SK Telecom to start 4G LTE commercial service in July

Mobile carriers are making aggressive moves to get ahead in the long-term evolution (LTE) platform, which is expected to open up a whole new world of possibilities.

What is LTE?

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations agency regulating information and communication technology issues, has set requirements for each generation of wireless technology. What matters here most is speed. To satisfy fourth-generation (4G) requirements, the download speed should be 1 Gbps for stationary use and 100 Mbps for mobility communication.

Since the requirement was set, the global competition has been fierce to be the standard of the next-generation wireless technology. Among the main candidates are LTE by Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) set by the European countries and WiMAX promoted by Intel, and LTE is quickly becoming the technology of choice for 4G networks, the mobile broadband to succeed the current 3G technology.

How will it change our life?

The introduction of smartphones is greatly changing our daily life. The adoption of LTE is also expected to bring about a major change.

LTE is regarded as the solution to deal with explosively increasing data amid the smartphone boom. In case of AT&T, which adopted the iPhone for the first time in the United States, data traffic grew by 50 times for the three years since 2006. Morgan Stanley expects wireless data traffic to grow by 39 times worldwide from 2009 to 2014.

Equipped for theoretical speeds of 100 megabits per second in downlinks, LTE is to allow users access to cyberspace 10 times quicker than the conventional 3G platform. It means it would take only two minutes to download a 1.4 GB movie, and the 5.5 GB Britannica Encyclopedia would be done in eight minutes. It would surely satisfy the insatiable craving for faster connections.

When the new technology is commercialized, users will enjoy stable communication and Internet links even when they are on a KTX train that runs at 300 kilometers per hour.

Though it may turn out to be slower than in theory when commercialized due to traffic, diverse quality content will be available. All online services such as high definition quality and network games will be enjoyable through smartphones. When LTE is applied to various digital devices such as tablets and laptops, true ubiquity will become a reality.

Massive investment

The paradigm shift is being witnessed in the industry, with businesses starting massive investment to win the next-generation battle.

SK Telecom, the country’s biggest mobile carrier, is planning to start its commercial service in Seoul from July. It is taking quick steps to be the first to provide the 4G service, effectively dealing with the explosive increase of data usage following the smartphone boom and continuing to lead the market.

The telecom firm is to choose suppliers for the 4G device this month. It has been testing devices of Samsung Electronics, LG-Ericsson, Nokia Siemens and Alcatel Lucent.

After the commercialization of its service in Seoul, it will be expanded to the metropolitan area and major cities around the country next year. The service will become available nationwide by 2013. SK Telecom also plans to present 4G smartphone this year.

LG Uplus is showing more aggressiveness. Due to late moves in the 3G market, the smallest carrier suffered a painful defeat in the smartphone market. LG has already selected LG-Ericsson, Samsung Electronics, and Nokia-Siemens as suppliers.

Though SK Telecom will be the first to launch the service LG Uplus plans to start a nationwide service faster than the other players. It will also present a dual mode handset that supports both 2G CDMA and LTE in the latter half of this year, and launch a single mode set when the nationwide network is set.

It has been setting up a multimode station, which would roam 2G, 3G and 4G devices. The multimode station would decrease electricity consumption by half. Currently, around 1,300 multimode stations are set up, and LG Uplus has only to insert 4G devices there. The mobile carrier is building bank stations as well, where it has only to set up additional modules to provide an LTE service.

KT, the biggest beneficiary of the smartphone boom, is set to invest 1.67 trillion won in LTE by 2014. The carrier is planning a commercial service in Seoul early next year, and the nationwide service is likely to come in 2013.

It will take time for the carriers to see a profitable return following huge investment. Among over 50 million mobile phone subscribers in the country, over 20 million are still using 2G, let alone 3G. It will take time for consumers to switch to 4G.