South Korea is forecasting blistering growth of LTE, reports the AP. While the United States eclipses South Korea with some 11 million total LTE smartphone users, the proportion of the population using it is higher and rising faster in South Korea.
Some 7 million South Koreans, or about 14 percent of the population, are already using LTE smartphones, compared with less than 5 percent in the U.S.
SK Telecom had 2.4 million LTE subscribers and a total base of more than 26 million mobile subscribers as of the end of April, making SK Telecom the second largest LTE service provider in the world after Verizon Wireless. About 30 percent of South Koreans are expected to move to LTE within a few months.
The Korea Communications Commission (KCC) regulator auctioned LTE spectrum across three bands, 800MHz, 1.8GHz and 2.1GHz, last August. SK Telecom (51% market share) and KT Corp (31% market share) control just over 80% of the country’s mobile market, while LG Uplus has a 17.8 percent share.
SK Telecom’s LTE network will be further upgraded with multi-carrier (MC), HIS (Hybrid Network Integrated Solution) and LTE-A.
The MC technology will enable the company to utilize both its existing 800MHz frequency band and the 1.8GHz band it newly acquired in the second half of last year. With an additional 20MHz uplink/downlink spectrum, it will be using a total of 40MHz for its LTE services.
SK Telecom began offering MC pilot service in the Gangnam Station area from May 30 and commercialization of MC will begin in July 2012, with plans to cover the whole Seoul area within 2012 and 23 other major cities by early 2013.
Based on subscriber targets laid out by South Korea’s three mobile operators (KT Corporation, SK Telecom and LG U+), the number of South Korean LTE smartphone users is expected to reach 15 million by the end of this year.
South Korea essentially invented modern WiMax, called WiBro in South Korea. KT built a nationwide WiBro network, which is now being partially converted to LTE. South Korea is the first nation with LTE offered by each of its mobile carriers and ubiquitous access to 4G coverage inside its borders. In the United States, LTE roaming between carriers is not possible.
South Korea’s Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute said the number of LTE smartphone users will surpass 33 million in 2013. According to the Economist magazine, Korea topped the world’s data guzzler list last year, with its Internet traffic almost tripling second-placed France. The trend was also expected to continue in 2015.
Industry observers believe smartphones that support the 4G mobile communication standard will become mainstream in South Korea as early as the end of this year and well before other countries. The country’s small size also allows quick completion of nationwide network coverage. All three operators completed nationwide LTE coverage earlier this year.
South Korea already has an extensive fiber infrastructure, with 50 to 100 Mbps access typical.
Spectrum for LTE has yet to be auctioned in many locations. It’s still a 3G world. The 700MHz bands have become available for 4G thanks to terrestrial television channels changing to digital broadcasts. The 2.5 GHz band generally has the most spectrum available and is the most harmonized, globally.
The UK’s OFCOM will likely auction the spectrum late this year. UK mobile operators will be able to bid of the 800MHz and 2.6GHZ frequency bands. Everything Everywhere wants permission to deploy 4G in 1800MHz.
By 2015 the GSMA forecasts there will be 9.1 billion mobile connections, 4.6 billion mobile customers, 3.2 billion mobile broadband connections, and 350 million 4G connections, with India becoming the second largest Mobile Broadband market within the next four years, with 367 million Mobile Broadband connections by 2016.