China Mobile has deepened its ties with SK Telecom of Korea, signing a memorandum of understanding focused on joint development of new networks, devices and applications.
The partnership shows how Mobile is seeking to create an ecosystem around the platforms it controls, such as TD-LTE and its oPhone software framework.
The two operators combine the scale of the Chinese leader and the highly advanced mobile internet activities of the Korean cellco, to make a powerful alliance that could be influential on the whole carrier community.
They have worked together on several projects recently, notably last summer on TD-LTE trials. In tests near Korean capital Seoul, SK Telecom demonstrated download speeds of 14.6Mbps in a 10MHz channel, in a trial that led to reports that it would abandon the homegrown Wimax variant, WiBRO, and adopt the TDD flavor of LTE in its 2.3GHz broadband wireless spectrum.
The new MoU is far wider in scope, covering networks, but also device platforms, machine-to-machine services and the apps market.
Among the areas of collaboration outlined in SK Telecom's statement are "joint research in the advancement of low cost, high efficiency next generation RAN architecture, such as SCAN(Smart Cloud Access Network) and the set-up of testbeds for evaluation."
It also cites "better development environments," an effort to "lead global standardization of new platform business including M2M by building a joint R&D laboratory," and the convergence of the two operators' existing efforts in app stores, and in projects related to the WAC (Wholesale Application Community).
The last element could also bring SK Telecom closer to Softbank, Vodafone and Verizon Wireless, Mobile's key apps partners, whose JIL framework has now been adopted by the operator driven WAC initiative.
Korean vendors and operators have been increasingly important partners and advisers as China seeks to accelerate its wireless progress, and SK Telecom knows it needs to expand outside its advanced but saturated home base.
It said the new MoU would boost its aim of becoming a "global ICT leader" in China and "strengthening its technological leadership in the international market." SK Telecom previously held a 3.8% stake in China Unicom, but sold it in September 2009.
Caroline Gabriel / Rethink Wireless