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Though Qualcomm and 5G device makers expect unlimited data service to enable the coming 5G era, some cellular carriers are beginning to push back on the idea, Yonhap reports. South Korean mobile giants SK Telecom, KT, and LG Uplus are now expected to offer usage-based data plans rather than unlimited plans, a move that could stifle the growth of 5G and shock early adopters.

According to the report, the South Korean carriers hope to offset their large investments in 5G infrastructure by charging customers based on the amount of data consumed. These carriers believe that new data-heavy 5G applications, such as holograms and ultra high definition (UHD) videos, will dramatically increase their per-user revenues. An analyst from Hana Financial Investment says that the carriers are likely to begin streaming content in UHD- or VR-ready formats, specifically to boost traffic “and jack up their sales sharply.”

Carriers across the world are now facing the question of whether to spur rapid 5G growth via unlimited service or charge by data usage. Executives with Qualcomm, which has pushed for early 5G development and adoption, have suggested that consumers cannot imagine — and shouldn’t have to worry about — the quantities of data required for such 5G applications as real-time virtual reality streaming, holographic communications, and autonomous vehicle control. For that reason, several top U.S. carriers have signaled that they will offer unlimited plans to enable customers to enjoy 5G services without data cap concerns, building their networks to accommodate the additional demand.

A carrier’s choice to instead offer usage-based data plans could deliver stunning bills to customers unaccustomed to paying for data-hungry applications that were previously unthinkable on mobile devices. Each two-hour UHD movie or virtual reality experience could consume as much data as a typical one-month limited data plan today, leaving 5G customers with the choice of falling back to lower-bandwidth, lower-quality content or paying outrageous prices to continue using 5G-exclusive services.


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South Korea is set to auction 3.5GHz radio spectrum for 5G in June, and 5G deployments are planned across a single shared network for 2019 and 2020. While the carriers are expected to spend nearly $4 billion on the 3.5GHz spectrum alone, not including the costs of network hardware upgrades, industry watchers cited by Yonhap believe that there is a “low possibility of drastic changes in pricing,” though they deem it too early to predict how 5G commercialization will increase prices.

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