South Korea’s KT Corp and SK Telecom (SKT) have launched the world’s first Wireless Broadband (WiBro — 802.16e) services, the home grown technology offered as a more mobile version of WiMAX (802.16). WiBro operates in the 2.3GHz band and its developers are looking to market it as an extension of WiMAX, offering similar capabilities but with added mobility and theoretical maximum data rates of up to 50Mbps at a range of up to 5km. The initial rollout of services offers internet speeds of between 1Mbps and 3Mbps at up to 120km per hour within a 1km radius. KT has launched the service in high-demand areas in Seoul and its outskirts, including Sinchon, Gangnam-gu, Seocho-gu, Songpa-gu, Bundang and along the Bundang subway line. It will expand to cover all of Seoul and its surrounding cities by early next year. SKT is offering WiBro in six areas in Seoul, including the campuses of Yonsei University, Korea University and Hanyang University.
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database, the Korean government set aside 100MHz of spectrum in the 2.3GHz band for WiBro services in December 2002. Thirteen months later WiBro in its first phase incarnation was standardised by the Telecommunications Technology Association of Korea (TTA). In February 2005 the MIC handed 2.3GHz wireless spectrum licences to KT, Hanaro and SKT. Hanaro has since handed back its spectrum and teamed up with SKT to develop services. Four months later the TTA approved the WiBro Phase 2 standard and the government set a deadline of June 2006 for the launch of the country’s first commercial services.
As broadband market leader, KT is keen to reinforce its dominance in the wireless internet arena and is forging ahead in WiBro development. On 2 March 2006 it launched the world’s first commercial WiBro trial via 150 optimised base stations in Seoul, initially offering services to 200 employees, before expanding to 3,000 customers, many of them university students studying in the capital. They tested the technology using PDAs and notebook PCs to pilot a range of multimedia applications including internet browsing, e-mail, video-on-demand (VoD), gaming, messaging and personal broadcasting. SKT has taken a more cautious approach and did not begin commercial trials until May 2006, ahead of a planned nationwide rollout in 84 major cities by 2009.