By Lee Min-hyung
Competition is heating up in the internet of things (IoT) as Korea's big three mobile carriers vie to take the lead in the next-generation network business.
SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus are accelerating plans to expand their IoT ecosystems amid saturation in the telecom market.
The government pledged Sunday to back the three telecom companies in building a sustainable IoT market.
"The IoT will create massive value when combined with various industries such as manufacturing and construction," the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning said in a statement, after holding a meeting with the heads of the three carriers' IoT units.
"The nation's IoT business has so far generated tangible outcomes, with carriers introducing various services and building the world's first IoT networks here. But more efforts should be made to come up with sustainable and global business models."
SK Telecom, the nation's largest telecom in terms of subscribers, said it would focus on six areas including public safety, vehicles and smart farms.
The company seeks to combine these areas with its nationwide LoRa energy-efficient and wireless IoT network infrastructure.
"With its IoT-only network system, SK Telecom is also considering new systems dedicated to raising public interest," Cha In-hyuk, head of SK Telecom's IoT unit, said at the meeting.
The company recently pushed forward its plan to build an IoT ecosystem with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and startups here by distributing 100,000 LoRa-based IoT modules.
The module is about five times cheaper than existing long-term-evolution (LTE) network modules, SK Telecom noted.
SK Telecom is also seeking to integrate its artificial intelligence (AI) voice assistant Nugu with its home IoT business by forging partnerships with local construction companies such as Hyundai Engineering & Construction.
LG Uplus, the third-largest carrier, is the home IoT leader here with about 500,000 subscribers at the end of last year.
"We will focus on launching more home IoT services this year to further increase our user base," said Ahn Sung-joon, a senior vice president of LG Uplus.
The LG Uplus IoT business chief added that the company would also expand its industrial IoT presence to meet growing demand from the business-to-business (B2B) sector including logistics and security.
At this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), LG Uplus CEO Kwon Young-soo underlined the importance of industrial IoT through its partnership with U.S.-based telecom giant Verizon.
LG Uplus and KT are challenging SK Telecom's LoRa, pushing for NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT) as the next-generation IoT network standard.
LG and KT claim NB-IoT can reach farther and offer more stable service in areas including underground facilities and buildings than the LoRa network.
"KT plans to establish a nationwide NB-IoT network by the end of this May, offering free compatible modules for SME partners," KT IoT unit chief Kim Joon-geun said.
"We are also going to expand our home IoT services with our AI-based GiGA Genie speaker."