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SK Telecom targets flawless coverage with LTE, with nationwide coverage by 2013

Photograph of Alastair BrydonThe momentum behind LTE is increasing, in terms of mobile network operators launching LTE services or announcing an intention to launch LTE services. However, one of my biggest fears is that operators will rush to make high-profile press announcements to say that they have launched LTE, while avoiding any commitment to invest substantially in LTE to deliver extensive coverage. It is, therefore, reassuring to see that SK Telecom in South Korea has recognised the importance of coverage in its recent announcement of LTE plans.

I welcome SK Telecom’s intention to:

  • target a significant number of LTE customers
  • quickly provide nationwide coverage
  • deliver “flawless” coverage.

In the short term, SK Telecom expects that its LTE service will attract about 300,000 users by the end of 2011. It expects take-up to be bolstered by the availability of a range of LTE devices (including LTE smartphones) during 2012 and rapid advances in LTE coverage. SK Telecom forecasts six million LTE customers by 2013, and ten million LTE customers by 2015. With a total of about 51 million customers in March 2011, LTE penetration would be roughly 20% of SK Telecom’s customer base by 2015 (assuming that the size of its customer base does not change significantly).

Following the commercial launch of LTE in Seoul on 1 July 2011, SK Telecom plans to offer LTE services in 23 cities by early-2012. It plans to achieve nationwide coverage (82 cities) by 2013.

Perhaps the most interesting, and important, aspect of SK Telecom’s announcement is its clear commitment to “flawless” coverage. SK Telecom has already deployed 1772 base stations in Seoul. Its use of 800MHz spectrum for LTE will clearly provide it with significant benefits in terms of signal range, compared with higher frequencies. Beyond this, SK Telecom will utilise 200,000 800MHz repeaters to offer “seamless and flawless” LTE service in all areas of Seoul, including underground and indoor areas. Nationwide, SK Telecom intends to use 1 million repeaters to provide extensive LTE coverage.

I look forward to reporting on SK Telecom’s progress with LTE, against its ambitious plans, in due course.

Dr Alastair Brydon has worked in digital radio communications for over 25 years. He provides expert advice on 2G, 3G and 4G mobile systems and standards including GSM, UMTS and LTE. He has written over 40 reports on the development of wireless technologies and services and has acted as an expert witness in major patent disputes.

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