SK Telecom (SKT) and LG Uplus, South Korea’s largest and smallest mobile network operators by subscribers respectively, have both launched commercial Long Term Evolution (LTE) services, leaving only second-placed player KT Corp to enter the 4G market, a move which is expected by November 2011.
Using the 800MHz band for the service, SKT is initially offering LTE commercially in Seoul, but it has said that it aims to complete its 4G rollout in 23 cities including the Seoul Metropolitan area and six metropolitan cities by ‘early next year’, while national coverage (82 cities) is expected by 2013. At launch SKT said that it had deployed 17,772 radio units (RU) and 609 digital units (DU), while the new network will also utilise the operators 200,000 existing 800MHz repeaters ‘to offer seamless and flawless 4G LTE service in all areas of Seoul, including underground and indoor areas.’ The cellco meanwhile has said that national coverage could arrive earlier, ‘depending on the market situation,’ while it confirmed that it is aiming to introduce LTE-Advanced services in 2013.
With customers initially only able to access the new infrastructure via USB or router modem, SKT has said that it aims to introduce the fist LTE-compatible smartphone in September 2011, with five handsets to be released in the second half of the year to ‘allow customers to conveniently experience and benefit from 4G LTE networks.’ Two LTE tariffs have been announced, with the top level package, ‘LTE Modem 49’, offering a 9GB monthly data usage limit for KRW49,000 (USD45.82) per month. SKT has said that it expects to sign up around 300,000 LTE subscribers in the second half of 2011, and has predicted that with the increased availability of LTE-compatible handsets expected in 2012, coupled with national coverage by 2013, customer numbers will rise to six million in 2013 and surge to ten million by 2015.
LG Uplus for its part has yet to formally announce pricing plans for its LTE services, but has reportedly rolled out around 500 LTE base stations across Seoul and two other cities. The bottom-placed player has made it clear that it intends to take the fight to its larger rivals, and according to the Korea Herald it is aiming to become the leader in terms of LTE customers, with LG Uplus CEO Lee Sang-chul quoted as saying it expects to surpass SKT in terms of LTE subscribers from 2014. ‘The 4G market is totally different. With more diverse LTE phones and investment, Uplus will become the biggest LTE service provider,’ the executive noted.