Friday 11 November 2022

Is South Korea Losing its 5G Crown?

South Korea is second only to Hong Kong in the world rankings of telecom market maturity. It enjoys a highly competitive but stable market, with strong central government support that helps drive the rollout of advanced infrastructure in both the fixed and mobile arenas. South Korea is also on the leading edge of the latest telecom technology developments, including around 6G. And it is host to two of the world’s top equipment manufacturers in the form of Samsung and LG.

With its highly urbanised, tech-savvy population, South Korea also enjoys very high penetration levels across all segments – fixed-line telephony (44% at the start of 2022), fixed broadband (46%), mobile voice and data (144%), and mobile broadband (120%). The performance of the mobile sector is on a par with other developed markets around the region, but it’s the wireline segment that allows South Korea to stand out from the crowd. This is partly a reflection of the large proportion of its population who live in apartment buildings (around 60%), making fibre and apartment LAN connections relatively easy and cost-effective to deploy. The government’s Ultra Broadband convergence Network (UBcN) had aimed to reach 50% adoption by the end of 2022, but that target may be a few more years away. Still, the country already has one of the world’s highest fixed broadband rates.

Fixed-line teledensity is also at a very high level compared to most of the rest of the world, but it has been on a sharp decline from a penetration rate of 60% ten years ago. That fall has forced the incumbent telco KT Corp to diversify into other telecom segments (including investments in 5G and the development of 6G) as well as non-telecom sectors (such as autonomous vehicles) in an effort to transform itself into a digital platform company. However, a major network outage in October 2021 drew the ire of the government and the police (in addition to the consumers and businesses directly affected by the shutdown), suggesting that the company may need to refocus its attention back on its core business.

On the mobile front, users have enthusiastically migrated from one generation of mobile platform to the next as each iteration becomes available. There also doesn’t appear to be any great concern about there being a lack of demand for 5G in South Korea (when the country is already well supported by 4G networks), with 30% of all subscribers having already made the switch. Part of the reason behind the rapid transition may be the subsidised handsets on offer from each of the MNOs and the MVNOs – a practice that has become so widespread and cutthroat that the regulators has regularly stepped in and fined the operators billions of won for breaching the subsidy level and risking a price war that will ultimately damage the entire industry.

There were over 22 million 5G subscribers in South Korea at the end of March 2022 which represented a penetration rate of 45%, served by 215,000 5G base stations. South Korea is one of the most advanced 5G markets in the world, and the scores of South Korea's operators in this report highlight the extent of 5G success.

The total number of 5G subscribers in South Korea reached nearly 24 million in May 2022, according to the latest available data from the Ministry of Science and ICT.

South Korea was the first country to launch commercial 5G networks in April 2019 and currently has 5G coverage across its 85 cities. Korean mobile operators have deployed a total of 202,903 5G base stations as of the end of February, according to previous reports. This figure is equivalent to 23% of total 4G LTE base stations installed in South Korea.

Not everyone is impressed by 5G in South Korea though as you can see in the Tweets above.

KT (Korea Telecom) is the public provider and 2nd network in the country with a good coverage. It's a formerly public enterprise, is relatively cheaper than SK Telecom with the largest WiFi coverage in Korea and a well-organized prepaid plan available. Remember, there is no 2G anymore, just 3G, 4G/LTE and now 5G NR.

KT has also unveiled plans to build a specialized 5G testbed running on the 4.7 GHz band with the aim of enabling multiple customers to access its core network equipment from the public cloud and test private or “specialized” networks.

“When KT’s 5G specialized network testbed is established, it will be possible to perform a one-stop service for testing equipment for 5G specialized network, interworking with terminals, and conducting network trial operation and inspection. It is expected to greatly reduce the cost and technical burden of companies considering the introduction of a 5G specialized network.”

The Korean operator added the testbed is expected to reduce the cost and technical requirements for companies considering introducing private networks.

KT is deploying private 5G networks at Seoul National University and Samsung Seoul Hospital.

SK Telecom is the biggest mobile provider in South Korea. SK operates 3G on the usual 2100 MHz, but 4G/LTE on the rather unusual 850 MHz (band 5) as primary frequency that is rarely covered by devices from overseas (except those capable of AT&T's LTE in the US). The more usual 1800 MHz (band 3) is only employed for back-up. But the coverage is reported to be better than that of KT, by press every year. 2G has been switched off in 2020.

In November of 2021, Swedish vendor Ericsson announced a partnership with SK Telecom, with the aim of supporting 5G Standalone networks through the deployment of a cloud-native dual-mode 5G Core.

Ericsson and SK Telecom had initially unveiled next-generation cloud-native 5G Core networks technology, architecture, implementation and operations plans in March 2019. The vendor said that this latest cooperation builds on the existing partnership. According to Ericsson, the dual-mode 5G core is deployed on its bare metal solution, known as Ericsson Cloud Native Infrastructure.

Ericsson had previously provided SK Telecom with 5G radio access network (RAN) equipment and network management system for their commercial 5G network rollout.

LG Uplus is working to further expand its 5G coverage across the country. In July this year, the operator secured an additional 20 megahertz of spectrum to use for 5G.

The Ministry of Science and ICT confirmed the allocation of the 3.4-3.42 GHz frequency band to LG Uplus, in addition to the 3.42 to 3.5 GHz spectrum that the telecom company bought in 2018.

LG Uplus had previously asked the Korean government for an additional 20 megahertz of spectrum to boost its 5G offerings. In a government spectrum auction in June 2018, rival operators SK Telecom and KT had secured 100 megahertz of spectrum, while LG Uplus had only acquired 80 megahertz.

During a keynote speech at Huawei’s 2022 Mobile Broadband Forum, held this week in Bangkok, Thailand, Yoon Ho Choi, president of XR business department at LG Uplus noted that the company’s 5G coverage had reached 85% of the population in large cities and central rural areas across Korea. The executive also highlighted that the level of 5G availability at a national level was 90.9% and 95.2% in capital Seoul. He also noted that the average download speed of the telco’s 5G service was 640.7 Mbps.

While the mobile operators have been very enthusiastic about 5G, people aren't as excited. While the data rates have increased and latencies reduced, there are still many technical issues that regularly plague the users. One of the lessons Japanese operators learned after being the first to launch 3G was to not roll out a technology until it was thoroughly tested. The Korean operators maybe learning this as well.

South Korea is seeing a rapid adoption of 5G private networks, chiefly due to the widespread coverage of 5G technology in the country and the allocation of specific spectrum by the government to enable private network deployments.

In August, South Korean tech firm Samsung announced a tranche of new private 5G deployments in its home country, including with three public sector agencies and two private sector hospitals. The vendor noted that this project is part of the government initiative to advance the country’s private 5G ecosystem, allowing non-telecom operators to build and operate 5G networks using 4.7GHz and 28GHz — which are dedicated frequency bands for private 5G networks in Korea.

Samsung said it was selected in each case – by three state-owned utilities and two privately-owned hospitals – “as part of the government’s” drive to release spectrum for industrial change. Its three public sector contracts – with Korea Electric Power Corporation, Korea Industrial Complex Corporation, and Korea Water Resources Corporation – are geared around “workplace safety and efficiency”, it said.

The vendor also said that this new project follows Samsung’s previous deployment of what it claimed to be Korea’s first private 5G network at Naver’s new headquarters.

Related Posts:

No comments:

Post a Comment