South Korea has now over 30 million 5G users. According to the Ministry of Science and ICT, the country had 29.6 million users as of March, and given that number of subscribers has increased to around 500,000 per month up to now, it is more than likely that as of early May, there are 30 million users.
This milestone comes four years after 5G became available in smartphones in the country in April 2019. And up to 4G LTE, the introduction of a new generation of mobile connectivity has changed the lives and industries around it.
South Korea started 2G code division multiple access (CDMA) services in 1996 and 3G wide CDMA in 2003, starting the cell phone era. This allowed South Korean telecommunication companies to expand abroad. The launch of WCDMA also allowed Qualcomm and Samsung to become leaders in application processors and smartphones, respectively, today.
Then in 2011 came 4G long-term evolution (LTE) services. This brought PC to cell phones. South Korean telcos became board members of GSMA, the global telecommunication governing body.
Expectations were high for 5G as well. The government and telcos claimed in marketing before launch that 5G will be, compared to 4G, 20 times faster, 100 times better simultaneous access and 10 times shorter delays. They claimed new augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D content and IoT services would be introduced.
But the reality after 5G launched was quite different and none of the promises were kept.
According to the Ministry of Science and ICT, 5G download speed on average was 896.10Mbps as of October. Upload speed was on average 93.16Mbps. This was only faster by 5.9 times and 2.8 times, respectively, from 4G LTE in the same month.
5G coverage was also only around 33.1% of the country, which means on a national level, most people were using non-standalone 5G services, or 5G and LTE together.
Spending in 28GHz also effectively ended. KT and LG Uplus had their spectrum canceled in December; SK Telecom is also expected to lose theirs within the year. Without spending 28GHz, there will be no 20 times faster 5G. The country’s Fair Trade Commission is expected to penalize the three telcos in the country for violating advertisement laws. There are also now AR, VR and 3D content services that went mainstream.