SK Telecom came up fighting on Wednesday after a press report claimed that South Korean operators were warning Europe about the 'curse' of 4G.
"We would never use that word to describe LTE," Irene Kim, a manager at SK Telecom's public relations department, told Total Telecom on the sidelines of Mobile World Congress.
She pointed out that the executive quoted in a Reuters piece was actually from one of SK Telecom's rivals and does not represent the views of South Korean operators in general. "It was KT Corp that said LTE was a curse," she insisted. "I thought it was a very strange word to use."
"LTE is very beneficial to the people but still the big question remains, can we go on?" KT Corp's chief executive Suk-Chae Lee said, according to the newswire. "It is a blessing to customers but it is a curse on the operators."
However, it is worth noting that SK Telecom's own CTO, Jae Byun, was quoted in the Reuters story as saying that the $13 ARPU boost operators get from LTE, while positive, "may not be enough to justify the huge investment needed in LTE".
Indeed, Kim admitted that SK Telecom is not currently breaking even on its LTE network due to the heavy investment in infrastructure and new techniques to enhance and upgrade the service to LTE-Advanced (Total Telecom will detail the latest developments in SK Telecom's LTE-A strategy on Thursday).
While KT Corp bemoaned the strain that insatiable demand for data is putting on its networks, Kim said the reason SK Telecom is not breaking even on LTE is down to a lack of subscribers. Its 8.3 million LTE customers currently represent around 30% of its total subscriber base.
"We have seen a positive impact on ARPU, but not enough to break even," she said. "We expect 60% of our customer base will be on LTE by the end of the year, and then we will see a very positive impact on our financials."
High marketing costs have also been a problem in South Korea, with all three of the country's mobile operators fined last year