Last week I wrote about the iPhone coming to Korea. I was in Seoul for one of the Dialogic Executive Summit events. Korea is an interesting place, one that to me, is always thriving with mobile innovation. Color ring back tones originated in Korea for instance around 2001. And background music soon after. And I’ve seen some interesting mobile social networking applications as well.

But perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Korea right now is that this is the place to be for mobile TV. According to a recent EETimes Asia article I read, there are over 17 million mobile TV users now in Korea, which is over one-third of all South Korean mobile subscribers (according to an Arthur D. Little report I read on the plane over). Now that’s quite a penetration rate!

When meeting with our employees and customers, I asked to see what was available to watch. It’s similar to TV — a broadcasting model. TV shows to watch, etc. And the phones had nice screens — larger than my phone for instance.

So why is mobile TV doing well in Korea but not in other parts of the world? One thing, as I said above, is that Korea is just ahead on matters like this. The standards are all set up, the government supports this, there are affordable mobile devices with the required chipsets, and the service providers provide free service for one type of service. Yes, free service for what they call terrestrial service and only a couple of dollars per month for satellite service. So it all works out. Advertising is involved in the business model as well. Just like the early days of TV.

What are the issues with it? Well, it seems that the battery lives could be improved. And even though the screens are large for mobile devices, it would be hard to watch for a very sustained time on a small screen, I think anyway. And will some combination of subscription, advertising or pay-per-event create a viable long term business model? So I understand better why it’s taking off in Korea, and I can see that this will eventually make its way across the globe. Just how widespread this will be is something that is hard to predict.