Ericsson gets some commercial 5G work from KT

Korean operator KT is buying a bunch of 5G NR kit and software to help it launch 5G commercially in a few weeks’ time.

It has been a decent week for Ericsson’s 5G sales team, with TDC in Denmark also signing on the dotted line. This latest win is the first commercial deal resulting from Ericsson being chosen as a 5G supplier late last year. They’ve presumably been working on this for a while, since the launch is so imminent, but KT only just gave Ericsson the green light to go public about it.

“Having worked successfully with Ericsson on 4G LTE, we are pleased to continue that partnership to make our 5G ambitions a reality with Ericsson’s leading 5G technology,” said Jinho Choi, VP of Access Network Design at KT. “By taking a global lead to enable nationwide commercial 5G services through commercially available 5G smartphones, KT is demonstrating our commitment to our customers and showing how we can drive a global 5G ecosystem where Korea plays a key role.”

“We’ve worked with KT for many years to bring the very best mobile user experiences to its customers,” said Patrick Johansson, Head of Ericsson Korea. “Notably on 5G, we worked closely together to show the world what 5G could do during a major global winter sports event in 2018. With 5G we aim to help KT to take their customers’ experiences to new levels, whether through enhanced mobile broadband for mobile subscribers, or helping to make national and global IoT and Industry 4.0 opportunities a reality for enterprises and industries.”

Specifically this gig concerns KT’s 3.5 GHz Non-Standalone (NSA) network. Korea is set to be the first country to offer some form of 5G nationwide on a commercial basis, although how many people will be able to make use of 3.5 GHz spectrum remains to be seen. In practice this is likely to be a Seoul thing, but it’s nonetheless an additional win for Ericsson to be associated with it.

SK Telecom looks to the edge to monetize 5G

SK Telecom has announced the launch of its ‘5G Mobile Edge Computing Open Platform’ in an effort to marry two of the industry’s hottest topics.

While 5G has dominated industry discussions for years, this years Mobile World Congress saw edge computing steal at least some of the limelight. This may well be evidence of a more pragmatic approach to connectivity ROI, with telcos removing some of the buzz surrounding 5G and creating a more realistic story about how to commercialise the connectivity bonanza; 5G is only one step forward, but the edge is another.

“By opening up the ‘5G Mobile Edge Computing Platform’, SK Telecom will secure the basis for expanding the MEC-related ecosystem and accelerating the release of 5G services,” said Park Jin-hyo, CTO of SK Telecom. “SK Telecom will join hands with diverse companies throughout the globe to boost the adoption of MEC-based services.”

As part of the initiative, SK Telecom will offer enterprise customers the opportunity to improve customers Quality of Experience (QoE) by connecting their service server or data-centre to SK Telecom’s MEC platform. SK Telecom will also provide open Application Programming Interfaces to enable customers to easily develop MEC-based 5G services.

By enabling the edge, ideas such as the smart factory become more of a reality. SK Telecom claims that latency can be reduced by up to 60% by using the edge.

Although the traditional means of generating revenue in the telco space has been through very simplistic and consumer orientated marketing strategies, this cannot be the case for 5G. Such is the expense of deploying a network which meets the connectivity expectations of tomorrow, leaning on traditional business models will likely not work. To realise the promise of 5G, initiatives such as this one, which encourages more creative projects with enterprise customers, are an excellent step forward.

This was perhaps one of the most satisfying outcomes from Mobile World Congress this year, as while some might have viewed the switching on of 5G networks as somewhat of an anti-climax, for us it was a very palatable outcome.

The focus on the edge, and the dampening of 5G hype, set the stage for progress. Yes, the industry has spent a lot of the futureproof networks, and yes, investors are craving the promised profits, but conversations felt much more realistic, pointing towards the work which still needs to be done. Afterall, 5G should be viewed as a catalyst to secure new revenues, not as the silver bullet.

KT and Nokia will join hands to launch first ‘true’ 5G this month

Korea’s mobile operator KT is going to launch nationwide 5G service this month and will collaborate with Nokia to provide services and tools for the business and the public sectors.

Hwang Chang-Gyu, KT’s Chairman and CEO, recently announced that KT’s nationwide 5G network will be switched in March to cover 24 major cities, key transport routes such as expressways, subways, high-speed railways, large universities, and neighbourhood shopping areas. This will be an upgrade from the synchronised launch of 5G services with limited scale on 1 December 2018 by all the three national mobile operators.

