There was a rumor floating around two weeks ago that Verizon Wireless and SK Telecom had formed a joint venture to do an MVNO in the US, though the details were sketchy. Consider them sketchy no longer -- and the missing link in the story is Earthlink. Earthlink is getting quite a reputation as an ISP that will try to offer just about anything. Beyond being one of the first ISPs to offer pop-up blocking, anti-spam and anti-virus protection, they also were quick to embrace broadband, rather than sticking to dialup roots. Not only that, but they were willing to embrace all kinds of broadband -- including not just DSL and cable, but WiFi and even (misguided in the opinion of many) broadband over powerlines, while also saying they would be enthusiastic supporters of WiMax when (if) it exists. They've also moved into other areas, being a very early partner of Vonage while also offering a SIP-based softphone VoIP offering. With all that background, it should come as absolutely no surprise that they would be interested in offering their very own mobile phone service through a joint venture with SK Telecom, using Verizon Wireless's network. This is interesting for a variety of reasons. First, it's a big win for Verizon Wireless as the operator of an MVNO network. Up until this point, it seemed like Sprint was winning every major deal to be the network behind the brand in other big MVNO deals (Virgin, the "new" AT&T Wireless, Disney/ESPN) -- so now Verizon Wireless can make their own claim on the space. It's also very interesting to see SKT make their move. The company has been interested in expanding in the US for a while, and this is a great opportunity. SKT, of course, is perhaps the most innovative of all the mobile carriers in the world -- really willing to push the envelope on new services and technologies. Being partnered with Earthlink, who seems willing to take chances, and being on Verizon Wireless' high speed EVDO network (the same as SKT has back in Korea) should let them transfer some of the more innovative things they've done back in South Korea to the US. And, to think, regulators were getting worried that all of this "merger mania" among carriers might stifle competition in the mobile market.
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