Coronavirus shuts down Samsung manufacturing site

Having forced the hand of the GSMA to cancel this years’ Barcelona bonanza, the coronavirus is now making itself known in Korea.

While the majority of a Samsung factory is now open, the floor where in infected employee worked will remain closed until the morning of February 25, according to Reuters. The impact should not be too significant to the Samsung business as this site only accounts for a small proportion of the total manufacturing output, it is another example of how the coronavirus outbreak could dent global supply chains.

“The company has placed colleagues who came in contact with the infected employee in self-quarantine and taken steps to have them tested for possible infection,” a spokesperson said.

Samsung might play down the impact of the closure on its business today, though it is also worth bearing in mind the coronavirus outbreak seems to be accelerating in Korea. The South Korean government has put the country on the highest threat level, after the number of cases just to 763 over the weekend.

As it stands, there has seemingly been little material impact to the industry, aside from limitations to travel and cancellations of conferences. Minimised facetime with partners and customers will of course impact business, though should manufacturing sites start to shut down, the consequences could be very expensive.

The telecoms and technology industries are under particular risk, considering the majority of manufacturing activities are concentrated in China.

“In line with recommendations from the Chinese authorities related to the Corona virus, Ericsson’s production and offices in China were closed until 9 February and this will result in limited to no impact on our customers,” an Ericsson spokesperson said.

“We continue to follow the situation and recommendation from the Chinese authorities and WHO [World Health Organisation], as we assess our supply chain.”

Ericsson is one company which is seemingly in a more comfortable position. Some products are manufactured in China, though the company also has sites in Estonia, the US and Brazil. Each of these sites can see production ramped up to compensate for any short-falling elsewhere.

As it stands there are more than 70,000 coronavirus cases in China, though the Hubei province has felt the greatest impact. Xiaomi is one company in the TMT space which has been impacted in a material way, its second headquarters is located in Wuhan, though as much of the telco industry is located in the Guangdong province, supply chain impact has been minimised for the moment.

Huawei is another company which was forced to close its doors in early February, though the company has suggested this was an extended holiday period for employees, and it is now back to 100% manufacturing capability.

“In short, we are doing an industry assessment,” said Ryan Ding, President of Huawei’s carrier business unit. “But we can say, for the next 3-6 months there will not be an impact on our global supply chain.”

Right now, the company has stockpiles of product and components which will ensure there is no complications to supply, both in terms of smartphones and telecoms network infrastructure equipment. As the sites are now functional again, it does look like the most serious consequences can be avoided, though this is based on the presumption the coronavirus outbreak will not continue to escalate.

The immediate risk to the closure of manufacturing sites is an inability to meet demands of customers with products, but also sourcing materials and components. Scarcity of components would only increase the price of products, meaning companies would have to either accept lower profit margins or pass the increased cost onto customers.

While the Chinese companies are the most obvious risk to the global supply chain, let’s not forget China is the manufacturing hub of much of the TMT industry. Ericsson, Nokia and Apple can also trace their supply chain back to Shenzhen. Currently, the delicately balanced supply chains are remaining intact, though this should be viewed as a significant risk to the telecoms industry.

SK Telecom claims multi-vendor 5G transmission first with Ericsson and Samsung

Korean operator SK Telecom says it has managed the world’s first standalone 5G data session on a multi-vendor commercial 5G network.

Single vendor set-ups are increasingly out of fashion in the telecoms world, with the traditional wariness about vendor lock-in compounded by geopolitical uncertainty that threatens to compel the exclusions of certain vendors that shall remain nameless. So this is an important step for 5G as well as another opportunity for South Korea to virtue-signal about how cutting-edge it is when it comes to 5G.

“With the successful standalone 5G data call on our multi-vendor commercial 5G network, we are now standing on the threshold of launching standalone 5G service, a key enabler of revolutionary changes and innovations in all industries,” said Park Jong-kwan, Head of 5GX Labs at SK Telecom. “SK Telecom will offer the best 5G networks and services to realize a whole new level of customer experience in the 5G era.”

The two vendors in question were Ericsson and Samsung. SKT wasn’t inclined to go into great depth on how this pivotal feat was achieved. We do know it involved applying SA NR radio to existing NSA base stations and, hey presto, it all worked a treat. While it was at it SKT decided to dabble in a spot of network slicing and edge computing, which frankly seems like showing-off, but then again if you’ve got it, flaunt it, innit.

SK Telecom and Samsung give 5G remote-controlled ships a go

Korea is looking to lead the way on autonomous shipping following the development of a 5G-based test platform by SK Telecom and Samsung Heavy Industries.

The new platform even includes a 3.3-meter-long test ship made by Samsung, which is equipped with with 5G-based LiDAR, a cloud-based IoT platform and T Live Caster, SK Telecom’s real-time video monitoring solution. Its maiden voyage took place in a shipyard that is covered by SK Telecom’s 5G network, enabling it to be remote controlled from 250 km away and to remotely keep an eye on its autonomous decisions.

