The Mobile 15: Our picks for the most innovative companies

SK Telecom

CEO: Seong Min Ha

Number of employees: 15,500

The business:

SK Telecom is South Korea’s largest mobile operator.

The backstory:

The SK in the carrier’s name doesn’t stand for “South Korea” as many people think. Rather its an abbreviation of Sun Kyong, the name of one Korea’s largest chaebol, or conglomerates. SK Telecom is the wireless arm of the SK Group, which runs businesses ranging from petroleum, construction, shipping and chemicals.

The innovation:

Verizon Wireless has done a much better job than SK Telecom on the execution side, as Big Red’s LTE juggernaut appears unstoppable. But SK Telecom has not only accomplished a similar nationwide rollout of LTE in the much smaller South Korea (garnering 4 million 4G subscribers), it’s also actively deploying the next generation of wireless technologies, LTE-Advanced.

A lot of carriers claim to be working on LTE-Advanced, but most of them are talking about a single appetizer on LTE-Advanced’s broad menu, carrier aggregation. Carrier aggregation allows operators to bond two LTE networks together to create an ultra-fast connection to the subscriber. Not only has SK telecom already implemented those bonded carriers, it’s delving much deeper into that menu to test and deploy LTE-Advanced’s more sophisticated technologies. Among them, enhanced inter-cell interference coordination (eICIC), which forces big macro cells and small pico cells to make nice when sharing the same airwaves, and coordinated multipoint (CoMP), which allows a device to connect to multiple towers simultaneously. The result is faster, higher-capacity networks, more consistent connections, and cheaper data for users.

Bottom line: SK is aggressively deploying today’s most-advanced technology but is also actively pursuing tomorrow’s. solutions as well.

The plan:

If all goes as planned, SK will have the most advanced mobile data network in the world by the end of 2013, and it wants to use the network to the fullest. SK Telecom and its competitor Uplus became the first major global operators to launch a commercial voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) service, which means it can begin the transition of its core voice service from circuit-switched 2G and 3G networks to all IP 4G networks.