South Korea's LTE networks enjoying surge in subscribers

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Subscribership on South Korea's LTE networks is speeding up and expected to hasten even more as operators solidify their geographic footprints.

The three Korean LTE operators, SK Telecom, LG U+ (pronounced  "U Plus") and Korea Telecom are all "on very good trajectories" as they successfully lure new customers while completing their buildouts, Susan Welsh de Grimaldo, director of mobile broadband opportunities at Strategy Analytics, told FierceBroadbandWireless.  

KT just launched LTE in January 2012, so it's a bit early for it to report subscriber numbers. The operator could not refarm its 1.8 GHz spectrum for LTE until it shut down its 2G network, which caused considerable political and legal headaches. Pundits are watching KT to see whether its LTE Warp cloud communication technology really improves the speed and reliability of LTE service, as the company claims, and whether the operator can meet its goal of activating service in 80 cities and covering 90 percent of South Korea's POPs by the end of this month.

Meanwhile, KT's two LTE rivals are growing by leaps and bounds.

SK Telecom, which launched LTE on July 1, 2011, reported 700,000 subs at the end of 2011. But subscribership is leaping, as the operator gained 107,000 subs in 2011's fourth quarter, added another 100,000 in January 2012 plus another 135,000 in February, and its growth is accelerating, Welsh de Grimaldo said. As of the end of March, SK reported to FierceBroadbandWireless that its LTE subscriber base had surpassed 1.7 million. The operator completed its national rollout of LTE service on April 1 and now covers 84 major cities, or 95 percent of the population.

LG U+, South Korea's smallest mobile network operator in terms of subscribers, launched LTE in July 2011 and reported 550,000 subs on the network at end of 2011, according to Welsh de Grimaldo. The operator said in late January that it was growing by some 60,000 subs per week and reported it had one million subs in mid February.

The operator completed its nationwide LTE rollout at the end of March and claims to cover 99.9 percent of South Korea's POPs and to provide LTE service in 86 South Korean cities. LG U+ has said it intends to serve more than four million customers with LTE by year's end. Rival operator KT also hopes to wrap up 2012 with four million LTE subs, while SK Telecom is targeting five million subscribers by year's end, 11 million by 2013 and 15 million subscribers by 2014.

LG U+ also has major network development plans on the schedule for the fourth quarter of 2012. According to Telegeography, LT UPlus expects to launch another LTE network on 2.1 GHz spectrum this October. That same month, the operator intends to introduce voice-over-LTE service.

For more:
- see this LteWorld post
- see this Telegeography article
- see this Korea Herald article

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This article was updated on April 3, 2012, to reflect SK Telecom's newly released subscriber numbers and information on its completed LTE rollout.