SEOUL, Aug. 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's major wireless operators are eagerly setting their sights on entering the urban air mobility (UAM) industry, which the government is aiming to open up commercially in 2025.
The three mobile telecoms -- SK Telecom Co., KT Corp and LG Uplus Corp. -- have all formed consortiums of multi-sector companies to participate in the K-UAM Grand Challenge project, a government-led demonstration program that will test UAM vehicle safety and traffic management capabilities for commercial services.
UAM is widely considered the next big thing in urban mobility amid concerns of worsening of traffic congestion and air pollution. Most UAM vehicles in development are being designed to run on electricity and travel at low altitudes in urban areas.
The transportation ministry is expected to announce selected consortiums to participate in the first stage of the K-UAM project in November.
SK Telecom has formed a consortium with Korea Airports Corp., Hanwha Systems Co., the Korea Meteorological Institute and LX, a state-run land information provider, to engage in research and development in the field.
The country's No. 1 wireless carrier also signed a partnership with U.S. electric aircraft startup Joby Aviation Inc. to co-develop electric air taxis earlier this year.
It also plans to establish a trial aerial 5G communication network for its UAM project in Goheung, South Jeolla Province, where the K-UAM project will take place, and open it up for all participants.
KT has created its consortium with Hyundai Motor Co., Incheon International Airport Corp., Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co. and Korean Air Lines Co. KT is working on establishing a communication infrastructure, air-ground linked mobility business model and developing a drone traffic management system.
LG Uplus has also joined a consortium comprising Kakao Mobility Corp., GS Caltex Corp., Jeju Air Co., drone company Pablo Air Co. and Britain-based electrical vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) developer Vertical Aerospace Ltd.
The consortium has signed an agreement with the Busan Metropolitan City to commercialize UAM services in Busan and foster a related ecosystem in and around the southeastern port city.
The three telcos are keen on entering the burgeoning UAM market, as their expertise in real-time data processing using their wireless networks is essential in ensuring the safety of flights.
The UAM market is projected to significantly expand in the coming years. Morgan Stanley has predicted the global UAM market to expand up to US$1.47 trillion by 2040, compared to $7 billion won in 2020.
SK Telecom CEO Ryu Young-sang said last month that South Korea is best suited to lead the growth of the UAM industry, and added he believes the market will "serve in the interest of the country's economy by generating new demand and jobs."
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