Korea is first with super-speedy LTE-A phones

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Korea is first with super-speedy LTE-A phones

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The commercial for the fastest download on a smartphone is on almost every channel since SK Telecom became the first company in the world to launch its LTE-A (Long Term Evolution Advanced) service on Wednesday.

In the commercial, a 1-gigabyte movie is downloaded in just 54 seconds while downloaded pictures are plastered on a wall in the blink of an eye.

LTE-A is indeed a lot faster than the widely used fourth-generation telecommunication service LTE, which can download the same-sized movie in 1 minute and 47 seconds. Three decades ago, using a 56-kilobyte modem, it took 27 hours to download the same amount of data.

On Wednesday, Samsung Electronics released the Galaxy S4 LTE-A smartphone, the only smartphone that can handle the high-speed telecommunication technology.

Other companies are rushing to speed up their own LTE-A service and smartphones.

The smallest telecommunication company in Korea, LG U+, is planning to start its LTE-A service as early as next month while LG Electronics and Pantech are speeding up the launches of the own LTE-A serviced smartphones between August and September.

Speed is the name of the game

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The biggest feature of LTE-A is its speed: 150 megabytes per second (Mbps). That’s twice the speed offered by LTE and ten times faster than 3G service.

It’s also much faster than the 100 Mbps offered by fixed-lined, high speed Internet services used on computers in homes.

If you tried downloading the same 1 gigabyte movie on your computer at home, it would take at least 1 minute and 20 seconds.

What this signifies is that when you’re on the road, you not only have access to a wireless Internet that is much faster than what you have on your current smartphone with LTE service, but you can watch a high-definition video or listen to high-quality music without staring at a frozen screen or that search circle going round and round waiting for data to find its way to your device.

With this state-of-the art technology, SK Telecom reopened its multiple-person video conference service via smartphone that it once offered in 3G smartphones, although those networks weren’t fast enough for it.

You can even watch two different ballgames on a single screen thanks to LTE-A.

LG U+ says its service will be different from SK’s because voice calls and text messages will also be on LTE-A.

In SK’s service, voice calls and text messages use the code division multiple access (CDMA) network, which is much slower and worse in terms of quality. But once voice calls and text messages have access to LTE-A network, their quality will be improved, too.

And with this service, a user can talk on the phone while playing a game on the smartphone.



Will phone bills go up?

SK Telecom is planning to offer the LTE-A service in 42 major commercial districts and 103 college neighborhoods throughout the country, even including some not within the greater Seoul area.

But all of Seoul will be covered.

The service fees are the same as for LTE. But customers will have to invest in a new smartphone that can handle the new specs.

The only such smartphone now is Samsung’s Galaxy S4 LTE-A, which is priced at 955,000 won, 55,000 won higher than the current Galaxy S4.

But gradually, with more services coming into the market, phone bills are expected to rise.

When the nation’s smartphone penetration was only 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2007, the monthly telecommunication bill for a two-person or less household averaged 120,000 won.

But today, when two out of three of the nation’s population owns a smartphone, the average monthly bill has gone up to 150,000 won.

The monthly phone bill rose significantly after 2011, when LTE services were commercialized.

Before LTE, the monthly bill was averaging around 130,000 won.

Some are even wondering if we need a much faster telecommunication service when people are pretty happy with LTE.

“There were similar complaints when we were switching from 3G to LTE,” said Jang Dong-hyun, who heads the marketing division at SK Telecom. “But on the contrary, the distribution of LTE rose much faster than what we had expected.”

The SK Telecom official projected that in the second half of the year 40 to 50 percent of its subscribers will be using LTE-A.

“We are also preparing a billing system where different bills will be applied according to the quality [which is speed] of the data,” Jang added.

BY KO RAN, LEE HO-JEONG [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]

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