Having focused on technology development with enthusiasm, SK is staying ahead of its competitors in the global market across a variety of domains. Below is an overview of SK’s technology initiatives forging new possibilities by slogging ahead and continuing to challenge the status quo.
SK telecom’s ‘mobile telecom innovation’
Solidifying the foundation of telecom powerhouse from CDMA to 5G
SK telecom’s world’s first CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) commercialization represented a significant challenge from analogue to digital. Back in 1996, CDMA was just a technology offering of a small US venture company called Qualcomm and had to resolve a lot of issues before commercializing CDMA. Base stations had to be deployed in strategic spots and handsets had to be developed, but no Korean company had any relevant experience. Yet, SK telecom decided to tap into uncharted territory and pressed ahead independently from CDMA commercialization to 3G, LTE and the world’s first 5G, elevating itself to a global ICT leadership both in name and substance.
When SK telecom turned on the 5G network switch in December, 2018, mobile telecom carriers worldwide rushed in with requests for cooperation. SK telecom signed a global 5G agreement with Deutsche Telecom, the world’s biggest telecom carrier, and concluded 5G partnership agreements with NOW Corporation and NOW Telecom in the Philippines, transferring its 5G technology and operational infrastructure knowhow to them. In addition, SK telecom is sharing its 5G DNA with IT&E, telecom carrier covering Guam and Saipan, in a bid to take the lead in fostering the global ecosystem of 5G industry.
SK innovation’s ‘Biz. Deep Change’
Aspiring to be world’s No.1 supplier of core EV battery component
LiBS (Lithium-ion Battery Separator) used in EV and smartphone batteries is located between the battery cell’s anode and cathode to prevent explosion or ignition, determining the stability and performance of battery cells. LiBS, a few micrometer-thin polymer film, is classified into dry-type and wet-type. Wet-type LiBS involves somewhat more manufacturing costs than its dry-type counterpart, but it offers better quality and higher strength, accounting for over 70% of the global LiBS market. SK innovation succeeded in developing Korea’s first and world’s third LiBS in 2004, releasing the world’s first commercial LiBS product in 2011.
When SK innovation organized a LiBS task force in 2003, the global LiBS market was dominated by Asahi Kasei and Toray of Japan. Hearing the news that SK innovation would venture into the LiBS business, Japanese competitors began to keep SK innovation in check. With little reference material available, SK innovation iterated tests several thousand times and focused on product development. Although immediate outcomes were not readily in sight, SK innovation finally succeeded in developing LiBS products thanks to the devotion of its people as well as trust and support from management. Even though SK innovation’s commercial production line was halted from operation after completion due to a customer’s demanding requirements, SK innovation turned the setback into an opportunity to develop a new process and won the recognition of its LiBS product excellence in partnership with a global customer. Although starting as a latecomer, SK innovation has surpassed its competitors, accounting for the second biggest share of the global LiBS market, which has elevated not only SK’s business competitiveness but also proven SK’s technological prowess in the global market.
SK hynix’s ‘superiority in semiconductor technology’
Resulting from its steadfast commitment to investment and technology development
SK hynix has turned every challenge into opportunity, rising to join the league of the world’s top three semiconductor manufacturers. Although a late-runner in the semiconductor sector, SK hynix built a growth foundation with technology partnership forged with the US and Japanese semiconductor companies, narrowing the technology gap and strengthening its independent competitiveness. Devoting itself to technology development through a series of challenges posed by the Asian FX crisis, the US-born financial crisis, and the ‘chicken game’ among semiconductor manufacturers, SK hynix has soared even higher after becoming a SK affiliate in 2012.
While in the past the competitive edge of the semiconductor industry primarily depended on the expansion of production capacity and production cost reductions, the semiconductor industry business landscape has changed in terms of more challenging technology development and rising scale of investment. Leveraging its technological prowess and competitive edge refined for the past two decades, SK hynix is spearheading the global market with products meeting higher quality requirements and more advanced technological specifications.
