KT Claims 400K of South Korea's 1M 5G Subs

South Korean telco claims a 40% share of the country's nascent 5G market, giving it 400,000 customers just a few months after launch.

Iain Morris, International Editor

June 13, 2019

3 Min Read
KT Claims 400K of South Korea's 1M 5G Subs

LONDON -- 5G World -- Korea Telecom (KT) is already providing 5G services to about 400,000 customers after launching services on April 3, a company executive revealed earlier today.

Youngsoo Seo, a senior vice president for the South Korean operator, said his company has a 40% share of the 5G market after citing a figure of 1 million 5G subscribers in total.

That overall market figure was also shared by Takki Yu, an executive at KT rival SK Telecom, during a Wednesday morning presentation at the 5G World event taking place in London this week.

South Korea's government is reported to have circulated the number earlier in the week, claiming it took just 69 days to reach the milestone.

After its launch in 2011, 4G took 80 days to hit the same figure in South Korea, according to press reports.

KT served around 21.3 million mobile customers in total at the end of March, according to its earnings report for the first quarter of the year.

The impact on service revenues will become clear when the operator publishes its earnings statement for the first half, although mainstream press reports have suggested customers are signing up to 5G services only because of cut-price deals.

Sharing details of KT's 5G strategy during a Thursday presentation at 5G World, Seo told attendees his company was aiming to extend 5G coverage to about 80% of South Korea's population by the end of this year, after focusing efforts on Seoul and a handful of other big cities in the first half.

KT was reported to have deployed 30,000 5G basestations in April, using equipment from Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung, with SK Telecom then claiming to have rolled out 34,000 basestations provided by the same vendors.

LG Uplus, the country's third operator, is relying on China's Huawei for its 5G gear and said it had deployed 10,000 5G basestations at the end of February.

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Seo also disclosed details of the reduction in signaling delay that KT has seen with the move to 5G technology. So-called "latency" is down from about 41 milliseconds on 4G networks to roughly 18 milliseconds on 5G. Where KT has made investments in edge computing -- to bring IT resources closer to end-user devices -- latency drops to just 10 milliseconds.

That has helped boost the peak data rates KT can support -- from 900 Mbit/s on 4G to 1.6 Gbit/s on 5G networks.

However, drive tests have shown that customers are not getting the gigabit speeds they were promised, according to Rajeev Suri, the CEO of 5G equipment vendor Nokia. "The experience isn't great with 5G right now," he told Light Reading during a recent meeting at the Finnish company's London office. "Interoperability has not been there … The chipset being used is previous generation."

The updates on South Korea come several days after Ericsson predicted in its latest mobility report that 5G would have 1.9 billion subscribers globally by the end of 2024, and 10 million by the end of this year.

The forecast marks an increase on the 1.5 billion that Ericsson expected for 2024 when it published its previous mobility report in November last year.

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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Iain Morris

International Editor, Light Reading

Iain Morris joined Light Reading as News Editor at the start of 2015 -- and we mean, right at the start. His friends and family were still singing Auld Lang Syne as Iain started sourcing New Year's Eve UK mobile network congestion statistics. Prior to boosting Light Reading's UK-based editorial team numbers (he is based in London, south of the river), Iain was a successful freelance writer and editor who had been covering the telecoms sector for the past 15 years. His work has appeared in publications including The Economist (classy!) and The Observer, besides a variety of trade and business journals. He was previously the lead telecoms analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, and before that worked as a features editor at Telecommunications magazine. Iain started out in telecoms as an editor at consulting and market-research company Analysys (now Analysys Mason).

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