LTE takes hold in Asia Pacific

Dylan Bushell-Embling
Telecom Asia

A number of recent developments show that Asia Pacific is getting serious about LTE.

South Korean operators KT and LG U+ both launched LTE services at the beginning of July, starting in Seoul. The operators are pursuing an aggressive rollout schedule, with SK Telecom aiming for nationwide coverage by 2013. By this stage, the operator plans to start upgrading its network to LTE-Advanced, according to plans disclosed in April.

LG U+, Korea's smallest operator, meanwhile, hopes to become the market leader by LTE subscribers, and is targeting 10 million customers within three years.

The launches brought the number of commercial deployments in APAC up to six, with the Korean operators joining Hong Kong's CSL and Japan's NTT DoCoMo - which launched late last year - Singapore's M1 - which went live in June - and the Philippines' Smart - which commenced services and demonstrations at the popular holiday destination of Borocay in April.

Ovum analyst Nicole McCormick said that these early launches show that some operators are avoiding the traps they fell into with initial 3G rollouts in terms of data pricing. DoCoMo and both Korean operators have moved away from flat-rate pricing to capped data usage models.

By contrast, "big bucket and unlimited pricing dominate LTE offerings across the globe," she said, including in Hong Kong. This demonstrates that operators are missing the "opportunity to offer new premium pricing schemes."

While some APAC operators are avoiding the bucket pricing trap, McCormick estimates that LTE premiums average just 20% in the region, compared to over 100% in markets such as Sweden, Finland and Austria.

But this could be beneficial in the long run, because LTE providers with high premiums can't rapidly reduce tariffs to lure more customers without risking alienating the current crop of high-paying early adopters, she said.

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