Tuesday, January 13, 2009

WiBRO a White Elephant? I Think Not!

I saw a copy of the Korea Times this morning while strolling through our third floor offices and could not avoid noticing the frontpage article with the headline "WiBro Turns into White Elephant."  Although this makes for a good headline, after reading the article I think the analysis is way off the mark.  Most of the argument seems to be based on the fact that projections for WiBro in the local Korean market, including some by the Korea Information Society Development Institute, were overly optimistic.  Furthermore, the reporter notes that in a country with one of the most advanced wireless networks in the world WiBro looks like a "solution without a problem."  I beg to differ.
Consider the following:

  • There has been relatively slow and little uptake of the internet services offered by nation's mobile service providers on their 3G phones.  I have Nate and other SK Telecom services on my Motorola Razr phone but I seldom use them because of the inordinate cost.  The cost of surfing the web on current 3G services in Korea is way out of line.  There is your problem and it is a big one.
  • The Apple I-phone, Google Android based phones give a glimpse of what is coming.  It is really a hand-held computer that also serves as a phone.  I want my next phone in order to do Google searching, read BBC or the New York Times, check my e-mail, or make a Skype or other VOIP call.  The Korea Communications Commission has recognized that the world is full of consumers like me and so they have opened up the mobile market to the I-phone, Blackberry and other international competition, starting in a few months.  
The Korea Times article also says that "WiBro is designed as a predecessor to mobile WiMax."   This is in error.  WiBro, as it is called here in Korea, IS mobile WiMax in the terminology used by most other nations. Furthermore, the comments in the article about standards are potentially confusing.  WiBro, or mobile WiMax has been accepted as an international standard.  The major competing standard, also accepted internationally, is LTE, but it is further from implementation than WiBro.   Reading this article, one might think that WiBro, rather than LTE is lagging.
At this point, there is very little question that both WiBro and LTE will be successful for the simple reason that they add mobility to our experience of the internet.  I've used WiBro and it works just fine, thank you.  So will LTE, when they get to the same stage of technology rollout.
One final comment.   Of course SK Telecom doesn't like the thought of WiBro handsets, WiBro notebooks and all sorts of WiBro-equipped devices. ``We would need to invest at least two trillion won more to complete a nationwide WiBro network, and the cheap calls on WiBro handsets will erode our profits by initiating fierce competition,'' said an SK Telecom spokesman.  So what else is new?  Of course it will erode SK Telecom's profits and initiate competition.  I would only suggest that SK Telecom cannot forestall the inevitable move to more powerful handsets.  Nor will it thrive in the long run through thinking only about protection of short-term profits.

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