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North Korea and South Korea - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband

South Korea is a country leading in technology use. The report covers trends and developments in telecommunications, mobile, Internet, broadband, digital TV and converging media including VoIP and IPTV developments. Subjects include:

  • Market and industry analyses, trends and developments
  • Facts, figures and statistics
  • Industry and regulatory issues
  • Infrastructure
  • Major players, revenues, subscribers, ARPU
  • Internet, VoIP, IPTV
  • Mobile voice and data markets
  • Broadband (FttH, DSL, cable TV, wireless)
  • Convergence and digital media.


BuddeComm’s annual publication, North Korea & South Korea - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband provides a comprehensive overview of the trends and developments in the telecommunications and converging media markets in North Korea & South Korea.

  South Korea is the fourth largest economy in Asia and has one of the most vibrant telecommunications markets in the world. The market is supported by a visionary government program of stimulating development through liberalisation, deregulation and early privatisation of the incumbent, a creative and energetic private sector and a technology savvy population.

  Loans were given and licences awarded to alternative operators to build networks and increase penetration. To foster a knowledge-based society, a major government education initiative provides Internet education to all segments of the population. Electronic commerce is common in private and public sectors. Of particular interest are the developments in the broadband market including the shift away from DSL, the move to A-LAN and FttH services, the development of mobile DMB services and the launch of WiBro services.

  Over 90% of South Koreans have at least one mobile phone. The three main mobile operators are SK Telecom, KTF and LG Telecom. At the start of 2009, SK Telecom held just over 50% of the mobile market, KTF about 30% and LG Telecom almost 20%. South Korea is considered a leader in 3G mobile technology and has the world’s highest percentage of mobile users on 3G.

  In an increasingly competitive market the three operators have concentrated on delivering 3G growth via WCDMA and CDMA EV-DO Rev A. There have also been higher levels of investment in mobile content in an attempt to offset downward pressure on ARPU rates. With saturation not far off, the market has a subscription rate rising by less than 10%, one of the slower growing markets in the region.

  South Korea has the world’s highest number of broadband services per capita. By early 2009, over 30% of the population, or 90% of households, were broadband subscribers. South Korea is an early adopter of triple play models, which provide TV, broadband Internet and voice telephony as packaged services from a single provider.

  The country’s fixed-line telephone market continues to be dominated by the incumbent KT Corp. The South Korean Government is committed to transitioning the country to digital terrestrial, digital cable and digital satellite TV broadcasting by 2010. By 2010 KT plans to have transformed its network into an NGN running over 50 times faster than current rates.

  In 2008, the government introduced several stimulus initiatives to help the struggling economy. It has proposed to create a joint fund with Japan and China totalling at least US$80 billion to shield the three countries from the global financial crisis. Another stimulus package will be announced during 2009. The unemployment rate has fallen in recent years but is expected to soar in 2009. Korea’s birth rate and its female workforce participation rate are both among the lowest in the world.  

Any government initiatives in South Korea and conducted against the backdrop that the share of the population over age 65 is increasing faster than in other industrialised countries and the number should double in the next two decades. Long-run projections indicate a steep rise in the old-age dependency ratio, making Korea one of the oldest countries in the world by 2050. This should foster exciting development in the areas of e-health.

  By contrast, the development of the telecoms sector in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is seriously impeded by the country’s parlous economic state and the government’s general repression of communications. North Korea’s obsession with secrecy has made it extremely difficult to get a clear picture of the sector. The announcement in February 2005 that the DPRK had nuclear weapons did nothing to help the flow of useful telecom technologies and expertise into the country.

  Key highlights:

