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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

KT ICOM, the third-generation mobile unit of South Korea's fixed-line incumbent, Korea Telecom, yesterday said it will launch 3G service based on WCDMA technology in June next year. The company said it has awarded a KRW 140bn ($117m) contract for 3G equipment with local manufacturer LG Electronics.

As probably the most "broadbandized" nation on earth, South Korea presents both a major opportunity and a challenge for WCDMA technology, which has so far failed to ignite commercially anywhere else. In Japan, for instance, where NTT DoCoMo launched the first WCDMA 3G network in October last year, the company, widely regarded as the leader in provision of wireless data services has been embarrassed by the poor demand for its 3G service, FOMA.

In Europe, wireless operators who paid billions of euros to acquire spectrum, are now putting off launching WCDMA services amid doubts about likely demand, and persistent concerns over the availability of appropriate handsets.

In Korea itself meanwhile, KT ICOM's competitors, SK Telecom and KTF (yet another wireless unit of KT) have launched 3G services based on the CDMA2000 1X standard. These services are enjoying good early demand, and it may be difficult for KT ICOM to claw back market share from them when it arrives on the scene in 10 months time.

However, yesterday, KT ICOM's chief executive, Cho Young-chu said that WCDMA, which is geared to allowing users to enjoy genuinely high bandwidth applications, such as streaming media, would add a new dimension to mobile services in the country.

"The 3G network will open a new chapter in the nation's telecommunication industry and bring about a change to the everyday lifestyle of individuals," said Cho to the Korea Times. He added that he is confident that WCDMA 3G can be a commercial success in Korea, which has not imposed a high license price on KT ICOM, and the company has plenty of cash with which to build its network.

The only obstacle to an earlier launch for the service is a lack of handsets that are both dual mode, supporting both existing networks and future 3G systems, and dual-band, supporting both GSM and CDMA radio frequencies. The Korean government has insisted that 3G handset meet these requirements, but Qualcomm, which owns most of the key CDMA2000 patents, is not expected to supply appropriate chipsets to handset manufacturers before April.

© ComputerWire

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