The very small number of people who are capable and inclined can now roam between the 5G networks of Swisscom and either SK Telecom or Elisa.
Swisscom has over 6 million mobile subscribers but hasn’t revealed how many of them have upgraded to 5G. Since Swisscom only started to roll out its 5G network in April of this year, it seems safe to assume its 5G subscriber base is struggling to hit six figures. Of those, owners of Samsung Galaxy S10 5G smartphones can now fly from Zurich to Seoul confident of maintaining their newly-won boosted download speeds. The converse is true of SK Telecom’s 5G punters.
“SK Telecom once again proved its leadership in advanced roaming technology with the launch of world’s first 5G roaming service” said Han Myung-jin, Head of the MNO Business Supporting Group of SK Telecom. “We will continuously expand our 5G roaming service to enhance customer experience and benefits.”
“We want to offer our customers the best network – both in Switzerland and abroad,” said Dirk Wierzbitzki, Head of Product and Marketing at Swisscom. “So we are proud to be one of the world’s first providers to offer 5G abroad. We will continue to expand 5G availability abroad with additional partners.”
Swisscom has struck up a similar deal with Finnish operator Elisa, which is also claiming the world first, so it looks like SK Telecom has a fight on its hands. We were amongst the first countries to start building 5G networks in Finland,” said Elisa’s Director of Consumer Handset Subscriptions Jan Virkki. “Now that Swisscom has opened their 5G network, we are more than happy to be able to provide the ultrafast 5G to our consumer and corporate customers travelling to Switzerland.”
Roaming specialist BICS also wants a piece of the action, having got involved in the SK Telecom gig. “Today’s successful implementation of a trans-continental 5G data roaming relation further endorses our position at the forefront of global mobility for people, applications and things,” crowed Mikaël Schachne, CMO and VP Mobility & IoT Business at BICS. We couldn’t find any other corporate chest-beating over this bit of news but there probably was some.
Network measurement outfit Opensignal has published its latest ‘State of the mobile network experience’ report and Korea is mostly on top.
South Korea is well ahead of any other country in the world when it comes to download experience, with average speeds topping 50 Mbps, which most fixed broadband users can only dream about. Only Norway comes close, with even third-placed Canada a clear 10 Mbps behind. At the other end of the scale we inevitably have developing countries, but it’s surprising to see India still lagging at 6.8 Mbps average despite all the investment from Jio.
It looks like all that Jio cash has been focused on coverage, with India doing a lot better in terms of 4G availability. Your average Indian punter get access to 4G 90% of the time, we’re told, but that’s still not good enough to challenge South Korea, which once more tops the list with 97.5% availability. Iraq, Algeria, Nepal and Uzbekistan once more prop up the table, as they did with download experience.
Intriguingly South Korea is nowhere near as good when it comes to latency experience, for some reason and is also dropping the ball in terms of video experience. We thought the two were related until we saw that Norway is top of the video experience pile in spite of being even worse than Korea when comes to latency, so maybe not. Europe is generally strong when it comes to latency and video experience.
US diplomats are in Seoul and up to their old tricks attempting to convince the South Korean foreign ministry over the dangers of China.
After enduring months of frustration in Europe, the anti-Huawei road trip is back in Asia. The doomsday propaganda might have failed to hit the target in Europe, though the US is now seemingly targeting South Korea according to local sources.
One of the complaints has been directed at LG Uplus, one of the country’s major telcos which has been using Huawei components and products. The US is suggesting LG Uplus should be banned from operating in areas which would be deemed sensitive or critical, while the Huawei threat should be driven back across the borders as soon as possible.
While Huawei has been the centre piece of the US’ anti-China propaganda mission over the last few months, the over-arching conflict is showing the threat of widening. Sources suggest the White House is considering adding an additional five Chinese companies to the ‘Entity List’, the blacklist of companies which cannot do business with US firms. These companies, which include Megvii, are primarily surveillance technology firms.
Although the US has been leaning heavily on its rivals to take action against Huawei and other Chinese vendors in the telco world, South Korea is in a similar tricky position as Europe. South Korea, like Europe, relies heavily on China as an export market, with a quarter of all exports in 2019 heading towards China.
Europe is currently standing firm against White House demands, and it would not surprise us if South Korea took a similar position of defiance. It does appear the country is heavily reliant on the Chinese relationship and siding on with the US could put a severe dent in the economic prosperity of the nation.
