SK Telecom, South Korea’s largest mobile operator, has said it will switch on its first commercial LTE network in Seoul, the country’s capital city, next year and will complete nationwide rollout of the next-generation network technology by 2013. SKT has been testing LTE since March this year. “SK Telecom will provide commercial LTE services in Seoul in 2011… and guarantee a nationwide coverage by 2013,” the operator said in a statement. According to a Dow Jones Newswires report, SKT’s main domestic rival, KT, is also poised to begin migration towards LTE before year-end. Prior to switching to LTE, SKT said it will support the rising demand for high-speed mobile data services by beefing up its Wi-Fi network. It plans to create 15,000 wireless Wi-Fi hotspots in the country by the end of this year, up 50 percent from an initial plan.

The rise in mobile data usage is linked to SKT’s increasing focus on smartphones. According to the report, the operator has raised its 2010 smartphone sales target to 2.5 million from an earlier estimate of 2 million and said it will continue to expand its range of smartphones by launching a further 14 in the second half to add to the nine models it started selling in the first half of the year. Of the 23 models it will have on offer by the end of the year, 19 will run on Google’s Android operating system, the operator said. Beginning in August, SKT said it will offer unlimited data services for users paying a monthly rate of KRW55,000 (US$45.7).