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:
⚡ Congratulations to South Korea for launching the world’s first #5G commercial services – conducted through the Samsung 5G Mobile Hotspot and 5G prototype smartphone.
The central government of Korea has been urging the operators to work together to avoid excessive competition. Henceforth there has been increased collaboration and synchronisation between the operators to achieve this so-called “Korea 5G Day”.
For consumers, the first wave of mainstream 5G smartphones are expected to hit the market by the end of Q1 next year, likely to be led by Samsung and Huawei, the three Korean operators all aim to launch 5G cellular service for consumers in March 2019. We can expect another synchronised launch.
Korea is broadly expected by the industry professionals to be one of the first countries to go live on 5G commercial service, according to the latest Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey. With AT&T promising to launch 5G commercial service in 12 cities in the US by the end of the month, other markets touted as 5G leaders, for example Singapore, Qatar, may now feel the pressure to quicken their steps to commercialisation.