Samsung's wireless falls at first hurdle

The prospect of Samsung's WiBro wireless broadband technology making it to Europe are looking slim following failure to capture the imagination of users in its home market of South Korea.

WiBro was launched by Samsung three years ago as an alternative high-speed wireless option, and gained early backing from telecoms operators and praise from market analysts. Samsung, better known as a handset manufacturer, recently signed a contract with US-based Sprint to launch the service in America.

But takeup of WiBro, which promises 10Mbps wireless Web access on the move, has so far been sluggish in Korea's ultra-competitive and highly advanced wireless market. In the face of tough competition from other emerging technologies, operators have not made much headway with WiBro-based services.

Korean telecoms giants KT Corp and SK Telecom had signed up just over 500 WiBro customers between them as of the beginning of September.

A lack of WiBro handsets has been part of the problem, with users restricted so far to using WiBro with laptops, but growing enthusiasm for HSDPA is also clearly undermining its prospects.

If the technology is to be successfully exported into Europe, then it will need to weather a similar storm of HSDPA enthusiasm over here.

Vodafone has already launched an HSDPA service in the UK, after a pilot phase which it claims proved the technology to be more popular with buyers than Wi-Fi. Vodafone's so-called 3.5G service is currently available inside the M25 area, as well as in Glasgow, Sheffield, Greater Manchester and Tyneside. All of its 3G coverage should be HSDPA-enabled by the summer of 2007, it has promised.

T-Mobile is poised to switch on an HSDPA service in the UK, and is offering a free upgrade to the service when it becomes available. Orange and O2 are conducting trials.