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Asian operator alliance seeks to explore growth markets

A new alliance has been formed between three major Asian operators – China Mobile, South Korean KT, and Japan’s NTT Docomo – aimed at providing “new experiences and greater convenience” to mobile subscribers in Northeast Asia.

The operators have stated that the alliance, which they have termed a “broad-based business tie-up”, seeks to take advantage of the “opportunities for new business development” created by “increasing international co-operation”.

The three operators will form a committee devoted to observing trends – such as increasing smartphone penetration and “the further globalisation of corporate activities” - and determining how best to capitalise on them.

Areas already determined as potentially profitable include smartphones, LTE, common platforms and international roaming, while other areas such as mobile payment and applications were confirmed by a Docomo spokeswoman as being of potential interest.

The new relationship between the three operators actually builds on a fairly long-standing relationship between KT and Docomo. In March 2009, the Korean operator declared its intention to move into China and Japan, intending to partner with Docomo to offer services in the latter.

Docomo already held a 5% stake in KT following the latter’s merger with KT Freetel, a mobile operator in which Docomo held shares. The relationship between the two operators extends to cooperative services, such as roaming agreements which allow Docomo subscribers to use a KT number when visiting South Korea.

While both operators are substantial market players in Asia, in terms of subscriber numbers they are utterly eclipsed by China Mobile. With 57 million and 16 million subscribers respectively at the end of the third quarter of 2010, Docomo and KT’s numbers pale in comparison to China Mobile’s 570 million.

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