Monday, June 17, 2013

Perspectives on speed and LTE in Korea

As regular, even semi-regular, readers of this blog know, I've long been interested in the world-leading status and steadily increasing speed of South Korea's digital networks. Koreans themselves seldom question the need for ever faster networks, the significance of which seems to be second nature to most citizens in this country, who are justifiably proud of their nation's status as an "IT powerhouse."
Technically, the speed of digital networks relates to such matters as the processing speed of semiconductors in the routers that connect the network and the bandwidth of both mobile and fixed networks.  There are a number of ways too look at and measure internet speed.   For a number of years now, Akamai's regular "State of the Internet" reports have shown that South Korea has the highest average internet download speed in the world.  In the latest such report, for the fourth quarter of 2012, South Korea continued its lead, with an average download speec of 14.0 Mbps, ahead of Japan with an average of 10.8 Mbps, and Hong Kong, which ranged third at 9.3 Mbps.
Another indication of speed is the extremely rapid adoption of LTE in South Korea, as shown in the accompanying graphic by Telegeography (click on the graphic to see a full-size version.  Korea's three mobile service providers have all built nationwide LTE networks and have introduced service at a rate faster than any other country in the world.  This has even led to some criticism that the adoption of LTE in Korea has been too fast, possibly cutting into profits that could have been earned from 3G services.
Various measures can be used to represent trends in the adoption and use of new mobile communication technologies, including the number of subscribers, the number of users per 100 population and so forth.   For this post, I've assembled a graphic from the latest report on mobile data traffic trends published by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (Korean language).  This graphic illustrates the dramatic increase in actual use of data (content) by Korean consumers (click on the graphic to see a full-size version).  As such, it shows that the generation of Korean language content and services seems to be keeping pace with which consumers are acquiring new LTE smartphones.
Note several features of this graph.  First, adoption of Korea's homegrown WiBro (mobile WiMax) 4G technology has remained relatively stable since January of 2012.  Second, levels of 2G usage are so small that the data does not even appear in this graphic.  For all practical purposes, 2G has been discontinued in South Korea.  Third, there is a slow but steady decline in use of 3G mobile devices for data transmission.   Finally, of
course, the dramatic growth of LTE is shown in the green shaded portion of the graphic.

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