KT’s early morning broadside ignites fracas over LTE frequency

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KT’s early morning broadside ignites fracas over LTE frequency

Slightly more than a month before the nation’s top telecom watchdog decides how to auction the crucial new 1.8 gigahertz (GHz) frequency for the most advanced fourth-generation long-term evolution (LTE) network, the nation’s three mobile carriers yesterday embarked on a fierce battle to denounce each other and persuade the government to choose the measure that best meets their individual interests.

The 1.8 GHz frequency is widely dubbed the “golden spectrum” because it has been adopted by the more than 42 LTE carriers worldwide. The Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning is scheduled to allocate two frequency bands to two spectrums: 2.6 GHz and the important 1.8 GHz.

The conflict was sparked early yesterday morning after KT, the second-largest carrier, issued a press release saying its competitors’ claim that KT should be excluded from being allocated the frequency band neighboring the 1.8 GHz is “an attempt by chaebol to expel KT from the mobile business and monopolize the market.”

SK Telecom, the top player, and LG U+ belong to SK and LG, the nation’s third- and fourth-largest conglomerates. KT went so far as to argue that the current LTE frequency distribution structure is “unfair.”

Three hours after KT’s release, SK Telecom hosted its routine seminar for the press - held every couple of months - at a restaurant near the Gwacheon Government Complex, where the ICT Ministry is located.

As scheduled, a few executives with the top mobile carrier talked about the mobile network’s evolution and measures to better take advantage of different frequency bands. The executives repeatedly claimed the ministry should “give fair opportunities to each of the mobile operators.”

If KT is allocated an additional band in the 1.8 GHz frequency, it would be able to offer twice the current LTE speed with a minimal expenditure of 500 billion won ($451 million) in just six months, whereas the other two would have to spend several trillion won over a period of up to 28 months to establish the same service, SK Telecom said.

“Giving KT the 1.8 GHz band is the same as placing it at the 90-meter mark in a 100-meter race with the other two at the starting line,” said Yoon Yong-chul, senior vice president of public relations office at SKT.

LG U+ later in the afternoon released a statement that started with a bold sentence: “KT is urged to compete on a fair basis without relying on privilege.” Basically repeating SK Telecom’s claim, the third operator said KT raising the unfairness issue is “evidence of problems caused by an ownerless company that never takes responsibility for a corporation’s most important decision.”

When the Korea Communications Commission put on an auction for LTE frequency bands in 2010, KT obtained two frequencies: 1.8 GHz and 900 megahertz (MHz). It has been using a 20 MHz band from each of the two: the former as the main network and the latter, supplementary. The frequency auction policy-making and execution responsibility has been shifted to the ICT Ministry with the inauguration of President Park Geun-hye.

SKT, on the other hand, uses a 20 MHz band from the 800 MHz spectrum as its main network and 20 MHz from 1.8 GHz as supplementary for LTE service. LG U+ has been mobilizing 20 MHz from the 800 MHz band for its main network and another 20 MHz from 2.1 GHz as supplementary.?

LG U+ became the first of the three to introduce the super-fast LTE network in Korea in July 2011, and the total number of LTE subscribers in Korea was 20 million at the end of April.

The ministry intends to use the trillions of won from the frequency auction as a key financial resource for the administration’s key creative economy agenda.

The ministry will auction two blocks, each stretching 40 MHz, that neighbor the 2.6 GHz frequency. For the 1.8 GHz frequency, two carriers will be given a 35 MHz band and a 15 MHz band. KT wants the 15 MHz band in the 1.8 GHz spectrum, complaining that the 900 GHz band it owns has an issue with malfunctions.

But the other two mobile operators claim KT should not be given the right to bid for the band because it already owns a main band in the golden frequency.

By Seo Ji-eun [spring@joongang.co.kr]
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