The mobile platform wars are raging! And SK Telecom, the biggest telco in South Korea, wants a piece of the action, according to the Financial Times.
South Korea is often on the forefront of the adoption of tech trends — remember when people said that ringtones and virtual goods would never sell outside South Korea? — but this means that SK Telecom’s growth has been slowing: everyone in South Korea who might buy one already has a smartphone.
So it wants to move up the value chain with its own mobile operating system and platform, competing directly with Nokia, Apple and Google’s platforms.
This seems pretty much doomed. Nokia, Apple and Google (and Microsoft!) are all much bigger and much farther ahead in terms of building their own platforms, where network effects are all important, and a slight lead can mean eventual total dominance. Plus, SK Telecom’s previous attempts at international expansion have pretty much failed: it sold its US venture Helio to Virgin Mobile losing tons of money, and recently sold its share of its Chinese joint venture. Given that SK Telecom wants to build its platform with partnerships with other international telcos who are getting rich selling iPhones and Android phones, this track record isn’t encouraging.
That said, we’re in a good mood this morning so we’ll point out a few things SK Telecom has going for it:
- It does own 50% of one of the savviest mobile markets in the world. It must mean a thing or two about what consumers want — or more importantly, what they will want.
- Even if it doesn’t build a globally successful platform, it still has a decent chance at locking up the South Korean market, and maybe a couple other Asian markets, which given how much they use their internet phones, is still pretty juicy.
- Telcos are selling tons of smartphones right now thanks to Apple and Google, but they’re also (justifiably) scared of them. Telcos want to keep controlling the value chain in mobile. So international partnerships to build a global mobile platform might be a good ticket for them, if only as a hedge against Apple and Google.
So, who knows? Crazier things have happened. Stay tuned.
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