“In March, KT will be the first in the world to introduce ‘True’ 5G mobile services,” said Hwang. “In the 5G era, neckband cameras, AR glasses and all kinds of devices will be connected to 5G, contributing to a better life for mankind.” That this was a personal historic moment should not to be lost. Exactly four years ago at MWC 2015, Hwang predicted a commercial 5G network by 2019. “Today, I would like to announce that the promise I made four years ago has finally been fulfilled,” Hwang added in his MWC speech.

The current 5G service that KT, SKT, and LG Plus are offering is fixed-wireless access targeted at business users. During the recent MWC, KT demonstrated plenty of 5G gimmicks for the consumer market, from a 5G connected robot butler bringing a bottle of water to the doorstep to a 5G and AI powered robot barista fixing cocktails.

KT is clearly banking big hope on 5G. Its Economic and Management Research Institute predicted that the socioeconomic value created by 5G will contribute to 1.5% of the country’s GDP by 2025. To realise such potential and to achieve serious monetisation of 5G, KT is looking towards the enterprise market and the public sector. The company announced that it plans to focus on five key areas with its 5G offers: smart cities, smart factories, connected cars, 5G media, and the 5G cloud. It says it is collaborating with various businesses as well as the Korean government to develop 5G services for both Business to Business (B2B) industries and Business to Government (B2G) sectors.

This is an echo to what Marcus Weldon, Nokia’s CTO and the President of Bell Labs, called for during his own speech at MWC. Weldon suggested the telecom industry should focus more on serving other verticals instead of on consumer markets, to deliver the true value of 5G. He did concede that it would need three to five years before telcos can see meaningful revenues from enterprise 5G. But when they do, Weldon predicted the business will soon equal that being made in the consumer 5G segment.

It just happened that KT and Nokia are going to collaborate closely in 5G. During MWC the two companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate on various 5G technologies. “We are excited to partner with Nokia to conduct these path-breaking trials,” said Jeon Hong-Beom, KT’s CTO. “This collaboration will ensure that we are able to leverage Nokia’s proven solutions and best-in-class professional services to provide a superior and differentiated experience to our subscribers.”

“With Korea, one of the lead countries in the early deployment of 5G, we are delighted to be working with KT to help them build a future-ready network,” added Bhaskar Gorti, President of Nokia Software. “Nokia’s end-to-end portfolio will empower KT to improve its customer experience and network efficiency.”

The key areas of the collaboration will include Service Orchestration and Assurance for the 5G era, with the aim of delivering end-to-end automation and new revenue opportunities for KT’s enterprise customers. This will be supported by the enabling technologies like NFC and network slicing. The joint work will start in Seoul later this year.

Korea switches on 5G

All three of Korea’s major mobile operators switched on 5G networks simultaneous at midnight on 1 December, offering business FWA based on 3GPP standards.

The launches marked Korea as the first country to have more than one commercial 5G network. The largest operator SKT, launched the service in 13 cities, while LG U+ plans to expand its 5G coverage to 85 cities by the end of the year. KT, the second largest mobile operator and the leading fixed-line services provider, which recently suffered a fire damage to its cable tunnel, is said to be only covering the greater Seoul area with its 5G network.

The services offered are limited to business users on fixed-wireless access. The launch at LG U+ was signalled by a video call made from a PC by the operator’s Vice Chairman. SKT’s CEO made a call using a prototype 5G smartphone. Both the wireless router and the prototype phone were supplied by Samsung, which sent out a congratulatory tweet for the occasion:

Infographic: Who do Telecoms.com readers think is winning the 5G race?

Last week, research from Deloitte placed China at the front of the pack in the race for the 5G dream, so we asked Telecoms.com readers in a snap poll who they thought was winning.

Deloitte’s reasoning was built on the progress of network densification programmes across the country, its throwing sites up all over the place, and also future investment allocations. It seems Telecoms.com readers agree with the consultancy as well.

We suspect the ‘someone else’ option was directed at a European nation, though considering only 6% decided to select this one, it is not looking good for the continent.

5G Leadership Infographic

 

Korean operators make pact to avoid undermining each other on 5G

SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus have all agreed to launch 5G services at the same time to avoid the potentially blood-thirsty race in pursuit of the ‘first’ accolade.

