The South Korean government will decide — possibly by the end of the month — whether to proceed on a five-year, nearly USD 390 million project to develop blockchain technology.

Quoting government sources, ZDnet Korea reported that South Korea’s Ministry of Science and Technology will reveal the results of its feasibility study on its “Blockchain Technology Development for the Data Economy” project by the end of the month at the earliest.

The project would spend around KRW 476.1 billion — or about USD 390 million — between 2021 and 2025 to secure core blockchain technologies needed for South Korea to make the transition to a data economy. The project’s conceivers believe that in order to activate the data economy, you must first guarantee trust and clarify ownership. And they believe blockchain is the right technology to do this.

In particular, the project would seek to overcome the trilemma limiting existing blockchain solutions — i.e., the difficult choice one must make between decentralization, scalability and security — by developing high-capacity, high-efficiency consensus algorithms. It would also seek to develop user-centered smart contracts that ordinary users can safely utilize.

According to ZDnet Korea, experts believe that this is a “golden time” for South Korea to focus its investment on boosting its blockchain technology. With the blockchain market still in its infancy, a bit of timely investment could propel South Korea into the rank of global leaders in the industry.

South Korea’s Vice Ministry of Finance previously has voiced similar hopes.

ZDNet says the government is jumping directly into blockchain technology R&D because it believes — not necessarily correctly, in the opinion of this writer — that the private sector lacks sufficient motivation to develop original technologies such as consensus algorithms and smart contracts because they are more concerned with rushing out services based on open source technology.

The government also reportedly believes that since most blockchain companies are startups, the sluggish cryptocurrency market has made it difficult for them to engage in long-term R&D.

In the article, Professor Park Yong-beom of Dankook University compares the situation to the internet. You wouldn’t want the government to build you a website, but there might be a need for the state to help build basic infrastructure such as the internet network.

ZDNet also notes the international competition for leadership in the blockchain space, pointing in particular to China’s recent commercial launch of a nationwide Blockchain-based Service Network (BSN), developed directly by the government with the participation of several Chinese telecom companies and IT firms. China may soon begin offering this infrastructure to other countries, giving Beijing a first-mover advantage.

Also in the Korea blockchain space…

(By Steven Kaaru, CoinGeek, May 18)

SK Telecom has released the Galaxy A Quantum, which it claims to be the world’s first 5G phone powered by blockchain technology. Developed in partnership with Samsung Electronics, the phone reportedly uses blockchain in several ways, most notably by applying DID technology to enable users to submit personal certificates with your smartphone sans online procedures.

(By Adrian Barkley, CryptoDaily, May 16)

Blockchain rewards platform MiL.k has joined hands with Shinsegae Duty Free to create a solution that would let customers connect their existing loyalty points to a MiL.k mobile app that lets them trade the points for an inhouse cryptocurrency. We note that MiL.k had previously teamed up with travel service Yanolja, a MyID Alliance partner.

(By Lim Chang-won, Aju Business Daily, May 18)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will fund two South Korean companies that are working on projects related to COVID-19 or infectious diseases. One of the companies, telecom giant KT, has formed a consortium with several other parties — including a blockchain company developing a data-sharing platform — to develop an epidemiological model that can predict the spread of infectious diseases using mobile communications data.