Park Jun-young WIRED Korea
One year has passed since three mobile network carriers started their much hyped 5G commercial services in Korea. But the launch of the services has shown mixed results.
On one hand, SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus have yet to deliver on their promises -- ultra-high speed, ultra-low latency and ultra-connectedness in their services.
Subscribers, who often find the “non-standalone” mode of service switches from 5G to LTE, post their complaints on social networking sites. They ask why they have to pay a higher subscription rate when the service quality falls far short of what the carriers promised.
Ha Hyun-hwoi, CEO and vice chairman of LG Uplus, said in his recent message to employees, “Our clients are saying that we charge very high rates, have few valuable contents and provide LTE service to their 5G phones. Let’s keep their complaints in mind and improve our services.”
But an improvement in services is easier said than done. Experts believe it will take long before they provide the promised level of quality in a new “standalone” mode of service.
On the other hand, the network carriers are reaping first-mover advantages. Samsung Electronics is also given a leg-up in a competition with global powerhouses for the provision of devices and network equipment.
Before launching commercial services on their newly built 5G networks on April 3, 2019, the three carriers made careful preparations with government support. They had to learn from trials and errors as the first movers in the field of technology that had yet to be tested.
From among the three, KT was selected to launch a 5G pilot service during the Winter Olympics held in Pyeongchang in February 2018. The test had been planned earlier as part of a grand project to upgrade mobile communication in Korea. The test of an emerging technology in a real environment had been planned earlier as part of a grand project to upgrade mobile communication in Korea.
The Korean government initiated the change in telecommunication from LTE to 5G when it drew a roadmap for what it called super-connected intelligent networks in late 2017.
Since then, it had taken measures for early 5G commercial services, including auctioning bandwidths in July 2018, setting the standards for technology used for 5G devices, base stations and repeaters in August and evaluating the electromagnetic compatibility of 5G devices and equipment in October.
Now that the carefully orchestrated preparations had been implemented, the carriers started to transmit 5G signals in Seoul and metropolitan areas on December 1, using Samsung-developed base station radios and core solutions. They confirmed that they were ready to lauch commercial services.
After 10 months of commercial operation, the combined number of subscribers surpassed the 5 million mark and the total numbrer of base stations topped 10,000, which the carriers said were no small achievements.
Now they are playing a leading role in setting the global standard for a new technology -- multi-access edge computing -- and find they are better positioned to go into technological alliances with global mobile carriers such as Deutsche Telekom.
The rapidly expanding subscriber base and the continued installation of base stations were a boon to Samsung as well, which now has a 43 percent share of the global 5G smartphone market. Moreover, Samsung pushed Nokia to the sidelines and ranked third in the world 5G telecom equipment market after Huawei and Ericsson last year.
In the previous year, the conventional telecom equipment market was dominated by the triumvirate -- Huawei with 31 percent, Ericsson with 27 percent and Nokia with 22 percent. Samsung was way behind with a mere 5 percent.
Continued investments by the three carriers and Samsung are boosting growth of small- and medium-sized businesses and their exports. For instance, a startup producing 5G-enabled 3D VR contents saw its 2019 turnover grow 178 percent to 5 billion won from the previous year.
The government is assististing the carriers and others. It is planning to help small- and medium-sized businesses obtain 5G-related certifications from global standard-setting agencies, invest in training human resources at graduate schools to help build smart factories and smart cities. It has set aside 650 billion won for this and other support purposes in 2020.
The most urgent problem, however, is how to address subscriber complaints about the quality of 5G services. To solve this problem, the carriers will have to widen coverage by installing more base stations and move from the non-standalone mode of service on the 3.5GHz band to the standalone mode of 5G-only service on the 28GHz band.
The three carriers are planning to spend 4 trillion won on expanding coverage and improve the quality of their services during the first half of this year. The money will be mostly spent on installing more base stations.
But the ultimate solution lies in starting services anew on the 28GHz band. But the problem is that services on the 28GHz band would cost much more than those on the 3.5GHz band because they would require far more base stations.
For this reason, the carriers are dragging their feet when the government is pushing them to start work on 5G standalone services on the 28GHz band.
Park Jun-young’s original Korean-language article is found at <상용화 1주년 맞은 5G, 명과 암은?>.
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