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A few hours ago, when the clock struck midnight and June 30th handed over the baton to July 1st, South Korean mobile operatorsSK Telecom (SKT)andLG U+ both launched their 4G LTE services in Seoul. The news is so exciting that stories about the service launches have temporarily pushed even the closely followedApple-Samsung tit-for-tat off the front pages of Korean newspapers.

At the moment, LTE service from both operators is data-only. LG U+ is offering anLTE dongle from LG Electronics (LGE)and anLTE wireless router from Samsung Electronics which can support up to 10 users simultaneously. SKT is offeringa dongle from LGEand a modem fromC-motech which can support up to 7 users simultaneously. SKT promises 5 types of smartphones from September and two types of tablet PC from October.

It will obviously be a week or two before we really get an idea of how the LTE networks are performing, so most of the Korean news stories are just repeating the well-known facts. SK Telecom, the dominant service provider in South Korea with roughly half of the mobile subscribers in the country, has a significant coverage advantage due to the 800 MHz spectrum where LTE has been deployed, compared to the 2.1 GHz spectrum that LG U+ is using. But perhaps LG U+, the smallest of the three mobile operators in Korea, is not trying to compete with SKT, but rather with #2 Korea Telecom (KT). Newspapers are already speculating that LTE could help LG U+ move into second place, leapfrogging HSDPA and WiBro operator KT. KT recently announced that they will launch LTE voice and data servicesin November, when LTE handsets might be available in sufficient volumes. KT claims that the real demand is for voice and data, so their competitors will not gain much advantage from launching data-only services now. Sour grapes, indeed.

All three Korean operators plan to have nationwide coverage by 2013. Meanwhile, SK Telecom is already talking about launching LTE Advanced in 2013. Lots of excitement in the Land of the Rising Won. Keep an eye on the ABI Research blog for news about LTE in South Korea.