Korean operators warn Europe of ‘curse’ of 4G networks
BARCELONA (Reuters) – South Koreans telecom executives have a message for European cousins who have long looked on in envy at the highly connected Asian market: Be careful what you wish for.
South Korea, the world’s most wired country with 30 per cent of its 50 million mobile users on superfast networks, has inspired many European operators ahead of their own rollout of networks based on LTE, or fourth-generation technology.
But SK Telecom, the country’s largest operator with more than half of the market, and second player KT Corp told Reuters that although the rollout of faster networks had been good for consumers, they were still struggling to make money on the technology 18 months after launch.
“Our European colleagues complain that the explosion in data has not fully happened for them, that it did not come to reality,” Suk-Chae Lee, the head of KT Corp, told Reuters at the Mobile World Congress on Tuesday.
“In Korea, they are data crazy. We have unprecedented demand. We cannot handle it. But the issue we have is that they are not willing to pay enough. So, the fundamental problem is, can we make any money out of it?”
South Korea is often held up by European governments as the model they would most like to replicate, with superfast networks enabling millions of people to shop online, communicate and become more productive.
The country has three operators who have been forced to fight for every consumer, spending heavily on marketing and handset subsidies and continually offering more for less to lure in and keep their subscribers.
“The traffic increases but the revenue does not necessarily follow,” SK chief technology officer Jae W Byun said in an interview, with a wry smile.
“We have seen about a $13 increase in average revenue per user compared with 3G. So, it is good money but it may not be enough to justify the huge investment needed in LTE.”
European operators, weighed down by regulation, competition and economic woes, are betting that the billions of dollars investment needed for 4G networks will eventually be offset by an increase in customer prices.