Kakao Inc. makers of the ubiquitous mobile messenger app Kakao Talk announced on Monday June 4 that the company would begin Korean beta testing of its free mobile VoIP service called Kakao VoiceTalk. iOS users can join the beta from the 4th while Android users will be able to try the service from the 5th. International users have had access to the beta since the 25th of May.
This development is obviously worrying Korea’s wireless carriers, who fear the increase in data traffic and loss of profits which would likely occur from widespread adoption by Kakao Talk’s existing 46 million users. These worries are manifesting themselves in a regulatory dispute between wireless service providers like SK, KT, and LG U+ on one side, and providers of mobile VoIP services like Daum’s MyPeople and Kakao VoiceTalk on the other.
Under Korea’s existing Telecommunications Business Act, telecommunications businesses are divided into three categories; “standard telecommunications”, “value-added telecommunications”, and “special category telecommunications”. The “standard telecommunications” business type, which mobile carriers’ standard voice and data services fall under, requires government permission before beginning operations. The current debate is whether mobile VoIP services such as Kakao VoiceTalk fall into this category as the carriers insist, or under the value added category as is asserted by the portal sites and mobile VoIP businesses.
According to representatives of the Korea Telecommunications Commission, earlier m-VoIP services like MyPeople didn’t have enough users to have a large effect on the telecom market. However, due to Kakao Talk’s huge existing user-base and its disruptive potential, the KTC has decided to take a second look at what type of business category it should fall into. The official also added that if it is determined that further regulation is needed, the current telecommunications laws may be revised.