Korean operators launched 5G in April 2019

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South Korea ended May with almost 6.9 million subscribers in the 5G segment, Korean press reported citing official data.

The number of 5G customers in the Asian nation increased by 536,997 in May compared to the previous month, exceeding the previous monthly record of 520,478 reported in March, the Ministry of Science and ICT said.

The number of 5G subscribers currently represents approximately 10% of the 69.43 million mobile service lines in the country.

South Korea rolled out the world’s first commercial 5G network on April 3, 2019, with the nation’s three carriers — SK Telecom Co., KT Corp. and LG Uplus Corp. — aggressively promoting the new service to consumers.

SK Telecom, South Korea’s largest mobile carrier said it had some 3.11 million 5G customers in May, accounting for 45.2% of the total.

KT’s 5G subscriber number stood at 2.08 million as of the end of May, followed by LG Uplus, with 1.68 million, the latest ministry data showed.

The Korean government recently said that local operators had already deployed over 115,000 5G base stations across the country.

In March, the Korean government said that the country’s three major telecom carriers had agreed to invest KRW 4 trillion ($3.4 billion) in their 5G networks during the first half of this year.  Operators will heavily invest to install additional 5G equipment with the aim of expanding the coverage of current 5G networks across the country.

SK Telecom, the country’s largest mobile operator, expects to reach 6-7 million subscribers in the 5G segment by the end of 2020, the company’s CFO, Poong-Young Yoon, previously said during a conference call with investors.

Korean telcos also expect to commercialize an ultrafast mmWave 5G network this year, according to recent press reports.

The mmWave 5G service will be initially available for the business-to-business segment. Operators have not yet finalized investment plans for the business-to-consumer sector, as the cost of building additional infrastructure still represents a major issue.

Due to the high level of capital expenditures needed, the launch of the mmWave 5G network for personal smart devices is likely to start next year or in 2022, the report said.

Korean carriers are also paving the way to offer 5G via standalone networks. LG Uplus recently said it had completed tests of core technologies supporting voice service running on a standalone (SA) 5G network as the carrier expects to launch 5G based on SA architecture later this year.

In a statement, the operator said the tests verified the performance of evolved packet system (EPS) fallback and voice over 5G (Vo5G), and demonstrated it is ready to deliver stable and high-quality 5G voice services.

Rival operators SK Telecom and KT have also carried out tests of 5G SA networks and aim to launch this technology during the second half of this year, according to previous reports.

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