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Next generation of phones takes over as demand soars

Models pose with Optimus LTE from LG Electronics. (LG Electronics)
Models pose with Optimus LTE from LG Electronics. (LG Electronics)
SK Telecom’s LTE service to cover whole country from April


Long-term evolution smartphones have been gaining new momentum as consumer demand is growing faster than expected.

LTE is cited as the next-generation mobile technology following the current 3G, and promises to offer an Internet data transmitting speed of up to five to seven times existing networks.

SK Telecom, the nation’s largest telecom carrier, announced Tuesday it will complete the nationwide coverage of the faster fourth-generation LTE services by April.

The company said it has advanced the original schedule set for 2013, with consumer demand soaring recently for the new savvy cell phones.

“The growth speed of LTE subscribers is unprecedented compared to our previous experiences in recent years,” Jang Dong-hyun, SKT’s chief marketing officer, said during a news conference. 
Jang Dong-hyun, chief marketing officer of SK Telecom, speaks during a news conference at the company’s headquarters in Euljiro, central Seoul, Tuesday. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
Jang Dong-hyun, chief marketing officer of SK Telecom, speaks during a news conference at the company’s headquarters in Euljiro, central Seoul, Tuesday. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

“Based on our market research, we are sure that a growing number of consumers are well-aware of the superiority of LTE phones in terms of speed and picture quality.”

The company, which launched LTE phones in June, said more than 35 percent of its new subscribers are choosing LTE phones.

The company’s LTE subscribers amounted to 260,000 as of Tuesday and the number is expected to reach 700,000 at the end of this year.

SKT plans to offer the services in 28 cities in January next year and in 84 cities nationwide in April. Other than the major cities, it will expand services to busy areas such as campus towns and workplaces with more than 1,000 employees.

While the domestic market leader has shifted recently to take a more aggressive LTE strategy, LG Uplus, the third-largest telecom carrier, has moved faster to gain the upper hand in the rapidly emerging market.

The company aims to complete nationwide 4G networks in 82 cities nationwide by the first half of next year and to expand services into every corner of the country as early as in the first half of next year.

“The untapped LTE market is crucial for us,” said Kim Yoon-ok, a spokesperson for LG Uplus.

“In order to overcome our third-place player image among consumers, we are concentrating all our capacities in the business. There is no doubt that going forward for LTE is the unavoidable future trend.”

The company has about 180,000 LTE subscribers and expects the number could reach 500,000 within the year.

KT has yet to launch the LTE services as it is waiting for an approval from the Korea Communication Commission in order to withdraw its 2G services.

The company plans to unveil three LTE smartphones, including Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy Note, as soon as the KCC approval comes out within November.

Despite the soaring popularity of LTE cellphones here, however, the increased cost is still an issue for mobile carriers and handset makers.

LTE phone plans will be not offering limitless data plans that would cause a bigger burden for consumers in terms of phone bills.

The telecommunication regulator thus far has been passive in allowing the limited data plans as higher fees will be a blow to its policies for trimming phone bills.

With the discussions still ongoing, SKT unveiled limited data plans targeting especially heavy data users.

“Thus far, there has been no big problem in limitless data plans based on phone calls. But when it comes to LTE phones, their data use and quantity is extremely diverse. The number of heavy data users is fast increasing,” said Jang.

The guidelines for SKT will be significant for phonemakers, most of which have already chosen SK as their network partner, and other network providers, LG Uplus, which will most likely follow once the standards have been set.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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