SK Telecom begins 3G tests in Seoul

Marking a major step towards wider commercialization of 3G (third-generation) cellular systems, South Korea's largest cellular carrier began trials over the weekend of a 3G network based on the CDMA2000 1xEVDO (Evolution Data Only) standard.

The new CDMA2000 1xEVDO network, which was switched on for trials on Saturday, covers three cities: the South Korean capital of Seoul and the nearby cities of Gwacheon and Anyang, said Kwon Chul Kuen, a spokesman for SK Telecom Co. Ltd.

Using the system, SK Telecom hopes subscribers will be able to receive data at speeds of up to 2.4M bps (bits per second), a large increase on the company's current CDMA2000 1x network which offers speeds of 144K bps.

The company plans to begin allowing consumers to use the trial service next month.

At present there are no 3G terminals available for consumers but the company hopes to put the first, a PC Card data adapter, on the market in December. The card will be manufactured by GTran Inc., a California-based maker of optical networking systems, said Kwon. Conventional handsets are expected to follow in time for the commercial launch.

That commercial service is planned for March 2002, said Kwon, by which time SK Telecom hopes to have expanded the network to cover 26 cities in South Korea that are associated with the upcoming FIFA World Cup. The soccer tournament, the world's most watched sporting event, is being held in South Korean and Japan in the middle of 2002 and both Korean and Japanese telecommunication carriers hope to wow the world with their advanced cellular networks.

In Japan, NTT DoCoMo Inc. has already commercialized its 3G service, based on the competing W-CDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) format. That network offers data transmission speeds of up to 384K bps. Its two largest competitors, KDDI Corp. and J Phone Co. Ltd., both plan to have their 3G services up and running in time for the World Cup.

Despite the rush of Japanese and Korean carriers to get these fast data services up and running, the reception from customers has so far been lukewarm. NTT DoCoMo only managed to attract 10,000 customers to its 3G service in its first month of operations. By comparison, Kwon said SK Telecom currently has 1.7 million customers using its CDMA2000 1x service, which represents around 16 percent of all its subscribers.

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