SKT wins marketing-hype battle – broad coverage is next

South Korean operators battle LTE-A tri-band marketing claims in court – broad coverage is next

15 JAN 2015

NEW BLOG: The battle in South Korea over the title of first commercialisation of tri-band LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) services has escalated, with LG Uplus joining KT to file a joint injunction against rival SK Telecom (SKT), which has vehemently defended the claim.

SKT said on 28 December it was first in the world to operate a commercial tri-band LTE-A network, which aggregates a total of 40MHz in three frequency bands to offer a theoretical peak download speed of up to 300Mb/s.

Within days of the announcement, KT claimed the tri-band rollout was only a pilot launch using 100 test phones from Samsung and the service was not available to regular customers. KT, along with third ranked LG Uplus, filed a complaint in a Seoul court to stop SKT from running what they claimed were “deceptive” ads that misled consumers.

SKT has fought back. It said in an email to Mobile World Live that at the end of December it had launched tri-band LTE-A in 69 cities and 21 districts. A representative added: “2.1GHz base stations are installed in places where there is heavy LTE data traffic and usage, such as Seoul and Busan.”

The market leader, which already has dual-carrier LTE-A coverage (using the 800MHz and 1.8GHz bands) in 84 cities, needs to add 2.1GHz base stations in these cities to offer the faster tri-band service. The company plans to roll out more than 26,000 2.1GHz base stations in the first quarter, but the representative declined to reveal the number of 2.1GHz base stations already deployed or the percentage of population covered by the new launch.

The person did provide a detailed list of the locations where it plans to launch tri-band LTE-A service over the next three months. In February it has plans to cover more than 40 universities and by the end of March it will cover all subway lines and stations nationwide.

SKT also said that the launch meets the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA)’s “definition of a commercial launch”. But some analysts would argue that the GSA has fairly generous criteria for what counts as a commercial service launch – in order to beef up its network rollout stats.

In addition, the operator said evidence had to be provided to the Korean Broadcaster Association to use the term “the world’s first commercialised network” in its ads. Samsung evidently supplied a letter stating that it provided the Galaxy Note 4 S-LTE for the tri-band LTE-A service for “the first time in the world”.

Its competitors, however, arguably have good reason to feel slighted.

Last June LG Uplus completed what it claimed was the world’s first “commercial network field trial” of tri-band LTE carrier aggregation (CA), which it called 3CC CA. Using kit from Huawei, it also used 40MHz in three frequency bands to offer peak download speeds of 300Mb/s.

No compatible smartphones were available at that time. Six months later, the devices are ready and presumably it is nearing commercial launch.

And at the same time SKT made its tri-band network announcement, KT said it finalised preparations to launch a similar LTE-A service and had formed consumer evaluation groups to test the quality of the service using the same Samsung smartphone. SKT made the same statement on 28 December, noting the Galaxy Note 4 would be made available for consumers willing to provide feedback on the service.

KT first demoed the tri-band technology almost a year ago at Mobile World Congress. It now says it has the most LTE base stations (100,000) in South Korea.

It seems SKT beat KT to the mark in hyping its tri-band network, whether it’s a true commercial launch or merely a limited trial. Having a fast network in place and wide coverage are key, but having “a world’s first” title can certainly help attract new business – well at least in the short term.

With the country’s operators’ options limited due to the new regulations curbing handset subsidies, it’s no surprise they are clamouring to claim that title, even if its rivals are merely days or weeks behind.

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.


Joseph Waring

Joseph Waring joins Mobile World Live as the Asia editor for its new Asia channel. Before joining the GSMA, Joseph was group editor for Telecom Asia for more than ten years. In addition to writing features, news and blogs, he...

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