The region's fledgling 5G market is not growing as fast as hoped, and not necessarily because of coronavirus.

Robert Clark, Contributing Editor, Special to Light Reading

March 4, 2020

2 Min Read
The great 5G slowdown in Asia

Asian 5G markets have hit a wall – and it may not just be about the coronavirus.

Chinese operators actually lost mobile subscribers in January, before the virus began to take its economic toll. (See China operators shed subscribers in saturated mobile market.)

Not even the annual Lunar New Year sales and low-priced 5G packages from the much-hyped new networks were enough to get customers flocking to the stores.

Consumers in neighboring South Korea are also showing signs of 5G fatigue.

Operators added just 290,000 5G users in January – the lowest total since they began service last April, and down from a peak of 870,000 adds in August and 670,000 in September.

The end of heavy handset subsidies is clearly a big factor, yet it also raises questions about the value of 5G to consumers. (See South Korean telcos call truce on 5G subsidies.)

The roughly 5 million users – around 7% of the total customer base – are certainly taking advantage of 5G data, but there are no signs yet the new AR, streaming and other services are significantly driving demand. (See 5G now carrying 21% of all mobile traffic in South Korea.)

The local industry had expected a boost from the launch of the new Samsung Galaxy S20 flagship last week, but sales have been tepid thanks to the coronavirus, Korea Herald reports.

Meanwhile, the OECD has warned the virus could cut about half a percentage point off global growth this year.

Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel here on Light Reading.

In China, the three operators are reportedly about to issue tenders for the second phase of 5G. Both China Telecom and China Unicom have accelerated their 5G rollouts, committing to reaching their year-end target by the end of the third quarter. (See China 5G: Unicom and Telecom speed up rollout.)

And in neighboring Japan, where the advance to 5G has been accelerated by the imminent price-slashing debut of Rakuten, operators may not get the Olympics bump they have been hoping for. (See Japan's Rakuten gives new meaning to 'bill shock'.)

Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto has told parliament that the 2020 games, due to be held from July 24 to August 9, may be postponed until later in the year because of the virus.

She said Tokyo's contract with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) requires the Games to be held during 2020.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Robert Clark

Contributing Editor, Special to Light Reading

Robert Clark is an independent technology editor and researcher based in Hong Kong. In addition to contributing to Light Reading, he also has his own blog,  Electric Speech ( 

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