In spite of persisting uncertainties in the economic landscape, SK hynix is forging ahead with product development and production, with technology innovation and daring investment initiatives. SK hynix released the industry’s most densely layered and highest capacity 128-layer 1Tb TLC 4D NAND flash memory last year, putting the product into full-scale production this year. Continued technology innovation from 36-layer, 48-layer, 72-layer, 96-layer, and now 128-layer has driven the growth of SK hynix until now. SK hynix will remain a world record breaker into the future.
SK chemicals’ ‘material independence’
Producing chlorine-free PPS with eco-friendly process
Super engineering plastic (EP), known to be lighter and stronger than steel, is widely used across industrial domains such as automotive, electronics, aerospace, and others; and is being named as one of future corporate growth drivers. Thanks to its excellent thermal and chemical resistance and lightweight properties, it is often used as a solution for shedding automobile weight. In 2005, SK chemicals developed the world’s first chlorine-free PPS which is one of the super engineering plastic solutions. It is an environment-friendly material that does not use any solvent in the production process and thereby discharges no by-products (salt) and gas. The chlorine-free PPS, known to be superior to comparable Japanese products, was ignored when it first entered the market due to the lack of market reference, but it is now replacing Japanese products fast thanks to its technological independence.
SK chemicals made an eye-opening achievement with Japanese suppliers accounting for as much as 70% of the super engineering plastic market in Korea. SK chemicals succeeded in developing a fog-free lamp material together with Hyundai Mobis in August, 2018. Japanese competitors joined the development program early on, but they withdrew prematurely, and SK chemicals’ PPS was finally selected as the lamp material. Lamp fogging is one of the most stubborn issues known to the automotive industry because of the physical properties of plastic materials that emit gas when exposed to high temperatures. As a PPS material involving no gas emission is applied to an automotive lamp component and the long-standing problem is fixed, Hyundai Mobis replaced the entire products imported from Japan with homegrown automotive lamp solutions.
Polycyclohexylenedimethylene terephthalate (PCT) is considered a candidate to replace polyethylenenaphthalate (PEN). Japanese makers supply 90% of Korea’s demand of this product. In collaboration with SKC, SK chemicals commercialized a PCT-based high-value-added film. When used as a cable material for EVs and other devices, PCT film can reduce the probability of damage or deformation-induced circuit malfunction even under high-voltage conditions. In spite of its excellent durability, it was challenging to turn PCT into a film configuration because of its fast-curing properties. However, SKC and SK chemicals upgraded PCT physical properties of through technological collaboration and succeeded in developing the world’s first PCT film. PCT film is the key to lightweight cable solutions leading to better fuel economy of automobiles. SK chemicals will expand PCT film applications to electronic/electric thin film circuitry components and automotive electronic parts to boost to SK’s EV/mobility material business.
SK’s K-bio resulting from ‘perseverant R&D efforts’
Repositioning Korea as a technology exporter
SK’s bio/pharmaceutical business supported by a 27-year-long steadfast investment commitment is now highly touted by the global market, with a series of technology export deals concluded. XCOPRI® (cenobamate), an anti-epileptic drug developed by SK biopharm last year, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Succeeding in the development of a new drug for a central nervous system disorder known to pose a particular challenge for new drug development programs, SK biopharm is touted worldwide for its R&D excellence. Early this year, the new sleep disorder drug Solriamfetol, licensed by SK biopharm to Jazz Pharmaceuticals Jazz Pharmaceuticals, was also approved for marketing by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), allowing SK biopharm to earn licensing royalties as per its sales to the US and Europe. As SK biopharm owns the product copyrights in 12 Asian countries including Korea, China, and Japan, additional revenue is expected from the continent.
SK bioscience, a spin-off of SK chemicals’ vaccine division, concluded a deal with Sanofi Pasteur to jointly develop and market a next-generation pneumococcal vaccine in 2014 and signed an influenza vaccine production technology licensing agreement in 2017, creating a revenue stream of licensing royalties (milestone payment). As such, SK’s bio innovation technology delivers better healthcare solutions to the global population and bolsters up SK’s business competitiveness, upgrading SK’s brand presence in the global market.