“Today’s successful test marks a meaningful step towards commercialization of technologies for autonomous navigation of ships powered by 5G,” said Choi Il-gyu, Head of the B2B Office of SK Telecom. “SK Telecom will continue to drive innovations in the manufacturing sector with the world’s best 5G network and technologies.”

“We have now secured an optimal research environment to make a leap in the area of autonomous navigation ship technologies by combining Samsung Heavy Industries’ autonomous and remote navigation system and SK Telecom’s 5G communication technologies,” said Shim, Yong-Lae, VP of the SHI Ship & Offshore Research Institute.

While the thought of a supertanker cruising around the place thinking for itself is pretty alarming and dystopian, the companies involved insist this kind of technology actually improves safety, especially in narrow or shoreline environments, thanks to the ability to monitor the movements of other ships in real time. So long as the technology also ensures a human can step in if needed then that does sound plausible, if still a bit scary.

SK Telecom and Samsung reckon we need 8K TV over 5G

Korean tech giant Samsung has teamed up with compatriot operator SK Telecoms to develop what they claim will be the world’s first 5G 8K TV.

On one level this should just be as simple as whacking a 5G modem into an 8K telly, but there seems to be more to it than that, hence the announcement. SK Telecom says that only when it applies mobile edge computing and network-based media processing to its 5G network will it be able to achieve seamless transmission of 8K video. The fact that those sorts of technologies are in the 5G roadmap anyway is beside the point.

Which brings us to the likely real reason for this announcement: to generate positive publicity for both companies. 5G has long been in danger of being a technological solution in search of a problem and the same could certainly be said of 8K video, in a world that is still trying to work out whether it sees much value in 4K.

“The 5G-8K TV is the culmination of ultra-low latency 5G networks combined with ultra-high definition TV technology,” said Park Jin-hyo, CTO and Head of ICT R&D Center at SK Telecom. “5G technology will help make the world of hyper media a reality.” Hyper media seems to refer to telly augmented by all kinds of other internet gimmickry.

Short of producing a 5G dongle it’s not clear what Samsung is bringing to the project other than cash and its consumer electronics brand. Nowhere is it explained why it’s preferable to deliver all this hyper media goodness over 5G rather than fibre, nor is it openly discussed what the minimum screen size would be beneath which the human eye is unable to discern any difference between 4K and 8K. But these are just details that shouldn’t detract from our jubilation that the 5G 8K era is almost upon us.

Korea Telecom and Tessares claim 5G Low Latency Multi-Radio Access Technology first

The first commercial test of a 3GPP Release 16 technology designed to improve dynamic switching between 5G and wifi has been claimed by KT and Tessares.

The proper name for the tech is Access Traffic Steering, Switch and Splitting and the reason we care about it is that is could significantly improve the way devices choose and switch between cellular and wifi, depending on the circumstances. ATSSS was defined in collaboration with KT, Apple, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, and Cisco and is based on Multi-Path TCP technology, apparently. Here are a couple of diagrams from Tessares that explain the point of it further.

Tessares ATSS 1

Tessares ATSS 2

“ATSSS technology reduces the initial session setup time to achieve 5G ultra-low latency in a multi-radio context, resulting in a setup delay of less than half compared to previous approaches,” said the press release. KT and Tessares seem to be spearheading the development and standardization process.

“The success of this low latency multi-radio access technology test will allow customers to take advantage of existing LTE and Wi-Fi networks, as well as 5G, to enable wireless services at higher speed and quality.” said Sun-woo Lee, SVP of the KT Infra R&D Laboratory. “KT will continue to develop core 5G technologies to strengthen its R&D capabilities.”

“We are convinced that mobile Internet usage requires an efficient combination of all existing network assets such as WiFi, LTE and 5G,” said Denis Périquet, Tessares CEO. “We are delighted to have collaborated with KT, who is clearly leading the 5G race, to demonstrate the benefits of ATSSS.”

This technology presumably promises all kinds of wireless cleverness, but we’d be happy if all it achieved was to make devices smart enough to dynamically pick the best network available and make manually switching between them less fiddly than it currently is.

SK Telecom claims 1 million 5G subscriber record

Korean operator SK Telecom has announced it’s the first to accumulate a million 5G subscribers, just four months after it was made available.

While this is an impressive achievement, it only represents 3.5% of its total subscriber base of 28 million. Having said that SK Telecom managed to hit this milestone twice as quickly as it did with 4G, which it launched in 2011. Those million early adopters are using 33.7 GB of data per month, compared to the 4G average of 20.4 GB.

“SK Telecom will continuously develop innovative contents and services specially designed and optimized for 5G network to provide differentiated experiences to our 5G subscribers,” said Ryu Young-sang, Head of the MNO Business at SK Telecom. The press release also took the opportunity to big-up the recently-launched Samsung Note 10 5G.

South Korea has emerged as the world’s commercial 5G test-bed. SK Telecom has put a lot of work into providing services, such as HD video streaming, that make use of the additional bandwidth offered by 5G and that seems to be paying off. While certain trends may be unique to local consumers, any operator looking for 5G monetization tips could do worse than pay Korea a visit.

LGU+ jumps to the top in 5G testing

Irrelevant as to whether South Korea was actually first to launch 5G or not, it’s the first market Rootmetrics has tested comprehensively and LGU+ have come out on top.