  •         The South Koran Government expects the economy to contract by about 2% during 2009, resulting in the country’s first recession in a decade.
  •         The Korea Communications Commission has consented to allow for the KT and KTF merger to go ahead thus creating a single entity truly capable of offering triple play services.
  •         SK Telecom enlarged its market position by acquiring the broadband operations of Hanaro Telecom, renaming itself as SK Broadband.
  •         The KCC announced the deployment of a national broadband network offering speeds of around 1Gb/s by 2012 on the fixed-line network and 10Mb/s on the wireless broadband network, by investing approximately US$24.6 million. This is largely designed to improve the country’s economic prospects, and the regulatory authority hopes around 12,000 new jobs will be created as a result of the project.
  •         Entering 2009, South Korea had the sixth largest broadband subscriber base in the world. The country had just over 15.5 million broadband subscribers at the time, while Japan had around 30 million and China around 85 million.
  •         In early 2009, fibre technology accounted for 43% of all broadband subscribers in South Korea. The country has the highest fibre penetration rate among the OECD countries at nearly 14%. In terms of broadband speeds, South Korea is second only to Japan with an average 78Mb/s speed compared with 90Mb/s. These two countries rank first and second in the OECD for broadband speeds.
  •         VoIP subscribers have continued to grow at an impressive rate to reach over 3 million in early 2009. The introduction of number portability in mid-2009 fuelled the growth of VoIP as fixed-line operators turn to VoIP to increase business. Subscriptions could pass the earlier target of 5 million by end-2009.
  •         3G-based HSDPA and HSUPA services continue to show great success, with KTF planning to migrate all its subscribers to 3G by 2012 or earlier.
  •         The KCC awarded IPTV licences to KT, Hanaro Telecom and LG Dacom in September 2008. All three recipients bid for licences with a view to offsetting declines in traditional phone services by expanding their product offerings.
  •         Partial legalisation of handset subsidies should lead to greater competition in the market.
  •         The very low number of prepaid subscribers remains at under 2% of the market; however, the majority of net additions are coming from the low-end segment.
  South Korea - key telecom parameters - 2004; 2008
Sector | 2004 | 2008 |
Internet (million) |
Internet users | 31.6 | 36.8 |
Internet subscribers | 12.0 | 15.3 |
Broadband subscribers (million) |
xDSL | 6.7 | 3.7 |
Cable modem | 4.1 | 5.1 |
Apartment LAN | 1.0 | 4.9 |
Total (including satellite) | 11.9 | 15.5 |
Broadband penetration | 24.8% | 32.2% |
Subscribers to telecoms services (million) |
Subscriber telephones | 23.5 | 22.1 |
Mobile phones | 36.6 | 45.6 |
| (Source: BuddeComm based on NIDA and industry data)

  Data in this report is the latest available at the time of preparation and may not be for the current year.

  For those needing high level strategic analysis and objective analysis on Korea, this report is essential reading and gives further information on:
  •         The relatively limited success of WiBro due mainly to limited coverage, unreliable connectivity and lack of ‘killer applications’. HSDPA continued to outperform even though WiBro is cheaper.
  •         Korea’s policy emphasis on completing a BcN or Broadband Convergence Network evolving to a UBcN or Ultra Broadband convergence Network by 2012/13.
  •         Announcements by KT Corp and Japan’s Softbank to launch a KRW40 billion (US$41 million) fund focused on new media content. The fund is to invest in companies aiming to develop educational, entertainment and other media content to be used for IPTV services.
  •         The KCC and Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) deciding to build IPTV networks in schools in 2009 by advancing the previous 3 year plan to a year plan.
  •         The South Korean social network Cyworld being a trendsetter in e-commerce and generating an astounding amount of revenue in 2008, surpassing that of Facebook. The majority of their cash flow is built up out of digital presents, not advertisements.
  •         A law that went into effect April 2009 although passed by the South Korean Government in 2008, to prevent cyber bullying and curb the spread of false information online.
  •         Korean government plans to pay up to 50% of all mobile phone calls for people in low-income brackets to help them cope with inflation. This was an increase from the previous level of 35%.
  •         The new structure for the ‘Informatization Promotion’ execution body including the Ministry of Knowledge Economy.
  •         The take-off of music, gaming, TV, social networking and advertising.

