Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mergers and Convergence in Korea: KT-KTF, Android, VOIP

The merger of KT with KTF has been approved by the Korea Communications Commission. This merger is considered to be the largest ever in South Korea, outside the financial industry. From a global perspective, it is one of several steps being taken here that will push rapid convergence toward a single, fast digital network for the future. The move has several very interesting implications as follows:
  • As noted in a Joongang Daily article, it will mark a shift to packaged services in South Korea's telecommunications industry. After the two firms, which split in 1996, are joined together they will sell landlines, mobile service, high speed internet and internet television as part of a bundled package.
  • This merger is expected to encourage other mergers in the sector. Under this scenario, SK Telecom will merge with SK Broadband and LG Telecom will merge with LG Powercom.
  • KT is reported to be working with Samsung on a handset that will be capable of operating on both 3G and WiBro networks. This has powerful implications since it means that VOIP services like Skype or the forthcoming Google Voice will be available via this phone.
The last bullet point above is very significant and seems to indicate that the Korea Communications Commission and overall Korean government policy is going to push rapidly and forcefully for full convergence into a single, interconnected digital network that merges voice, data and television, along with fixed and mobile networks. Ohmynews, in the article cited above, suggested that the merger of KT and KTF might "open up VOIP Heaven." We'll all see about that in the coming months. However, there appears to be one major element lacking in the emerging scenario here in South Korea. It is called Google, and more specifically Android and the Open Handset Alliance. According to reports, Samsung's forthcoming WiBro phone operates on Windows Mobile. This does not bode well for its success in the marketplace, if the example of the Apple iPhone is to be taken seriously. There is a coming battle among mobile platforms and at this point it will probably eliminate Windows mobile in favor of more open platforms ---Apple iPhone, Android and Symbian. So, I suggest we all wait to see whether Samsung and LG take the bold step of introducing Wi-Bro enabled phones for the Android platform.

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