US telcos have argued over the small print of launching the first 5G network, but South Korea was the first to open its networks to smartphones on April 3. All three crossed the finish line together, an intended objective of the South Korean Government, though the outcome four months later is not exactly the same.

Looking at the top-line figures, it perhaps isn’t what you would expect. LGU+, often considered the third-placed player in the market, has led the way, with SK Telecom and KT trading blows just behind.

Maximum 5G speed Median 5G speed 5G Latency Reliability (staying connected)
KT 751 Mbps 163 Mbps 107 ms 99.9%
LGU+ 902.1 Mbps 426.4 Mbps 72 ms 97.9%
SK Telecom 638.7 Mbps 286.9 Mbps 195 ms 99.9%

Currently there is no point of comparison globally, Rootmetrics has not completed similar reports in comparable markets just yet, though the maximum speed being demonstrated by LGU+ is faster than we have seen posted by analyst speed tests in the wild in both the US and UK.

What is worth noting is this is nothing more than a bit of an ego boost for the moment. As there are few (if any) mobile applications which demand such speeds the maximum speeds are little more than a redundancy currently, though it will appeal to consumers.

Traditionally, telcos have spoken to consumers in a very simplistic manner. The desirability of telcos were judged on download speeds along, though that will have to change in the future. If telcos are going to justify asking for increased tariffs, they will have to deliver more than faster downloads that rivals, as soon enough consumers will cotton onto the fast they do not need 900 Mbps to do the vast majority of things on a smartphone.

However, for the moment the status quo is being maintained and consumers will still be drawn in the by ‘bigger, meaner, faster’ mentality being demonstrated today. This is where LGU+ might be able to steal a couple of subscriptions off rivals.

Interestingly enough, it has been reported Huawei is a supplier to LGU+ but has been snubbed by both KT and SK Telecom. This is not a suggestion the speeds have been driven primarily by Huawei’s inclusion, but it is an interesting differentiator between the rivals.

This is a good comparison to give 5G a bit of context, however a comparison between markets such as Switzerland, US and the UK will offer much more insight into the deployment strategies.

SK Telecom talks 6G with Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung

South Korean operator SK Telecom is hoping to take the lead in the development of 5G towards 6G in partnership with most of the big kit vendors.

Specifically SKT has signed those memorandum of understanding things with each of Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung Electronics. The mutual understanding reached between SKT and the vendors is that they promise to cooperate with each other when it comes to research and development of 5G and 6G technologies.

The 5G stuff is as expected: ultra-reliable and low-latency communications, enhanced MIMO, millimetre wave and standalone 5G. Despite banging on about 6G in the press release, SKT didn’t feel confident enough to specifiy the nature of the 6G R&D, just committing to draft technical requirements and new business models for the next generation of mobile tech.

“Through strengthened cooperation with Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung Electronics, SK Telecom will be able to secure the world’s best 5G quality and lead the way towards 6G mobile network communications,” said Park Jin-hyo, Chief Technology Officer and Head of ICT R&D Center of SK Telecom.

Conspicuously absent from this happy band are Huawei and ZTE. South Korea, of course, has long had a complicated relationship with China, but with the current trade tensions between the US and China currently focusing on Huawei as a proxy, many US allies are moving to distance themselves from it and ZTE just to make sure they stay out of trouble. With Huawei making it clear it’s investing heavily in technological autonomy, there is a real possibility of 6G R&D becoming balkanised.

SK Telecom is bolstering 5G launch with rich content

South Korea’s largest mobile operator will switch on 5G service for consumers on Friday and has plenty of goodies for consumers to fill the bandwidth with.

After publishing its 5G service packages for consumers, SK Telecom (SKT) announced that it is beefing up content, from streamed games to HD and VR videos, that the 5G users can choose from. In a press release the company claimed it has secured around 8,000 different content titles.

A special section for 5G called “SKT 5GX” is set up in SKT’s OTT video service that would include VR video (concert, city and museum tours), 5G MAX (IMAX-like experience), and UHD content (dramas, entertainment shows and music videos in 4K and above). There on offer will also be VR and AR games as well as exclusive streaming games. Additionally, a social VR will enable “multiple users to watch baseball games together in a virtual reality environment.”

“The AR, VR and cloud games unveiled today only mark the beginning of the age of Hyper-Innovation brought by 5G,” said Park Jung-ho, the Chief Executive Officer of SK Telecom. “SK Telecom will continue to introduce 5G-based innovative services to lead all areas of New ICT.”

In order to promote the early adoption of 5G, SKT will zero-rate data for consuming the content from ‘SKT 5GX’ section of the OTT mobile video service, as well as provide up to 5GB of free data for users of its mobile games and VR games. The promotion will run till the end of June.

SKT said that it has rolled out 34,000 5G base stations covering 85 metropolises across the country as well as some hotspots like shopping centres, metro lines in the greater Seoul region, etc., and is planning to expand the coverage to all the metro lines in the country, as well as the national parks and festival sites. The company has excluded Huawei from its 5G business and has been working with Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung.