Step aside, Verizon and AT&T. After promising a simultaneous March 2019 launch of 5G in South Korea, three carriers — SK Telecom, LG Uplus, and KT — have announced (via Pulse News Korea) that they will begin to offer live commercial 5G services on December 1, 2018. While the specific offerings vary by carrier, the joint announcement is designed to give South Korea “world’s first” bragging rights in the global race to 5G.
SK Telecom will commence commercial 5G service at midnight on December 1, beginning with parts of Seoul, the Seoul Metropolitan Area, and six major cities. Unlike Verizon, which launched a U.S. 5G home broadband service focused on consumers rather than businesses, SK Telecom is initially targeting enterprise customers, bundling a 5G router with related network and business services. Prices will vary based on each company’s customized 5G solution.
Hitting most of the major buzzwords that have surrounded 5G over the past year, SK Telecom promises that its “5GX” network will aggressively use AI to manage increased network traffic and data usage and will offer fast speeds, reliability, and heightened security. But it hasn’t made specific speed promises for the new service.
The carrier says its first commercial 5G customer will be an auto parts company that will use cloud-based AI to examine high-resolution manufacturing line photos for product defects. SK Telecom also plans to introduce quantum cryptography into its 5G network, starting with one network section and expanding the feature to customer authentication in 2019.
LG Uplus will similarly launch services in Seoul and several other major cities. Like SK Telecom, it will begin with 5G routers, with plans to offer mobile 5G once smartphones become available, presumably after March 2019.
By contrast, local carrier KT will have a smaller 5G launch in Gwacheon as it continues to recover network capabilities following a major fire at a facility in Seoul. KT is promising that its 5G network will deliver up to 20 times faster speeds than LTE but hasn’t specified its 5G business plans.
Spurred by the South Korean government to coordinate their launches, the three carriers agreed in April to create a single national 5G infrastructure and subsequently agreed to collectively promote 5G rather than waste resources on competitive marketing efforts. In exchange for their cooperation, South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT promised “unlimited” tax benefits and security services to the telecoms as they worked to launch 5G.
Samsung previously said it would have 5G hardware available to the carriers so they could begin initial 5G transmissions in December, with full commercialization in March 2019. But the carriers appear to have sped up the process, or at least their marketing of the limited initial test transmissions, to make a more serious impact.
It remains to be seen whether their joint launch will actually constitute a “world’s first,” though. Verizon’s commercial 5G launches in four cities took place in October, but its hardware is not using the final 3GPP-approved 5G standard, leaving open the prospect that Korea could launch the world’s first standards-compliant 5G commercial service. AT&T previously suggested that it would launch its mobile 5G service across 12 U.S. cities in November, but it has only turned on 5G service in parts of two cities and is not yet selling devices to actually access its network.