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SK Telecom, the No. 1 mobile carrier in Korea, said it will begin Long Term Evolution (LTE) service in July and drop its investment in WiBro, the Korea version of mobile WiMAX.

The CDMA-based operator plans to launch commercial LTE services in Seoul during the third quarter of this year and make “heavy investments in high-speed Wi-Fi and data femtocell.” The company will expand LTE coverage to metropolitan and six major cities in 2012. Nationwide LTE coverage will be established in 2013, the company said.

After benchmark tests for LTE vendors, Samsung, LG-Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia Siemens Networks, SK Telecom will select the final equipment vendors for its LTE service as early as this month.

SK Telecom, which controls half of the country’s mobile market, was one of the first operators in the world to launch WiMAX services in 2006. It shared an exclusive WiMAX license with the dominant land-line carrier, Korea Telecom. KT, South Korea’s top fixed-line operator and No. 2 mobile carrier, has been the main WiMAX supporter in the country. KT’s WIBRO services are currently available in Seoul (including the subway).

Intel said less than four months ago that KT would be the first carrier in the world to provide nation-wide WiMAX coverage. Intel claimed KT’s WIBRO/WiMAX service would cover 82 cities in Korea, serving 85 percent of the Korean population — as soon as March 2011. But in the same breath, KT said it will invest US $1.49 billion to construct a nationwide LTE network, working with Samsung and LG-Ericsson. KT considers that 3G and LTE alone can’t meet all data traffic, the company said in a statement.

As of March 2009, Korea had some 46 million total mobile subscribers with a penetration rate almost 100%. Three operators; SK Telecom, Korea Telecom Freetel (half owned by Korea Telecom), and LG Telecom control most of the mobile service in South Korea. At the end of November 2010, market share for SK Telecom was 50.6%, with 25.61 million subscribers, while KT had 31.6%, with 15.99 million subscribers and LG Uplus had 17.8% market share, with 9.01 million subscribers.

LG Telecom plans to install 50,000 Wi-Fi zones. The CDMA operator said it will have 25,000 Wi-Fi zones in place by March in cooperation with Seoul Metro, schools, large retailers and other firms.

To preserve the environment and prevent disasters caused by flooding, the South Korean government is undertaking a two billion dollar restoration project of the country’s four major rivers – the Han River, the Yeongsan River, the Nakdong River and the Seomjin River – and surrounding recreational areas. With funding from the government, South Korea’s Water Resource Management Corporation is deploying Firetide wireless infrastructure. When completed in 2012, Firetide’s WiFi system will provide a sensor network for water level, temperature and pollution measurement; a video surveillance network to monitor the dams; and public Wi-Fi service for adjacent riverside parks.

In (un)related news, the Scripps Institute for Oceanography announced today the Earth Networks Center for Climate Research at Scripps Institute in San Diego, which will wirelessly gather and analyze data on greenhouse gases and combine it with weather-related data.

The network of sensors will gather information on the dynamics of greenhouse gases in local areas and measure changes over time. Fifty sensors will be placed in places, such as weather towers in the U.S, and another 50 in Europe and other areas. The project will use a greenhouse gas monitoring equipment from Picarro. Picarro’s remote capabilities can be directly accessed by iPhones or desktops.

4G Trends has a summary of major LTE developments, worldwide. The 3G/4G Blog rounds up all the latest technical papers and Powerpoints. Below is a Google map of operator commitments to LTE, by operator, launch date and vendor.

Related LTE stories on Dailywireless include; TD-LTE for China Mobile, China Mobile: Slow TD-SCDMA Sales , World’s First TD-LTE Data Call, End Near for Indian WiMAX?, Internet Traffic: 18 Minute Gap?, LTE Vs WiMAX in Asia: World War IV?, Age of Exascale, LTE in Japan by December, ZTE Criticized, Big Contracts for Alcatel-Lucent, 3G Launches in India, Qualcomm India: For Sale?, Qualcomm Gets Indian Partners, Vendors Scramble for Indian Backhaul, India’s Broadband Auction: It’s Done, LTE-TDD & WiMAX: Two Peas in a Pod? Indian 3g/4g Auction: Qualcomm Bidding TD-LTE, LTE Migration White Paper, LTE: Wait For ItBlowback on 2.6 GHz, LTE: Cox Cable Calling, LTE Phones to be Showcased at MWC, T-Mobile USA Merger? and Solutions Promoted for Voice over LTE.

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