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Claims that 5G adoption would outpace early uptake of 4G networks appear to be coming true, at least in South Korea, where the government announced a new milestone today: 1 million 5G subscribers in only 69 days, markedly faster than the 80 days it took to get the country’s first 1 million 4G subscribers in 2011.
Confirmed by South Korea’s Ministry of Science and Technology (via Yonhap), the 5G subscriber number exceeded 1 million on June 10 — following the country’s official April 3 launch of commercial 5G services — and has seen an average 17,000 new 5G customers each day. The numbers have notably come despite limited availability of 5G service throughout the country, with many areas experiencing spotty coverage or having no 5G service at all.
SK Telecom presently holds a 40% share of the 5G market, with KT and LG Uplus each taking 30%. Of the carriers, LG Uplus appears to be making gains on its rivals, seeing an increase in its total number of subscribers while SK Telecom and KT largely saw customers upgrade from 4G to 5G.
The Korean launches have been marred by concerns over potentially illegal subsidization of 5G hardware and services to spike early demand, as regulators have noted suspiciously aggressive promotions that can bring 5G handsets down to low or no cost with service commitments. They may also have been affected in the opposite direction by well-publicized complaints over service quality and availability.
Even so, Yonhap suggests that the total South Korean subscriber number is expected to reach between 4 million and 5 million by year’s end, particularly if Samsung’s Galaxy Fold and Galaxy Note 10 ship with 5G capabilities in the country. Each new hardware release creates a spike in local interest, and marketing of new 5G services such as VR, AR, live sports, and gaming content are also contributing.
Carriers outside of South Korea, such as Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint, have not released any subscriber numbers for their 5G networks. Verizon and AT&T notably launched their initial 5G networks last year, while Sprint’s went online at the end of May, but the actual scope of the larger carriers’ 5G services and numbers of home or mobile customers remains ambiguous at best.
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