According to The Korea Herald, the three telcos came to the agreement in a meeting with Yoo Young-min, the Minister in charge of the Ministry of Science and ICT, with the targeted launch date set as March 2019. While it is certainly a nice gesture, whether the telcos are able to stick to such a commitment remains to be seen.

“It is important for mobile carriers to avoid heated competition for the title of world‘s ‘first’ 5G service provider in order for Korea to become a nation that can commercialize the 5G service for the first time in the world,” said Yoo.

Although this situation should be viewed as the exception not the rule, this is a familiar sounding message. The development and standardization of 5G was painstakingly thorough partly with the ambition of all operators crossing the line together, preventing a fragmentation of the technology, and in turn, interoperability. Should the operators stick to their promise of March 2019 launch, the paranoia over competition could be removed, rushed decisions can be eradicated and deployment should be effective. Racing to the finish line can lead to mistakes, but a collaborative approach like this should put Korea in a very good position overall.

Last month the much anticipated Korean auction for 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz bands for 5G services was completed. For the 3.5 GHz band, SK Telecom spent roughly $1.1 billion for 100 MHz of spectrum, with KT paying a bit less, $870 million, for the same. LG Uplus bagged 80 MHz for $728 million. Honours were even for the 28 GHz band, with each collecting 800 MHz. The trio will be free to start using the bands from December, hopefully leaving enough time to thoroughly test enough use cases ahead of the March deadline.

Whether the loving trio can keep on good terms for another eight months remains to be seen, but the friendly route might just work out in everyone’s favour in the long run.

Korean operators set to switch to usage-based billing – report

In a sign of the disruption set to be unleashed by the 5G era is has been reported that Korea’s main operators are all expected to switch to usage-based tariffs next year.

This is the view of Hana Financial Investment and was reported by the Yonhap news agency. The rationale stated in the report is that usage-based billing will offer higher ARPU and thus cover the cost of investing in 5G, but that seems like a pretty tenuous theory. Yes, some people will pay a premium to be able to constantly stream HD video over 5G but a lot more may end up paying very little because they’re on wifi most of the time.

“There is a high possibility that mobile carriers may change their current high definition content into UHD or virtual reality, which will inevitably lead to an increase in traffic and jack up their sales sharply,” Kim Hong-sik, an analyst at Hana Financial Investment, was quoted as saying in the report.

Usage-based billing is expected to become more commonplace, but the assumption that it will be a cash cow seems hasty. Assuming telcos every get their digital transformation act together, they should be able to get into deals with OTT players like Netflix and app developers to introduce dynamic billing models that allow premiums to be paid for certain scenarios.

Lest we forget, usage-based (or metered) billing was common back in the 3G era, but if failed because it dissuaded people from using data at all. Then they jumped to unlimited and everyone got carried away in the opposite direction, before the industry settled on the monthly allowance model that prevails today.

Unless metered billing is introduced in a much more sophisticated way this time there’s no reason to assume it will fare any better. Another billing revolution expected to accompany 5G is a return to unlimited, which would presumably appeal to heavy users, so it will be interesting to see how they manage this. The fact that all three of them seem to be planning to make the move unison is also noteworthy.

Apple faces Korea fine for abusing telco neediness

Korea’s Fair Trade Commission has said it has launched an investigation into whether Apple is abusing its market position in the market, overcharging customers and exploiting the tired telcos.

According to the Korean Times, the investigation could take up to two months and other local sources has said the fine could exceed 100 trillion won, approximately $93 million. Should Koreans find the iLeader guilty, it could make for worrying precedent for a company which has a strangle hold on its ecosystem and go-to-market strategy.

This is not the first time Apple has been under the microscope in Korea for the way it deals with telcos. The first iPhone was sold in Korea in 2009, and since that point there have been numerous claims of unfair practises, such as shifting advertising costs to the telcos or dictating how the products should be sold.

It should not be viewed as uncommon for a brand to get involved with how a product is displayed in store or through advertising, especially for Apple which is heavily reliant on the brand and consumer loyalty for the incredible sales, however should the Korean FTC unveil any dodgy conditions or criteria, there might be a bit of trouble. One of the areas which will also be included in the investigation is the pricing of the handsets themselves.

Consumers in Korea have been forced to pay 200,000 won (roughly $187) more than those in Japan and the US, which might be an issue if Apple is found to be too heavily involved. Should domestic and local telcos/outlets decide the Koreans should pay more, the FTC could say nothing as this is simply local market forces. If Apple is forcing the price up, this treated as abusing a dominant market position and unfairly exploiting the consumer.

