SKT and Samsung team on 'LTE-A' launch
Korean cellco deploys key LTE-A elements to boost coverage and speeds, and launches new services with updated Galaxy S4
Published: 26 June, 2013
The 4G public relations battle has shifted to 'LTE-Advanced', which is being widely presented as a major big bang upgrade akin to LTE itself, rather than what it really is - a long menu of enhancements, from which operators will pick and choose according to their needs and the availability of devices. So SK Telecom's claim to launch the world's first commercial LTE-A services, while interesting, actually focuses on a select few options from 3GPP Release 10, notably carrier aggregation and CoMP, which will help boost peak download speeds to 150Mbps.
Harnessing carrier aggregation to achieve 150Mbps rates is the most popular first-wave LTE-A strategy among operators worldwide and several, such as the UK's EE, have announced plans to activate these capabilities this year. They will be cheered by the fact that SKT has launched a high profile smartphone to support its new services from day one - shortage of devices will be the biggest brake on mobile broadband upgrades, and while carriers can usually source modems and Wi-Fi hotspots fairly easily, consumer uptake generally takes off only when big-name handsets are offered. SKT's first LTE-A device comes, unsurprisingly, from Samsung, in the shape of the Galaxy S4 LTE-A, and the cellco promises seven smartphones by the end of 2013. The Galaxy device will also be launched soon by SKT's smaller rival LG U+, which is hard on its heels in terms of carrier aggregation, though each operator will have its own exclusive variant with different colors (red for SKT, blue for LG). The larger cellco has ordered an initial 20,000 units according to TelecomAsia.
Existing LTE customers will have free access to the improved services - initially available in central areas of capital Seoul; 42 cities in Gyeonggi-do and Chungcheong-do; and 103 university areas. This will expand to 84 cities by year end.
As well as carrier aggregation, SKT is deploying CoMP (coordinated multipoint) technology to enhance coverage, and plans to add another key LTE-A feature, eICIC (enhanced intercell interference coordination) next year. The latter is particularly important for supporting dense networks of small cells without interference.
SKT knows, better than most, that services and content drive uptake, not technology buzzwords, so its new services will be heavily marketed alongside popular content offerings such as its Btv mobile video streaming system and a new T Baseball Multiview option. This will enable users of the existing free baseball broadcast service (numbering 1.1m), which is optimized for LTE, to watch two games at once. SKT will also add a group calling service for up to four users, based on its 3G videoconferencing platform but with higher quality audio quality and full HD video resolution. And it will upgrade its T Freemium multimedia content package from August, adding HD video shopping channels and expanded sports highlights.