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Are Korea and Japan Showing Operators the Way Forward?
Are Korea and Japan Showing Operators the Way Forward?

In some countries in today's wireless world, there are operators who are able only to gaze into the distant future, dreaming of the day they'll be able to profit from advanced high-speed mobile services. Elsewhere, operators in countries such as Korea and Japan are blazing ahead. What can we learn from these countries?

Indicators for Korea are impressive, to say the least. Korea is still rolling out their 3G networks, but has made available 2.5G services as a precursor to country-wide 3G coverage. Approximate figures released in September stated 2.5G services had been sold to 9 million mobile subscribers. Set against the mobile phone ownership of South Korea, that's around a quarter of everyone with a mobile phone. Analysts have put the actual advanced services usage at around 75% of these people who are regularly using the mobile data services offered. This excels far beond current European mobile data consumption.

South Korea is fast becoming known as the most advanced nation for mobile communications. Whether other supposedly advanced mobile nations would agree is quite another story. SK Telecom (the dominant mobile network) has driven forward with 3G services, and Korea has seen ARPU increase steadily during rollout. But can the experience of advanced data services in the East teach Western operators anything at all?

Despite operators having made commitments to the W-CDMA 3G standard, several major operators in Korea and Japan have found success by migrating to CDMA2000 as an alternative. In Japan, authentic 3G users of the FOMA service by NTT DoCoMo number around 160,000. NTT had already created an established desire for mobile data services under the i-mode technology they deployed some years ago. Its subscriber base grew dramatically during this period. i-mode offered low bandwidth, always-on, operator-only content. This encouraged many users to investigate and dabble with non-voice services.

FOMA now allows this audience to experience this content, but the experience can be enriched. While all this is encouraging, operators in Europe and North America won't admit that they envy their Far Eastern colleagues in Korea and Japan. Bernd Eylert, chairman of the UMTS Forum, stated that recent stats were "encouraging."

So the figures are cheering, but do people use mobile devices in the same way across the globe? Sure, why not? Commuter belts all have trains don't they? We all have traffic jams. We all get bored many times a week on the slog into work. Kids are still taken to school. We all fundamentally do the same things. Only difference is, we do it in different countries and languages.

Our routines are universal. Between planes, trains, and automobiles, from car systems to handheld devices, there is a universal market for enhanced communication and data services. Personal computing penetration has driven the need for taking applications mobile. These market conditions aren't unique and that's a key driver to future uptake. How these are packaged and priced is another case altogether. With the use of hindsight, it would be wise for operators to plow more money into research activities before launching services.

i-Mode in Brief
NTT DoCoMo synchronizes the entire i-mode value chain in order to develop the i-mode mobile service. Their close collaboration with equipment manufacturers, content providers, and other platforms ensures that wireless technology, content quality, and users' experience evolve at the same optimal pace. Ultimately, this synchronization guarantees that their customers, partners, and shareholders have their interests aligned with the end users, enabling all parties involved to maximize value. They welcome candid and direct feedback from all those involved in the value chain ­ including their customers. The feedback has enabled them ­ and their partners ­ to align their interests, and has improved the quality of services they release for the platform. This open exchange of research and technical data has led to the creation of richer content and increased subscription acquisition rates.

About Tom Dibble
Tom Dibble , a wireless entrepreneur, is a cofounder of
Global Wireless Forum, a forum dedicated to dealing with commercial, strategic,
technical issues on the evaluation of the wireless age in Europe and
the U.S.

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