Korean operators fight for spectrum

Melissa Chua
05 Apr 2011

South Korea’s three operators are each desperate for spectrum as the mobile data race intensifies in the country.

Korea Telecom, SK Telecom, and LG U+ each claim they deserve the right to 20Mhz of spectrum in the 2.1GHz band, which the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) is putting up for auction by June this year, Korea Times reported.

The country’s largest wireless carrier SK Telecom has justified its position saying it has the lowest amount of frequency per subscriber. SK Telecom says it has 3.49 MHz per 1 million subscribers, while Korea Telecom has 4.96 and LG U+ has 4.43.

An SK Telecom spokesperson told the Korea Times that the operator had been excluded from a spectrum allocation exercise for the 800Mhz and 900Mhz bands held last year, and had thus been allocated spectrum in the 2.1Ghz band.

SK Telecom intends to convert 5.5 million 2G users over to 3G, in order to free up more spectrum in the 800Mhz band for its LTE service, scheduled for launch in July. The operator said it needed the additional 2.1Ghz spectrum in order to carry out this conversion.

SK Telecom currently holds rights in the 800Mhz, 2.1GHz and 2.3Ghz bands. Korea Telecom operates its services on the 1.8Ghz and 2.1Ghz bands while LG U+ holds solely rights in the 1.8Ghz band.

Both Korea Telecom and LG U+, however, reportedly feel SK Telecom had been favored enough by the KCC when the operator won rights to the 800Mhz band, a favored band for densely built areas such as Seoul, for 2G services. SK Telecom’s competitors further pointed out that a near-monopoly on the 2.1Ghz band would occur if the operator won the upcoming auction.

Korea Telecom told the paper that it was nearing data capacity and desperately needed the 2.1Ghz spectrum, saying the focus should not be based on overall frequency per subscriber but frequency per 3G subscriber.

Korea Telecom is also expecting to convert all its 2G users to 3G in July, and requires the additional spectrum to do so.

LG U+ has meanwhile maintained that it desperately needs the 2.1Ghz spectrum rights to stay competitive, because it currently holds none. The carrier has been servicing both 2G and 3G users in the 1.8Mhz band. A spokesperson for the carrier said the 2.1Ghz band was needed in order to supply iPhones and provide direct global roaming.

The KCC plans to base its decision on spectrum allocation not only on the bid amount, but the quality of business proposals put forward by each operator.

All three carriers have also applied to have their existing 2G spectrum licenses reissued, with portions slated to be allocated to LTE.

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