South Korean operators launch joyn

South Korea’s operators have launched joyn services in a bid to reclaim ground lost to ‘over-the-top’ (OTT) players, although there is some confusion over whether services are yet interoperable between the three companies.

In a press release on its website, SK Telecom (Seoul, South Korea) said that customers can now make use of joyn services like ‘Rich Call’ and ‘Rich Messaging’ – under the joyn.T brand – allowing images to be exchanged during voice calls and SMS to be used with more instant messaging features.

South Korea’s operators have launched joyn services in a bid to reclaim ground lost to ‘over-the-top’ (OTT) players, although there is some confusion over whether services are yet interoperable between the three companies.

In a press release on its website, SK Telecom (Seoul, South Korea) said that customers can now make use of joyn services like ‘Rich Call’ and ‘Rich Messaging’ – under the joyn.T brand – allowing images to be exchanged during voice calls and SMS to be used with more instant messaging features.

Korea Telecom (Seoul, South Korea) also says that “location information sharing and video calling services” are now available to customers who take up the joyn offer, while LG Uplus (Seoul, South Korea) – the smallest of the three operators – is also reported to have launched joyn.

Like operators that are providing joyn, including Deutsche Telekom (Bonn, Germany) and all three of Spain’s operators, the South Korean companies see the service as a way of protecting themselves against incursions by OTT players.

The likes of Facebook (Menlo Park, USA) and Skype (Luxembourg City, Luxembourg) have been luring mobile-phone users away from traditional voice and text-messaging services, which generate revenue for operators, with free-to-use internet-based equivalents.

A standard that is backed by the GSM Association (GSMA) under the official name of Rich Communication Suite-enhanced (RCS-e), joyn is likely to have limited appeal unless it works across the major networks in a particular country.

Last November, Spain became the first country in the world to make joyn interoperable – after the country’s three major network operators took steps to link up their systems.

Confusingly, however, while Korea Telecom insisted that “joyn will be interoperated across the three major carriers from December 26 [2012]”, SK Telecom said it “plans to link joyn.T with RCS services of other Korean carriers to enable all mobile customers to enjoy enriched communication”.

Unlike operators in Spain and Germany, SK Telecom reportedly plans to pursue the risky strategy of charging customers to use joyn services, while Korea Telecom hints that it will do the same.

According to press reports, joyn.T will be freely available to customers on flat-rate 3G or LTE tariffs until the end of May, when SK Telecom will start to apply usage charges for particular features.

Meanwhile, Korea Telecom said it will “promote joyn around its launch by providing various services … including instant messaging and video calling without charge until May 31”.

Although the charges might help operators to fend off a revenue decline, they could drive customers more firmly into the embrace of the OTT players.

Customers of SK Telecom “holding one of 22 different types of Android OS 2.3 (Gingerbread) smartphones” will be able to use the service by downloading the joyn application from the operator’s T store, and SK Telecom plans to launch an application for Apple iOS early this year.

It also said it will launch joyn.T 2.0, an upgraded version of the service, in 2013, and extend joyn.T to PC clients in the first quarter of the year.