1. North Korea
1.1 Key statistics
1.1.1 Country overview
1.2 Telecommunications market
1.2.1 Overview of North Korea’s telecom market
1.2.2 Market analysis
1.2.3 Relationship with South Korea and the world
1.3 Regulatory environment
1.3.1 Foreign investment
1.4 Fixed network operators
1.4.1 Lancelot Holdings
1.4.2 Loxley Pacific (Loxpac)
1.4.3 KT Corporation
1.4.4 Shin Satellite Corp
1.5 Telecommunications infrastructure
1.5.1 National telecom network
1.5.2 International infrastructure
1.6 Internet market
1.6.1 Overview
1.6.2 Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
1.6.3 Websites
1.6.4 Email service
1.6.5 Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
1.6.6 Internet cafes
1.7 Broadcasting market
1.7.1 Overview
1.7.2 TV stations
1.7.3 Cable TV
1.7.4 Satellite TV
1.8 Mobile communications
1.8.1 Overview of North Korea’s mobile market
1.8.2 Mobile technologies
2. South Korea
2.1 Key Statistics
2.2 Telecommunications market
2.2.1 Overview of South Korea’s telecom market
2.2.2 Competitive market
2.2.3 Digital Korea statistics - convergence
2.2.4 Fixed-line and mobile services
2.2.5 Internet in South Korea
2.2.6 Television broadcasting in South Korea
2.2.7 Telecommunications service markets
2.3 Regulatory environment
2.3.1 Policy overview
2.3.2 Rural access
2.3.3 Low income assistance
2.3.4 Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC)
2.3.5 National Internet Development Agency of Korea (NIDA)
2.3.6 Korea Communications Commission (KCC)
2.3.7 National Computerisation Agency (NCA)
2.3.8 Korean Broadcasting Commission (KBC)
2.3.9 Telecommunications and Broadcasting Committee
2.3.10 Deregulation
2.3.11 Ownership rules
2.4 Major fixed-line network players
2.4.1 Overview
2.4.2 KT Corp
2.4.3 LG Dacom
2.4.4 SK Broadband (Hanaro Telecom)
2.4.5 Onse Telecom
2.5 Telecommunications infrastructure
2.5.1 Overview of infrastructure developments in South Korea
2.5.2 National telecom network
2.5.3 International infrastructure
2.6 Internet market
2.6.1 IPv6
2.6.2 Inter usage patterns
2.6.3 Wireless Internet
2.6.4 Internet search engines
2.6.5 Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
2.6.6 E-services
2.7 Broadband market
2.7.1 Overview
2.7.2 Growth drivers
2.7.3 Broadband convergence Network (BcN)
2.7.4 Major broadband ISPs
2.7.5 Broadband services
2.7.6 Broadband charges
2.8 Convergence
2.8.1 Overview of media convergence
2.8.2 Triple play models
2.8.3 Digital TV
2.9 Mobile communications
2.9.1 Overview of South Korea’s mobile market
2.9.2 Mobile technologies
2.9.3 Major mobile operators
2.9.4 Mobile voice services
2.9.5 Mobile data services
2.9.6 Mobile content and applications
3. Glossary of Abbreviations
List of Tables and Exhibits
Table 1 - Country statistics North Korea - 2008
Table 2 - Telephone network statistics - 2009
Table 3 - Mobile statistics - 2009
Table 4 - National telecommunications authority
Table 5 - Fixed lines in service and teledensity - 1990 - 2005
Table 6 - Country statistics South Korea - 2009
Table 7 - Telecom revenue and investment statistics - 2007
Table 8 - Telephone network statistics - June 2008
Table 9 - Internet user statistics - 2008
Table 10 - Broadband statistics - March 2009
Table 11 - Mobile statistics - 2008
Table 12 - National telecommunications authorities
Table 13 - Telecom service subscribers and market share by sector - June 2008
Table 14 - Telecom service subscribers by sector - 2004 - 2008
Table 15 - South Korea telecom industry revenue - 2004 - 2008
Table 16 - KT Corp fixed-line subscribers and market share - 2004 - 2009
Table 17 - Fixed and mobile lines in service and teledensity - 1991 - 2008
Table 18 - Fixed-line subscribers and market share by operator - September 2008
Table 19 - Number portability of fixed line services - 2003 - 2007
Table 20 - Local telephony lines by operator - 2005 - 2008
Table 21 - Local telephony market share by operator - 2005 - 2008
Table 22 - Mobile subscribers and market share by operator - 2008
Table 23 - Number portability of mobile services - 2004 - 2007
Table 24 - Registered .kr domains - 1996 - 2009
Table 25 - Internet users - 1994 - 2008
Table 26 - Internet subscribers - 1996 - 2008
Table 27 - PC penetration - 2000 - 2008
Table 28 - Broadband Internet subscribers by operator - 2005 - 2008
Table 29 - Broadband Internet market share by operator - 2005 - 2008
Table 30 - KT Corp financial data - 2006 - 2008
Table 31 - KT Corp shareholders - 2008
Table 32 - KT Corp broadband subscribers and market share - 2003 - 2009
Table 33 - KT Corp fixed-line subscribers and market share - 2003 - 2009
Table 34 - KT Corp IPTV subscribers - 2007 - 2009
Table 35 - LG Powercom financial data - 2005 - 2008