Sceptics will suggest consumer 5G launches will fall flat, an answer to a non-existent problem, but 260,000 subscriptions after one month suggests there is an appetite for 5G in South Korea.
Having jointly launched 5G services on April 3, the three South Korean operators are boasting total subscriptions of 260,000 according to Yonhap. This is not to say the service has been perfect, there have been plenty of problems for the telcos to deal with, but this was always going to be the case. The problem with being first is that you get to tell everyone else about the challenges.
“Many of the initial complaints raised by consumers are being addressed, but with more people using the system, other problems are expected to come to light that will require fixing,” the Ministry of Science and ICT said in a statement.
While much of the 5G attention has been directed towards the US and China, it is easy to overlook the progress which has been made in South Korea. This is the first country to have launched 5G at scale, with the Government boasting 54,202 base stations have not been deployed, up from 3,690 on April 22.
For the moment, coverage is limited to the more densely populated regions of the country, primarily in the capital Seoul, but progress is certainly impressive. Even puts the bragging telcos elsewhere to shame. South Korea has been trundling along without boasting too loudly and the success is quite clear.
Of course, what you have to remember is that scaling 5G in South Korea is a much simpler task than in other leading nations. As 5G makes use of shorter-range spectrum, network densification is a massive contributing factor to success, and you can see from the table below the task is a lot easier.
|GDP per capita
A report has alleged that Nokia is struggling to fulfill its 5G commitments to the three South Korean MNOs, but Nokia sort of insists everything’s cool.
Now it must be stressed this is just one report from a website called Business Korea that we’re not familiar with and we have yet to see the same claims made independently anywhere else. Having said that, if there is some substance to it then that’s not great news for Nokia and could have brand as well as financial consequences.
The headline reads ‘Mobile Carriers in Trouble for 5G Equipment from Nokia’. It starts by claiming that shipments of Nokia 5G gear are three months behind schedule and then goes on to say “Nokia’s equipment is lower in quality than those supplied by Samsung Electronics, Ericsson and Huawei. The former has shown some problems in interoperability testing and massive traffic processing.” It concludes by speculating that operators may need to take emergency measures to compensate for these failings.
We asked Nokia what it makes of all this and it responded with the following statement: “Nokia is actively delivering our 5G equipment to operators in Korea and we are confident that we will fulfill the 5G equipment needs of all customers. We have already started delivering 5G units to customers there and are increasing our 5G production capabilities. As a leading global communications company, we are committed to delivering best in-class products to all our partners and customers.”
That’s not the strongest rebuttal is it? The report doesn’t suggest no gear is being delivered, just that it’s late and not very good. Expressing confidence is not the same as saying the report is wrong and vowing to increase production capabilities sort of indicates they’re not currently up to scratch. Having said that it’s quite possible that everything’s fine and this report is barking up the wrong tree. The coming weeks may reveal more.
SK Telecom is apparently not using Huawei at all for its 5G roll out and this could be indicative of a broader shift in sentiment in the country.
The story comes courtesy of ZDNet, which seems to have received an announcement from SK Telecom that it’s going with Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung as ‘preferred bidders’ for 5G work. This is consistent with announcements from US operators, which are effectively barred from working with Huawei, and begs the question of whether geopolitical considerations were a factor in SK Telecom’s decision.
The stated reason for its decision is generic and offers no insight into why Huawei was excluded. SK Telecom apparently ‘took a long, multifaceted review before the selection and chose the three companies due to their leading technology, the fostering of the ecosystem, and financial reasons.’ So it’s possible, if unlikely, that Huawei was simply too expensive.
The report also notes that the South Korean government has said it has no plans to ban Huawei and that operator LG Uplus has gone on the record to say what a fan of Huawei gear it is, but it still seems a bit odd that Koreas biggest operator should spontaneously choose to snub the world’s biggest kit vendor.
The suspicion is that US allies, of which South Korea is most definitely one, are receiving pressure through diplomatic back channels to give Huawei a wide berth. The Australian government recently decided to publicly announce its distrust of Huawei but there are other ways of appeasing the US. If KT and/or LG Uplus suddenly take against Huawei too, we will have to wonder whether the decision was made entirely for business reasons.