Mobile Service Provider SK Telecom Provides Faster Cellphone Service with World's First Multicarrier LTE Network

Last week, SK Telecom was in the news for its role in regulatory decisions against the phenomenally popular mobile VoIP app KakaoTalk. The KCC ruled that the mobile service providers (SK Telecom and its competitors KT and LG UPlus) providing the backbone for KakaoTalk's Free Call feature could charge KakaoTalk users for VoIP calls using the OTT service.

By lobbying the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) to prevail against the over-the-top (OTT) VoIP service provider, SK Telecom did not exactly win friends and influence among smartphone-using South Koreans. The regulatory bombshell meant that roughly 72% of South Korea's population would have to pay for VoIP calls they had been making for free. (Oh, snap!)

On the heels of that decidedly unpopular judgment, and perhaps as a way to justify its claims that OTT VoIP mobile apps unfairly leech off infrastructure they funded and built, SK Telecom (the country's biggest cellular carrier) came roaring back this week with a technology milestone: SK Telecom is the world's first mobile service provider to use multicarrier (MC) technology.

What's that mean? Well, this year, July 1 was more than just Canada Day, eh. It was also a first for the global mobile phone industry when SK Telecom launched the world's first commercial LTE network using two frequencies.

In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions (thank you, Breakfast Club), multicarrier mobile networks translate into more speed and better quality. By blending its 800 MHz band with the new 1.8 GHz band that it bought last year, SK Telecom will provide its users (well, in parts of Seoul for now) faster, more stable cellphone service.

The mobile service provider expects to have the rest of Seoul and six other major cities on its MC LTE network by the end of the year. Eventually the rollout will provide MC coverage for 23 major metropolitan areas, although a timetable hasn't yet been announced.

As far as cellphones go, the SK Telecom says the MC network will support the Vega Racer 2 and the Samsung Galaxy S LTE III (with firmware updates), and that most cellphones launched later in the year will be MC compatible.

Roughly half of South Korea's cellphone users are smartphone users. SK Telecom has over 26 million subscribers, which represents more than half of South Korea's cellphone users. My math is always suspect, but I think that means that the mobile service provider has at least one quarter of the country's smartphone users as customers.

At any rate, the new MC LTE network will reportedly be twice as fast as SK Telecom's competitors' LTE networks, which now seem pretty vanilla in comparison. (Only one frequency band? Please.)

In particular, this multicarrier development puts it significantly ahead of its competitor (and ally vs. KakaoTalk) LG UPlus. LG UPlus, the country's smallest mobile service provider, has overspent on its own LTE buildout, and is facing a cash flow problem. Somehow I doubt they'll recoup much by charging KakaoTalk users.