KT boasts of 1mn 5G subs and European roaming deals

KT has announced its 5G subscriber base has gone past the one million mark and it has entered into 5G roaming agreements with operators in Italy, Switzerland, and Finland.

KT, South Korea’s second largest operator, announced that it has won one million 5G subscribers five months after the service was launched, and one month after its competitor, SK Telecom, the country’s biggest operator, hit the milestone.

Meanwhile, KT has also reached 5G roaming agreements with TIM in Italy, Sunrise in Switzerland, and Elisa in Finland. This means that KT’s 5G subscribers will be able to use the 5G networks provided by those three operators in the three European countries.

KT has standing agreements with operators in 185 countries for 3G and LTE roaming. The operator aims to extend those agreements to 5G when 5G services go live in those countries. Prior to the agreements with the three European countries, KT had already set up a similar agreement with China Mobile, despite the fact it hasn’t launched services yet.

According to KT’s price proposals at the time of 5G launch, customers on the starting package (paying KRW 55,000, or $46 per month) will have 8 GB roaming data while overseas, with the speed capped at 1 Mbps. Those on higher tiers (paying KRW 80,000 ($67) or KRW 100,000 ($84) per month) will have unlimited roaming data, but the speed will be capped at 100 Kbps. Customers on the premium tier of the 5G service (KRW 130,000, or $109, per month) will have the speed limited lifted to 3 Mbps.

KT is not the first South Korean operator to tie 5G roaming partnerships. SK Telecom 5G subscribers will be able to connect to Swisscom while travelling in Switzerland, while those on LG U+ will be able to connect to China Unicom’s 5G when travelling to its neighbouring country, after the latter’s 5G service goes live.

The only catch for KT 5G users intending to visit Europe is that the roaming can only be done on Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, the vendor’s first 5G smartphone, though KT said the service will be extended to other devices soon. Earlier this month, at IFA in Berlin, Samsung announced that it had already sold 2 million 5G smartphones and expected to double the volume to 4 million by the end of the year.

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.

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.

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.

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:

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.