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Senior vice president, SK Telecom, Korea: “Focusing on the customer experience will be crucial to differentiate RCS services from OTT.”

Dr. Choi, Jin-sung, is senior vice president and head of technology strategy office for SK Telecom, Korea

Dr. Choi, Jin-sung, is senior vice president and head of technology strategy office for SK Telecom, Korea. He is speaking at the CxO operator panel discussion on the opening day of the LTE Asia conference 2012, taking place on the 18-19 September 2012 at the Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. He is also speaking on Day Two about VoLTE, and ahead of the conference we catch up with him to learn more about SK Telekom’s progress on this important LTE technology.

What have been the main developments and major milestones for you over the last 12 months with regards to LTE?

SK Telecom brought about a paradigm shift in the mobile telecommunications industry by securing number one competitiveness in LTE in terms of network coverage (with 99 per cent population coverage), quality and speed. The LTE coverage and performance is similar to that of the company’s 3G mobile service and it was achieved in just a year-and-a-half since the launch of its commercial LTE service.

The company was able to achieve remarkable milestones by delivering differentiated value to its customers through the development and application of cutting-edge LTE technologies such as Advanced SCAN, Femto and Multi Carrier. SK Telecom has signed up over 3.5 million LTE subscribers in just one year after starting LTE service to become the world’s second largest LTE service provider, while firmly establishing itself as the LTE market leader in Korea playing a key role in the spread and popularisation of LTE.

What are the key advantages VoLTE will bring to the table and what are the challenges?

VoLTE is an all-IP based premium communications service that offers both voice and video services characterized by seamless in-call voice-to-video call switching and content sharing by linking to RCS services. Through wider bandwidth, it provides faster call connection and better (high-definition) call quality compared to those of 2G/3G circuit-based voice service and OTT mVoIP services.

However, since customers are more sensitive to quality of voice service than that of data service, VoLTE requires the injection of additional resources and technological advancements to provide flawless network coverage and stable call quality. Moreover, operators must also consider measures to make up for decreased revenues from traditional 2G/3G voice services, which is likely to take place with the introduction of VoLTE.

Do you think VoLTE will have an impact and if so, in what time frame?

VoLTE will gain popularity only when it becomes competitive and marketable through stable quality, seamless coverage, attractive price plans, additional services and expanded VoLTE-capable device line-up. Therefore, it is difficult to predict a specific time frame as it will largely depend on the market type, competitive landscape, business strategy and the level of ecosystem maturation. For the time being, most operators are expected to mainly provide CSFB (Circuit Switched Fallback)-based voice service with VoLTE as an optional service.

Will technology such as the IMS based Joyn be able to compete with OTT voice players?

OTT service only enables communication between customers who downloaded the application, whereas RCS services like Joyn allows users to call/chat with and send multimedia contents to any number stored in the phone address book. RCS services’ strength lies in the stability, reliability and security guaranteed by telecommunications companies. Thus, a speedy response focusing on the customer experience will be crucial to differentiate RCS services from OTT services.

How important are small cells to your network roll-out plans?

Going forward, LTE and Wi-Fi networks are expected to handle large volume data. Since it is not easy to secure wideband frequency, small cells such as femtocells and wifi that expand network capacity by supporting efficient data distribution/offloading will become more important.

To what extent are network sharing agreements between operators necessary to make LTE roll-outs affordable?

Since all three mobile carriers in Korea have completed nationwide LTE rollout through fierce competition to gain leadership in the LTE market, the need for network sharing among operators is low. In addition, network sharing is unlikely to take place globally due to LTE frequency fragmentation and intense competition among operators to nurture LTE as their core business.

Is there enough innovation occurring in the mobile network industry? Can you provide some examples?

At present, the mobile industry is witnessing an evolution to 4G LTE, the fastest telecommunications network. High speed networks not only enable fast mobile internet service but also support the advent of more innovative services. For instance, ultra-fast LTE networks will lead to the creation and provision of real-time network games and mobile video streaming services as well as more innovative convergence services like health care and smart learning services.

What are the main challenges you expect to face in the next 12 months?

As SK Telecom has already completed nationwide LTE deployment the main challenges going forward will be to boost its LTE service and to differentiate it in the marketplace by developing many attractive LTE business models and to provide a more stable service through commercialisation of diverse next generation LTE-A technologies. Furthermore, SK Telecom will need to focus on driving the evolution of the ICT industry by cooperating with other ICT players that are continuously developing new and innovative services.

The LTE Asia 2012 conference is taking place on the 18-19 September 2012 at the Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. Click here to register your interest.

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