Apple is a company which likes to maintain a level of control over its products. This is part of the reason the brand is so strong and reliable; it has a specific message and image which is communicated very consistently throughout the world. Should Korean authorities look to drive a wedge in-between Apple and the telcos because of unfair practises, the control over how the brand is presented and communicated would loosen. This would certainly be a worrying development for the iChief which has almost cult-like control over its legions of iFollowers; variances in the brand would weaken the marionette strings.

This is of course not the first time Apple has faced criticism over unfair practises. In 2013, Taiwan fined Apple for controlling prices and in 2016 France dished out a €48.5 million fine for forcing telcos to pay for advertising. It did an effective job of damage limitation there, and will be looking to do the same here.

Huawei does 5G Gangnam style

Huawei teamed up with Korean operator LG U+ to demonstrate some novel 5G applications on the streets of Seoul.

The two set up what they claim is ‘the world’s first large-scale 5G network test in a pre-commercial environment’ in the Gangnam district, which is known for its high-rise buildings as well as the cool kids alluded to in the famous pop song. It featured base stations using the 3.5 GHz and the 28 GHz spectrum bands.

This demo was designed to coincide with the fourth global 5G event, which otherwise yielded suspiciously little news. It was symptomatic of the growing desperation from the telecoms industry to demonstrate 5G infrastructure is worth spending money on because of all the great utopian stuff it will enable.

Among those, apparently, are the ability to stream 4K IPTV video into a moving bus and to control and stream data from a VR drone. How we have coped without such basic essentials to date is a mystery, but the good news is those dark days will soon be behind us.

Huawei drone

“The world’s first large-scale joint 5G pre-commercial test indicated a significant breakthrough in 5G,” said Kim Dae Hee, VP of LG U+ 5G Strategy Unit. “We believe that Huawei is set to help LG U+ implement the world’s first Commercial 5G network over 3.5 GHz.”

“In the Gangnam District of Korea, we have successfully validated the 5G pre-commercial network and released the world’s first 3.5 GHz CPE,” Zhou Yuefeng, Huawei Wireless Product Line CMO. “This demonstrates that Huawei will maintain its capability to provide competitive E2E 5G network products in 2018. LG U+ and Huawei will continue to conduct further research into 5G technologies and build a robust E2E industry ecosystem to achieve business success in the upcoming 5G era.”

Incidentally Gangnam Style recently became only the third YouTube video to hit three billion views, having been the first to cross the one billion mark. It is only third on the list of all time YouTube views, however, behind Despacito and See You Again – both also music videos. In fact music videos dominate the top 100 most-viewed YouTube vids, accounting for 95 of them.

 

SK Telecom says its 5G rollout is moving quicker than expected

The incremental crawl towards 5G is going slightly faster in South Korea, if SK Telecoms latest boasts are to be believed.

Its trial 5G network in Bundang was augmented with a relay repeater operating in both the 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz bands. The main point of this sort of thing is to overcome the propagation issues faced when using higher frequency spectrum – i.e. it doesn’t penetrate walls very well. The obvious solution to this is to install boosters anywhere the main 5G signal is struggling to reach.

One interesting nugget within this news is a partnership with SK Telesys to develop an in-building relay repeater, which can deliver 5G radio signals in 3.5 GHz using the existing mobile communications infrastructure installed inside buildings.

In another demo SK Telecom collaborated with Samsung to do a 360-degree VR video call via a tablet device. The big deal here is that the call was even maintained while moving around a high-rise urban environment, thus demonstrating the ability to keep a high bandwidth connection going in spite of real-world challenges, thanks to bits of 5G cleverness such as beamforming.

“The success of 5G wireless communications in the real-world environment will give us momentum to accelerate our effort to roll out 5G service earlier than expected,” said Park Jin-hyo, Head of Network Technology R&D Center at SK Telecom. “We, at SK Telecom will continue to develop our capabilities to rollout 5G networks in order to offer differentiated services to our customers.”

All this talk of thongs happening ‘earlier than expected’ has limited resonance without stating what those expectations were. Nonetheless the steady stream of claimed 5G firsts from South Korea contribute to the sense that it’s the current front-runner in the race to 5G. Now make some money out of it SK Telecom – then we’ll be impressed.