Over 90% of users connected to the wireless Internet in Korea - Mobile World Live

Over 90% of users connected to the wireless Internet in Korea

19 OCT 2011

New data from the South Korean regulator has revealed that the country has over 48 million ‘Wireless Internet Connections,’ a figure that represents over 90 percent of its total mobile connections base and underlines its position as one of the most advanced mobile markets in the world.

According to Wireless Intelligence data, the 48.1 million figure cited by the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) accounts for 92 percent of the country’s 52.3 million total connections in Q2. Market-leader SK Telecom unsurprisingly accounted for the lion’s share of Wireless Internet Connections on 23.4 million (89 percent of its total) but second-placed KT had the highest proportionate total – 16.2 million, accounting for 97 percent of its total base. Third-placed LG-plus had 8.5 million, 93 percent of its total.

The KCC’s definition of a Wireless Internet Connection is thought to include any cellular device capable of accessing data, including feature-phones, smartphones, tablets and mobile broadband dongles. However, all three operators have recently singled-out rising smartphone penetration as the main driver of their mobile data businesses. Smartphones accounted for 28 percent of South Korean connections in Q2, according to Wireless Intelligence data.

The number of smartphones on SK’s network, for example, reached 7.5 million in Q2 (up from just 730,000 in Q1 2010) and the operator is predicting 10 million smartphones by year-end. It attributes this strong growth to a range of unlimited data plans introduced in August 2010 (known as ‘All-in-one 55’) which have to date been adopted by some two-thirds of its smartphone users. SK claims that its share of the South Korean smartphone market is about two percentage points higher than its overall market share at 52 percent.

KT boasted 5.2 million smartphones on its network in Q2, representing about 31 percent of its total; it is estimating 7 million by year-end. Meanwhile, LG had 2.10 million smartphones in Q2 (23 percent of its total) and is aiming for 4 million by year-end (43 percent of its total). Like SK, LG is pushing a flat-rate data price plan, which it claims had been taken up by 32 percent of its subscriber base (2.9 million) in Q2. The number-three aims to launch 15 new smartphones in 2011, including many models from its handset sister-firm, LG Electronics.

Despite the three operators having highly-advanced networks, they have still been required to make extra investments to meet the increasing demand for data. All three will have LTE networks up-and-running by the end of the year (SK and KT have launched already) and Wireless Intelligence forecasts that South Korea will reach 10 million LTE connections by 2015.

The move to LTE is being supported by the roll-out of new Wi-Fi networks to ease mobile data congestion in busy areas. KCC has said that the three operators are working collaboratively to deploy Wi-Fi at public locations such at train stations, bus terminals and public offices in an effort to avoid unnecessary duplication. The project is expected to be completed in 1H 2012.

SK is aiming to increase its number of Wi-Fi hotspots from 17,000 in 2010 to 62,000 this year, using WiBro technology in the backhaul. It is also deploying data femtos and QoS controls to support and manage data traffic. Meanwhile, LG claims to have a Wi-Fi network that is many times larger than its two rivals combined, aiming to have over a million hotspots in place this year (up from 318,000 in 2010).

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