echo smart speakers there yet. Some people may use Alexa devices, but they can’t be localized and they will be using English to do so. The rapid adoption of voice AI in South Korea opens up a lot of opportunities for developing new applications for the technology. But, the current fierce competition ensures that KT won’t be able to muscle out its rivals any time soon.


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