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KT seeks to leverage 5G tech in global fight against diseases

After South Korea became the first country to launch commercial service for the fifth-generation network in April, hopes are high that the hyperspeed network will transform everyday lives.

Ranging from ultrafast downloading of lengthy movies to driving autonomous vehicles on connected urban highways, the 5G network is expected to enable futuristic technologies.

With telecom companies around the world seeking to maximize benefits of the advanced network technology, Korea’s leading mobile carrier KT has envisioned an area where the technology can fulfill its potential globally: disease prevention.

“Human beings and animals suffer from infectious disease, and about $60 billion are being spent a year around the world to prevent the suffering,” KT chief Hwang Chang-gyu said during a speech at the World Food Organization last month.

“In the era of the 5G network, information and communication technology can materialize the vision of the ‘fourth industrial revolution.' Based on the advanced technology, we can protect humans and animals from infectious diseases.”

KT Chairman Hwang Chang-gyu (second from right) shakes hands with World Economic Forum’s founder Klaus Schwab during 2018 WEF meeting held in Davos, Switzerland. KT
KT Chairman Hwang Chang-gyu (second from right) shakes hands with World Economic Forum’s founder Klaus Schwab during 2018 WEF meeting held in Davos, Switzerland. KT

Over the past few years, KT has introduced its disease prevention platforms to countries around the world. Based on massive data collected by the advanced network, KT is seeking to establish a global warning system for pandemics.

During the World Economic Forum in Davos last year, Hwang proposed an initiative called “Global Epidemic Prevention Platform.” He called for each country to implement the system aimed at warning about pandemics through mobile devices.

Kenya, Ghana, Laos and other developing countries have since been trying to provide the service for people visiting areas prone to infectious diseases. KT said the advanced travel-warning system is to become available as early as later this year.

“In a normal situation, only those who agreed to provide personal information can receive information about diseases,” said KT officials. “But the alarm system is available to everyone in the event of pandemic diseases.”

Recently, KT has sought to broaden the scope of the GEPP initiative, expanding its disease prevention system to livestock, which can be as vulnerable to transnational pandemics as humans.

Dubbed the “Livestock Epidemic Prevention Platform,” the initiative aims to stem the cross-border flow of infectious diseases among animals. Some Asian countries have suffered recently from African swine fever, which had originated from African countries.

To improve the disease prevention system, KT urged governments around the world to collect information on animal diseases and share this with each other. The company also pledged to protect sensitive information through blockchain technology.

“Using ICT technology can not only boost agricultural productivity but it also can free livestock from the danger of infectious diseases,” KT chief Hwang said in his speech at an international conference hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization last month.

The idea of using a mobile network to combat infectious diseases became popular in Korea during the 2015 Middle East respiratory syndrome crisis. Having originated from countries in the Middle East, the disease claimed 37 lives after infecting 186 people in Korea.

During the public health crisis, KT introduced a system to figure out whether a passenger entering Korea had visited MERS-infected countries. If the passenger were found to have visited such countries, KT shared the information with the Korean disease prevention agency.

While the current alarm system mostly focuses on notifying authorities about whether a traveler visited countries prone to infectious diseases, KT is seeking to establish an early warning system for global pandemics.

“Through ICT technology, KT will materialize the social value of public health and safety,” KT Vice President Yoon Jong-jin said last month, when the company pledged to work with the Korean Society of Infectious Disease to develop an early warning system for diseases. (