SK Telecom seeks shift from telco to ICT company

After announcing plans for a U.S.-based broadcasting joint venture at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show, SK Telecom and Sinclair Broadcast Group have officially launched the new business. Cast.era, based in Arlington, Virginia, will focus on cloud infrastructure for broadcasting, ultra-low latency over-the-top (OTT) broadcasting and targeted advertising, as well as commercialization of the Advanced Television Systems Committee’s ATSC 3.0 standard, which enables data communications in broadcasting bands and can support two-way communications with end user devices by recognizing personal IP addresses.

Mobile viewing, three-dimensional television, 4K ultra-high definition, high dynamic range, high frame rate and immersive audio are among the other features of ATSC 3.0. SK Telecom said that the JV will bring ATSC 3.0 to Sinclair stations starting this year.

Cast.era will be led by executives from both SK Telecom and Sinclair. Park Kyung-mo from SK Telecom has been appointed as Cast.era’s CTO, and the company’s lead representative and COO is Kevin Gage, who formerly served as EVP for strategic development and CTO of Sinclair’s One Media subsidiary.

The broadcasting JV is one of a number of SK Telecom’s most recent collaborative efforts, as it seeks to shift from being primarily known as a telco, to an ICT company. The Korean telco also recently announced a global task force of fellow Asian telecom operators, focused on mobile edge computing; and during CES 2020, SK Telecom’s CEO Jung-Ho Park spoke of “super cooperation” with regional ICT players to advance artificial intelligence-driven technologies. One of the examples he cited of such cooperation was Wavve, an joint OTT video service by SK Telecom and three Korean terrestrial broadcasters.

MEC, 5G and broadcasting will also come into play for Cast.era, with SK Telecom noting in a company statement that the JV will leverage cloud-based SK Telecom cloud infrastructure including MEC, an overlay network architecture approach and container orchestration, in Sinclair’s broadcasting systems and “permit virtualized and automated merging of both Internet and broadcast platforms using centralized services.” Cast.era “plans to introduce new media services applied with augmented reality,” the company said, adding that other areas of focus include “ultra-low latency OTT broadcasting services … that enable transmission of high-definition video for diverse multimedia applications, such as Sinclair’s local news and sports content. These services will allow users to enjoy high-quality video content seamlessly in a mobile environment, including traveling in vehicles.”

The two companies are also planning on developing a closer relationship between the ATSC 3.0 standard and 5G for broadcasting, saying that they plan to establish a 5G/ATSC 3.0 testbed in Jeju Technopark in Korea and put 5G/ATSC 3.0 solutions to work at Sinclair’s WJLA television station located in Washington, D.C.

“We are confident that Cast.era will lead the ATSC 3.0 market in the U.S,” said Lee Jong-min, VP and head of the Tech Innovation Group of SK Telecom. “We expect to deliver a new experience to U.S. TV viewers through ATSC 3.0-based broadcasting services that combine the strengths of mobile and broadcasting networks.”

The use of 5G wireless connectivity for live content broadcasting has been a focus for Verizon and of interest to AT&T as well, with AT&T’s CFO saying recently that “owner’s economics” come into play when it comes to the intersection of content and wireless services. Verizon has emphasized the role of content as it looks forward to a 5G-focused 2020, from a 5G production studio it inaugurated last year at RYOT in Los Angeles, California, to its partnership with Snap (parent of Snapchat) to develop augmented reality features that leverage 5G, and its ongoing partnerships to use 5G for live sports broadcasting. The carrier built out a fiber-based video distribution network that connects the 29 National Basketball Association arenas around the U.S. during the course of 2019.

SK Telecom’s Park said during CES that the company is adopting a new business management structure dubbed “Dual OS” that focuses on its two main growth areas: mobile network operations and “new ICT,” which it considers its media, security and commerce businesses. In its MNO business, the carrier said that it plans to “introduce a wide range of new 5G use cases, while strengthening its business-to-business service offerings, to deliver true benefits of 5G.” Meanwhile, the company has goals for its New ICT business of gaining 1 million paid subs for its media business, lofty revenue targets for its security business through converged security services, and “positioning [itself]as a game changer in commerce industry through domestic and international partnerships.”

Park said that SK Telecom is “rapidly shifting itself” from a mobile operator to a “total ICT company,” and that the New ICT business makes up about 40% of SK Telecom’s consolidated revenues.

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