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Korean cell phones mark 30th year

July 02,2018
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Sunday marked the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first mobile phone in Korea, which kick-started an industry that would redefine the country’s economy.

Korea Mobile Telecommunications, which later changed its name to SK Telecom, launched the Motorola DynaTAC 8000S on July 1, 1988. It worked using a method called advanced mobile phone service, the first-generation mobile communications technology, which was initially introduced to car phones in 1984.

The first weighed 771 grams (1.69 pounds), as heavy as about four of today’s 5.5-inch smartphones, and was nicknamed the “brick phone.” The device cost 4 million won ($3,593) on top of a service installation fee of 600,000 won. The Motorola cost as much as renting an apartment on a two-year contract in some areas of Seoul.

Mobile phone usage quickly gained momentum ever since. The number of mobile phone plans in Korea was only 784 as of 1988, but it exceeded 100,000 in 1991 and reached 50 million by 2010, surpassing the Korean population for the first time. As of April, there were 64.6 million mobile phone subscriptions in Korea.

Over the course of the past three decades, mobile service has evolved as well. Code-division multiple access (CDMA), a second-generation, or 2G, technology was launched in 1996. It was followed by 3G, or WCDMA, in 2003. In 2011, today’s most common mobile standard, 4G LTE, was commercialized. As early as March next year, mobile service operators in Korea are set to debut a 5G wireless standard with data transmission speeds as fast as 20 gigabits per second, up to 20 times faster than LTE.

“The past 30 years that came alongside the progress of the nation’s mobile communication industry has been hugely meaningful to us,” said Yoon Yong-chul, head of communications at SK Telecom. “The future of mobile communication will create value beyond what we can imagine on the back of 5G.”

With all major mobile operators worldwide scrambling to adopt 5G technology, market researcher IHS Markit projects that the new wireless standard will generate $12.3 trillion in global economic output by 2035.

SK Telecom will host a special exhibit on the past 30 years of mobile service in Korea at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in central Seoul from July 9 to 31.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]