3G Dominates In South Korea
By Mike Masnick, Wed Jul 14 23:45:00 GMT 2004

While everyone always looks to Japan to see what mobile phone technology they're adopting, over in Korea, 3G adoption is setting an example other countries should be watching.

It's no secret that Japan is ahead of much of the world in adoption of the latest and greatest when it comes to mobile phone technology. Lots of people tend to watch what's happening in Japan, and these days, it looks like an awful lot of 3G is happening. Many were surprised when NTT DoCoMo got off to a slow 3G start. Considering DoCoMo's success with i-mode, it was expected to dominate. Poor execution, however, allowed KDDI to take an impressive early lead offering its 1xRTT service (which some claim is more 2.5G than 3G). Still, with new phones and new pricing, DoCoMo has roared back with its W-CDMA 3G offering. Last month, DoCoMo added more new 3G subs than KDDI.

Still, while all eyes are focused on Japan, they might want to shift a bit west to South Korea, where 3G penetration has been nothing short of astounding. Of the 34 million mobile phone subscribers in the country 30 million have 3G service -- though, again, that includes a large number of 1xRTT subscribers. Still, with a direct comparison, it looks like South Korea is the place to be for next generation mobile phone service. According to the more detailed Japanese numbers, there appears to be somewhere around 82.7 million Japanese mobile phone subscribers, 19.5 million of which are on 2.5 or 3G service -- representing a mere 24%. Compare that to 88% penetration in South Korea, and suddenly the Japanese 3G story isn't quite as interesting.

Even if we remove 1xRTT subscribers to look at "true" 3G offerings, the numbers look better in Korea. There are 7.7 million 1xEV-DO subscribers and a tiny handful of W-CDMA subscribers in Korea, representing approximately 23% of Korean mobile phone subscribers. In Japan, there are 4.8 million W-CDMA subscribers, representing only 6% of the mobile phone subscribing population.

Obviously, in absolute terms, the Japanese market is much bigger, but there's an awful lot of interesting 3G (and even 2.5G) activity happening in South Korea. In fact, if you look at the world subscriber numbers, it demonstrates how big these two markets are right now in the worldwide 3G realm. There are 103 million worldwide 1xRTT subscribers today. Between Japan and Korea, they represent approximately 36% of all 1xRTT subscribers. All those EV-DO subscribers in Korea represent nearly 95% of the subscribers worldwide. Meanwhile, the 4.8 million W-CDMA subscriber in Japan represent 73% of the world's W-CDMA subscribers. Obviously, these numbers will drop as 3G networks of both the EV-DO and W-CDMA variety launch around the world (many of which have launched in the last few months), but, for the time being, these two countries represent an awful lot of 3G. The most impressive part, however, may be the time frame in which they did this. SK Telecom launched the first 1xRTT network in only October of 2000, with an EV-DO launch in January of 2002. In other words, everyone else has jumped up on the bandwagon in an even shorter period of time. As the rest of the world struggles to adopt 3G, it's time to start taking lessons from Korea. Obviously, some things may not apply in other countries, but there's plenty to learn from what is clearly a success story for wireless technology adoption.