Friday, June 19, 2009

The Challenge for Korea's Mobile Telecoms Sector

Today many Korea-related blogs were filled with speculation that Korea Telecom was planning to introduce the Apple iPhone in Korea next month.  This was quickly dampened when a KT official apparently announced that there was no such plan.  However, the excitement generated points to the growing challenge faced by South Korea in its mobile telecommunications sector and, by extension, in the global marketplace.  As noted in earlier posts on this topic, several things are becoming clear:

  • The mobile market worldwide is on the verge of a massive shift in emphasis from handsets to software and services, as epitomized by the Apple iPhone and Google's Android software platform.
  • Korea's handset makers, led by Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics are major players in the global handset market, with much to gain or lose from the massive shift over to hand held computer/communication devices.
  • As noted in a recent Reuters analysis, Korean mobile communications service providers have concentrated overwhelmingly on Korean-language services, which don't easily translate into the global market which demands English and other languages.

Samsung is reportedly planning to open up an App store later this year, but will it be a global app store, in competition with iPhone and especially Android applications?  It should be and my recommendation and hope would be that both Samsung and LG invest heavily in making the Android platform successful, here in Korea and around the world.  The rationale for quickly releasing a state-of-the-art Android phone capable of toggling between English and Korean seems obvious.  With some of the world's best mobile networks and the impending transition for some customers to WiBro, Korea is easily the world's largest national test-market for new mobile services and software.  Encouraging competition and innovation in that market is what will serve Korean handset manufacturers and telecommunications providers best in the long run and in an increasingly global marketplace.

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