Table 36 - SK Broadband financial data - 2003 - 2008
Table 37 - SK Broadband shareholders - 2008
Table 38 - SK Broadband subscribers - 2005 - 2008
Table 39 - SK Broadband TV subscribers - 2008
Table 40 - SK Broadband revenue split - 2008
Table 41 - Number of IPv4 and IPv6 addresses - 1997 - 2009
Table 42 - Internet usage rates - September 2008
Table 43 - Purpose of using the Internet - September 2008
Table 44 - Internet search engines market share - January 2009
Table 45 - VoIP subscribers by operator and market share - February 2008
Table 46 - E-commerce volume - 2001 - 2008
Table 47 - E-commerce volume by transaction type - 2001 - 2007
Table 48 - Purchase items: Internet shopping - 2008
Table 49 - Online stock trading customers - 2004 - 2007
Table 50 - Internet banking service subscribers - 2001 - 2008
Table 51 - Financial service by delivery channel - 2005 - 2008
Table 52 - E-tax usage rates - 2002 - 2007
Table 53 - E-learning user market volume - 2004 - 2007
Table 54 - Online game market volume - 2002 - 2007
Table 55 - Digital music market volume - 2003 - 2007
Table 56 - Methods of watching online movies - 2008
Table 57 - Broadband Internet subscriber growth and penetration rate - 1998 - 2009
Table 58 - Broadband subscribers and annual growth by access type - March 2009
Table 59 - Broadband subscribers and households - March 2009
Table 60 - Broadband Internet subscribers by system - 1998 - 2009
Table 61 - Broadband market share by operator - September 2008
Table 62 - BcN implementation goals in households/subscribers - 2005; 2007; 2010
Table 63 - Broadband subscribers and market share - major providers - March 2009
Table 64 - Broadband subscribers by access type - March 2009
Table 65 - Cable modem subscribers - 2000 - 2009
Table 66 - Cable modem (HFC) subscribers by service provider - March 2009
Table 67 - DSL subscribers - 1999 - 2009
Table 68 - DSL subscribers by service provider - March 2009
Table 69 - A-LAN subscribers by service provider - March 2009
Table 70 - FttH subscribers by service provider - March 2009
Table 71 - South Korea FttH / FttB subscribers - 2005 - 2011
Table 72 - Wireless Internet subscribers by service provider - June 2008
Table 73 - KT’s WiBro subscribers - 2006 - 2008
Table 74 - Cable TV subscribers - 2002 - 2008
Table 75 - Mobile subscribers - 1994 - 2008
Table 76 - Mobile subscribers and market share by operator - 2008
Table 77 - Mobile subscribers and annual change by operator and technology - 2008
Table 78 - Overall mobile ARPU by operator - 2008
Table 79 - Mobile subscribers by operator - 2002 - 2008
Table 80 - Mobile operator financial data - 2006 - 2008
Table 81 - CDMA 2000 1x mobile subscribers by operator - 2002 - 2008
Table 82 - CDMA2000 subscribers by operator and system - 2004; 2008
Table 83 - WCDMA subscribers by operator - 2008
Table 84 - Mobile manufacturers’ shipments and market share - 2008 - 2009
Table 85 - SKT financial data - 2005 - 2008
Table 86 - SK Telecom shareholders - 2008
Table 87 - SKT mobile subscribers, minutes of use and ARPU - 2004 - 2009
Table 88 - KTF financial data - 2004 - 2008
Table 89 - KTF shareholders - 2008
Table 90 - KTF data and total ARPU by network type - Q4 2007
Table 91 - LG Telecom financial data - 2005 - 2008
Table 92 - LG Telecom mobile subscribers, minutes of use and ARPU - 2003 - 2009
Table 93 - Wireless Internet subscribers and market share - November 2007
Table 94 - KT wireless Internet ARPU by service type - 2007 - 2008
Table 95 - Terrestrial and Satellite DMB subscribers - 2008
Exhibit 1 - Bits and bytes
Exhibit 2 - Regional TV broadcasters in South Korea
Exhibit 3 - Classification of service providers
Exhibit 4 - Foreign ownership restrictions
Exhibit 5 - Significant telecoms operators in South Korea
Exhibit 6 - Overview of KT subsidiaries
Exhibit 7 - Informatization policies and paradigms - 1998 - 2012
Exhibit 8 - Informatization Promotion: Execution body
Exhibit 9 - Overview of national submarine fibre optic cables in South Korea
Exhibit 10 - International submarine fibre optic cables overview in South Korea
Exhibit 11 - Confusion surrounding DSL statistics in South Korea
Exhibit 12 - Estimated B-WLL frequencies, bandwidth and applications in South Korea
Exhibit 13 - LMCS network operators in South Korea
Exhibit 14 - Representative charges per service in Seoul - 2008
Exhibit 15 - Types of telecom convergence
Exhibit 16 - Wireless Internet operators and services
Exhibit 17 - Comparison of WiBro and other technologies in South Korea
Exhibit 18 - Comparison of S-DMB and T-DMB application in South Korea

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