Monday, August 31, 2009

Korea's Mobile Market Malaise

I've just returned to Korea from a one-week visit to Barcelona as noted in my earlier post.  As I catch up on some reading of tech articles, I cannot help but mention several developments that go a long way toward explaining the malaise in South Korea's mobile communications market.
A headline in The Korea Times a couple of days ago asks "Can Smartphones, Netbooks Save WiBro?"  The answer to this question is pretty obvious to those following the massive shift in the mobile market worldwide, away from phones per se and toward internet-enabled devices like the Apple iPhone, Android and other would-be competitors.  At least one company in China seems to understand what is going on as China Unicom, the country's second largest mobile operator, announced with Apple that it will launch the iPhone in China.  It is more than a little interesting that this comes before any Korean mobile operator announces a similar deal.  For details, check out The Financial Times article.
The answer to the Korea Times headline question is that phones like the iPhone, Android phones and the like can do a great deal to boost interest in WiBro.  Why?  Because they allow access to the entire internet at reasonable monthly rates.  Also because WiBro-equipped devices offer greater speed than 3-G connections to the internet.  Internet users around the world have proven many times over that they value the speed of their interconnection.   Simply put, when it comes to broadband, speed matters.
People in Korea should not be wondering so much why WiBro has not yet taken off here. The experience of the iPhone for over two years now in many other countries shows that (1) people want internet access, not a small, pre-packaged segment of the internet only in Korean or only in any other single language (2) they prefer faster rather than slow access via their mobile device and (3) that people find different applications very useful, including many types of geospatial and social networking applications.
Failure to realize the importance of the Google-backed Android and the iPhone have put the Korean market well behind (2+years) significant global trends.  The whole mobile communications market in South Korea will only emerge from the current malaise when one or two companies start offering internet services via the iPhone, Android phones and possibly other competitors.  Although the iPhone was first out of the starting block back in 2007, I think Android will give it a run for the money worldwide,including the South Korean market.  Comments welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment