South Korea’s SK Telecom has taken the lead with the start of LTE-A service on 26 June and became the first player in Global Telecommunications history to launch LTE-A services, followed by LGU on 18th of July. The merit of LTE-A has been that it is mainly achieved through software upgrades (multi carrier and carrier aggregation) and hence precludes the necessity of major additional capital expenditure.
SK Telecom daily subscriber growth has picked up from 5,000-6,000 in June to 12,000 in July. SKT has thus far secured LTE-A 150,000 users. LGU has launched its LTE-A service on 18 July. Both operators are expected to expand its coverage to 84 major cities by the end of August. Expected download speed of LTE-A is 150Mbps, or twice the speed of LTE.
The Quality of LTE-A Services in Korea and Mobile Data Consumption
While it is too early to judge the full service quality of LTE-A at this point as the nationwide network is still being rolled out and only a handful of LTE-A capable handsets are available. LTE Advance not only offers faster download speed, but does so at the same existing LTE package prices. We expect such a scheme to entice users to consume more data given the rising usage of mobile applications that require high data consumptions, such as the HD quality streaming video and music services. Given that well over half of 4G LTE users are opting for minimum 5GB monthly data packages, we foresee further upside room for data consumption to increase from the current average 4G LTE monthly data consumption of mid-2GB.
In May-2012, Total Data Consumed on Mobile Broadband was 40,000 TB of which 3G SmartPhone had a share of 20,000 TB and 4G SmartPhones 10,000 TB. At the end of May 2013, Total Data Consumed on Mobile Broadband was 75,000 TB of which 3G SmartPhone had a share 18,000 TB and 4G SmartPhones recorded a share of 45,000 TB.
Regulatory Overhang But Good for the Consumer Eco-System & Not Corruption Like India
The timing of LTE-A service launch by KT remains to be seen depending on the result of the August auction, the recent controversy on potential spectrum adjustment of KT’s 900MHz by the regulator may create further noise for KT and LGU. The Korean Financial News reports that the regulator is considering potential shifting of KT’s 900MHz spectrum by 1MHz to help reduce frequency jamming with other wireless devices such as RFIDs. This may help facilitate KT to also utilise carrier aggregation on the 900Mhz for LTE-A service launch.
3 Years after the 3G and TD-LTE BWA Spectrum Auction, India still struggles to give acceptable Quality of mobile Broadband Services and Koreans are roaring to go ahead but lack the 5G upgrade path.