Two U.S. carriers launched commercial 5G networks last year, but their promised speeds fell somewhat short of the 5G standard’s gigabit- or gigabits-per-second potential. Now that commercial 5G service is about to launch in South Korea with actual phones, local carrier KT and Samsung have set a higher bar for their customers: 1Gbps real-world speeds using the first mobile 5G devices.
It’s typically not newsworthy when a carrier reaches a certain wireless speed threshold, but today’s announcement establishes that 5G will — at least in some countries and cities — live up to its lofty performance claims. The companies explicitly wanted to prove that KT’s “5G commercial network is ready to deliver stable gigabit speed for end users,” enabling improved cellular experiences outdoors.
During testing on KT’s 3.5GHz commercial 5G network in Seoul, KT and Samsung “focused on providing end users with real-world outdoor mobile experiences, achieving overall 1Gbps speed” using the Galaxy S10 5G. KT says that its 5G network will be available in 85 cities by the end of this month, including major national highways and high-speed railways, with plans to subsequently add 5G coverage to 464 colleges and universities, landmarks, subways, and parts of mountainous areas.
That’s all good news for early adopters of the Galaxy S10 5G, which is set to launch in South Korea on April 5. As the country’s first 5G phone, the highest-end S10 model is expected to carry a price tag in the $1,300 range, which would have been even harder to justify without adequate 5G coverage.
Samsung noted earlier this month that the same phone will reach top speeds of 2.7Gbps on competing carrier SK Telecom’s 5G network, though two caveats are worth noting: This higher speed is a peak rather than a guaranteed real-world performance level, and it was achieved by simultaneously connecting to SK’s 4G and 5G networks. It’s unclear how much battery drain early 5G phones will suffer when making dual-network connections.
South Korea’s government pushed the country’s three major cellular carriers to launch preliminary 5G networks last December despite the absence of 5G consumer hardware in the country. Actual commercial service was scheduled to begin in March but was delayed at the last minute, since neither Samsung’s S10 5G nor LG’s V50 5G had received necessary certifications in the country. At this point, Samsung’s device is ready to go on sale, but LG’s apparently is not.
The Galaxy S10 5G’s performance outside South Korea remains a question mark. Verizon will be the first carrier to sell the phone in the United States but has not committed to specific speed levels for its mobile 5G service, which will launch on April 11 in parts of two cities. Its fixed 5G broadband service promised 300Mbps typical speeds and 1Gbps peaks at launch last October. Rival AT&T has a fledgling mobile 5G network in 12 U.S. cities, but performance statistics have been hard to come by.