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.

Verizon, KT and Samsung team up for yet another 5G proclamation

Verizon, KT and Samsung have teamed up so the CEO’s of the two telcos could have a video call with each other.

The video call was yet another 5G demonstration taking place between Minneapolis and Seoul, Korea during a sponsored sport event. If you are a Samsung fan, buckle up your seat-beat as the trial was showcased the companies 5G end-to-end (E2E) solutions in each location. The trio have also stated, quite reasonably in fact, that such a grounded usecase is an indication of how close the reality of 5G actually is.

“The fact that 5G is no longer a dream owes its debt to the collaborations we have carried out with operators like Verizon and vendors like Samsung,” said Hong-beom Jeon, Head of Infra laboratory at KT. “Our efforts have enabled some of the most demanding tasks to come to fruition.”

“Seeing Samsung’s 5G end-to-end solutions in action, including a working prototype 5G tablet, underscores how important our collaborative relationship has been in helping accelerate the availability of commercial 5G mobility for customers,” said Ed Chan, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Architect, Verizon.

“As we say at Verizon, ‘we don’t wait for the future, we build it’. We are glad to be working with like-minded partners to build the 5G future globally.”

Looking at the nitty gritty side, Samsung supplied the network Infrastructure composed of 28GHz 5G access units, 5G home routers(CPEs), virtualized RAN, virtualized core network and prototype 5G devices. The trio claim the exercise successfully demonstrated how to bring one of the smallest 5G radio base stations and 5G home routers (CPEs) to market.

As well as allowing the two CEOs to whisper sweet nothings across thousands of miles with no threat of buffering or losing sync between video and audio, Samsung also took the opportunity to showcase a new 5G tablet. The tablet is capable of running on multi-gigabit per second speeds via 5G networks, as well as the latest 4G LTE network speeds.

If you’re lucky enough to be invited to one of the Samsung meet and greets at MWC, now you know what you’ll be getting as a freebie.