South Korea sees 8-9 mln "Wibro" internet users by 2007

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PUSAN, South Korea (Reuters) - South Korea expects subscribers to a service providing high-speed wireless internet connections to people on the move to reach 8-9 million by 2007 after a commercial roll-out in April next year, the information minister said on Tuesday.

KT Corp, the country's top fixed-line and broadband operator, launched on Monday a trial service offering a technology dubbed "Wibro" that allows users to enjoy broadband connection on mobile devices even as they move around.

South Korea is a pioneer in broadband internet services and the trial services cover part of the port city of Pusan, the venue for ongoing meetings for Asia-Pacific leaders.

"KT Corp will offer commercial services in April next year," Minister of Information and Communication Chin Daeje told a news conference held at an IT exhibition centre in Pusan.

The government had previously said it expected a launch from June next year.

"By 2007, we will likely to have some 8-9 million subscribers."

Analysts expect telecoms companies to benefit from a full growth in sales from Wibro services from 2007.

Wibro, the Korean brand name for the 2.3-GHz portable internet service, allows subscribers to use high-speed internet more cheaply and more widely, even when moving at speeds of about 60 km per hour.

During the APEC meetings, KT is running promotion buses equiped with Wibro devices and computer monitors, where passengers can watch live CNN feeds and music video clips, while talking to passengers in other buses via video conference as they move around.

SK Telecom Co, South Korea's top mobile carrier, also has a licence for the next-generation portable internet service.

The service is expected to provide local telecoms companies with new income sources as growth in regular broadband, fixed-line and mobile phone subscriptions stalls.

Three-quarters of South Korean households have access to the internet, one of the highest penetration rates in the world, while nearly four out of every five people have a mobile phone.

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