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Telecom data use booming

Increased tablet, smartphone sales are driving traffic jam

May 03,2011
If you think smartphone users are data-gobbling, you obviously haven’t met tablet PC users.

The release of Apple’s iPad 2 on Friday, along with the upcoming releases of a slew of other tablet PCs, has regulators shaking in their boots about booming data traffic.

According to the Korea Communications Commission, the country’s telecommunications regulator, Korea’s data traffic surged 11-fold between January 2010 and January 2011. With more and more consumers expected to buy tablet PCs this year, data traffic will only get more congested.

Apple introduced its second-generation tablet PC in stores here last week, and the iPad 2 is reportedly selling well. One store in Yeouido, western Seoul, said that it sold all 20 iPad 2s it had in stock by dinner time.

Some 100 tablet PCs, including the iPad 2, are slated to roll out this year.

Samsung is releasing its Galaxy Tab 8.9 and BlackBerry will introduce its PlayBook. Lesser known companies are also getting in on the game with Asus launching the Transformer and TG Sambo releasing Tabit.

If 2010 was the “year of smartphones” for Korea, then 2011 will be the “year of tablets,” market observers say.

The rise in smartphone and tablet use in Korea has left mobile service operators in a bit of a predicament. While they welcome increased sales, rising data traffic poses challenges to service quality.

Tablet applications are more of a hog on data usage than smartphones, and users tend to watch more video and play games on tablets.

“I usually use my iPad for playing games or watching videos. I prefer a tablet PC over a smartphone [for those purposes] because of its wider screen,” explained Maeng Min-kyung, a 30-year-old employee at a major financial firm in Korea.

Je Ji-young, a 29-year-old homemaker agreed.

“I use my Galaxy Tab as an alternative for my PC - Web surfing, playing games and reading e-books. And I use my smartphone for voice calls, text messages and as an instant messenger.”

Some researchers have claimed that the different ways in which these two types of electronics are used means that tablet PCs consume up to 10 times as much data as smartphones do. But SK Telecom reports that the difference in data usage they have seen is actually much smaller.

“It is true that tablet users use more data than smartphone users - but it would be about two times more, not 10 times more,” Bae Joon-dong, president of SK Telecom’s network business division, recently told reporters at a press conference.

SK Telecom, the country’s largest mobile carrier, spoke to reporters last month to introduce its plans for a fourth-generation wireless network that will attempt to tackle surging data traffic.

Until new wireless networks are installed, mobile service operators have been trying to deal with increased data traffic through strict tablet PC payment plans.

Both SK Telecom and KT - which sell the iPad 2 - only offer payment plans of two gigabytes and four gigabytes of data per month. This is in stark contrast with how mobile carriers lured smartphone users to their services in recent months by offering unlimited data plans.

KT officials say that the current 3G data network cannot accommodate the data traffic created by tablets, so they were forced to limit tablet subscribers’ data plans.

Korea’s WiBro (Wireless Broadband) network, on the other hand, is more advanced and can support a large amount of data traffic, so those who buy WiBro versions of tablets can purchase unlimited data plans from KT.


By Kim Hyung-eun [hkim@joongang.co.kr]



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