중앙데일리

Celebrating cellular phones

Korea’s business, communication have transformed in the mobile era

July 01,2008
Korea’s first mobile phone launched in 1988. SK Telecom (formerly Korea Telecommunications) said today is the 20th anniversary of the launch of commercial mobile phone service in Korea. NEWSIS]
On July 1, 1988, just before the opening of the Seoul Olympic Games, Korea Telecommunications (now SK Telecom) launched mobile phone service for the first time in Korea. At the time, the price of mobile phones was almost as much as a small-sized automobile.

Now 20 years later, mobile phones have beat out personal beepers as the main communication unit. In Korea, they have become a necessity with over 90 percent of all Koreans owning mobile phones.

The first mobile phones in Korea in 1988 cost around 4 million won ($3,824), weighed 1.3 kilograms and were 23 centimeters long. To add to the cost of the phone itself, owners needed to pay a setup fee of 650,000 won and an additional 29,000 won for a license allowing one to possess a cell phone. With this expensive price tag, only 748 people subscribed to cell phone service during the first year of the launch here.

In 1996, mobile phones, previously a status symbol and owned exclusively by the wealthy, became popular. Four local companies, ShinSegi Telecom (017), KTF (016), Hansol (018) and LG Telecom (019) emerged selling PCS (Personal Communication Services) phones. Through PCS phones, these local companies were the first to commercially deploy the CDMA method that was developed by U.S. company Qualcomm. Also, with Motorola’s StarTAC model, which weighed 88 grams, mobile phones became more accessible. Beepers, which first came into Korea in 1982 and secured a total of 15.2 million subscribers by 1997, faced their hardest year in 1996 and slowly became extinct afterwards.

“As the price of mobile phone use became much cheaper over the years, beepers and city phones [mobile phones that worked only within a particular city] lost their edge as a cheaper alternative to mobile phones,” said a representative at SK Telecom.

The number of users grew as well. In 1998, Korea had 10 million mobile phone subscribers. This May, the number stands at 44.7 million.Technology evolved too, from simple text messaging to music and video services.

Eric Schmidt, chairman and CEO of Google, said that in five to 10 years, many people will access the Internet for the first time through cell phones.

Mobile phones have changed the lives of the Korean public and the course of the IT industry as well.

In the beginning, foreign companies, including Motorola, led the market. But in 1991, with Samsung and Hyundai creating their own mobile phone divisions, the tables began to turn.

Today, Korean mobile phone companies take up 27 percent of the international market.

“Korean companies were the first to use CDMA [Code Division Multiple Access] and DMA [Direct Memory Access] technology. In the future, the IT industry will be the driving force behind the growing Korean economy,” said SK Telecom CEO Kim Shin-bae.


By Kim Chang-woo JoongAng Ilbo/ Cho Jae-eun Staff Reporter [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]


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