Top South Korean phone company Korea Telecom (KT) announced today that it will offer 5G cellular service in March 2019, Yonhap reports, while downplaying U.S. carrier Verizon’s plan to launch 5G in 2018 as a step backward. KT’s prickly comments come after it collaborated with Verizon on 5G video calling tests during last month’s Super Bowl, illustrating the fierce international competition to bring 5G to market first.
Like U.S. carriers T-Mobile and Sprint, KT is justifying its later 5G launch by promising broader, faster coverage, which it alternately calls “true 5G” and “perfect 5G” service. “It is true 5G only when coverage is guaranteed,” said KT executive Oh Seong-Mok, explaining that “KT will launch the 5G service for the first time in the world that combines true mobility, excellent service, and nationwide coverage.”
Beyond committing to mobile 5G coverage — the same strategy announced by AT&T for its 2018 U.S. rollout of 5G — KT explicitly ruled out commercializing so-called “fixed 5G” service like Verizon, which will offer 5G as a replacement for home and office broadband cable service. Yonhap reports that Oh dismissed Verizon’s fixed 5G service as “a step backward, as the technology has already been seen before.”
KT and leading local rival SK Telecom have offered 5G demo areas at major events, using prototype Samsung and Intel hardware to show off the faster, more responsive networking technology. According to reports, KT demonstrated 5G to visitors at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics last month to a mixed reception, as some attendees couldn’t understand why their existing phones weren’t working faster in “5G zones.” New 5G-capable chips and phones will be required, and KT now expects them to ship between the end of 2018 and first half of 2019.
Updated March 23 at 6:01 a.m. Pacific: In a statement to VentureBeat, a spokesperson for Korea Telecom walked back its apparent criticism of Verizon:
President Oh’s comments only meant to say that “commercializing the 5G service based on FWA would no longer be considered a major breakthrough in South Korea next year as it has already showcased the technology successfully at the Winter Games.”
“We never downplayed Verizon’s plan to launch its 5G service in 2018,” KT claimed, noting that Yonhap has since “revised the story to confirm that KT never called Verizon’s earlier 5G a step backward.”
However, other reports from the scene tell a somewhat different story, including Nikkei’s report that Oh specifically downplayed Verizon’s service as not actually 5G:
Oh argued that Verizon’s planned fixed-wireless service, which cannot be used by smartphones or cars, should be considered “pre-5G.”
Nikkei also notes that KT’s service will launch only for corporate customers in March 2019, followed by a smartphone service for consumers between April and June 2019. Initially, KT’s network will only cover major metropolitan areas such as Seoul, leaving it unclear when KT will offer the “nationwide” coverage it says is required for “true 5G.”