South Korea Minister Demands More From 5G Operators

It was a memorable first meeting between the new minister and the heads of industry.

At the first public encounter between South Korea's newly installed Minister for Science and ICT and three mobile operators he urged them to do more in 5G next year.

While acknowledging their 8.2 trillion won ($6.95 billion) 5G investment in 2019, including the launch of the world's first commercial 5G services, Choi Ki-young called on them to "actively invest" in 5G in 2020.

In return he held out the promise of tax incentives -- although he didn't elaborate on what these might be.

"To support the companies' investment in 5G, the government and the National Assembly will offer the best support such as providing tax breaks," he said at an event last Friday.

The minister, a former specialist in chip design with a Stanford PhD, evidently isn't happy about the pace of 5G take-up.

He urged the telco bosses to cut prices to drive consumer adoption --prompting some immediate pushback. "As it costs a lot to set up network infrastructure, it is a bit early to talk about lowering prices," SK Telecom CEO Park Jung-ho was reported as saying.

Choi's enthusiasm underscores the intensity of rivalry in Asian 5G and the economic bounty it is expected to generate.

South Korea's early 5G lead has already been overshadowed by China's gigantic buildout, while Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore are also expected to debut 5G services by the middle of next year.

In a draft plan circulated earlier this year, South Korea's ICT ministry proposed a target of 180 trillion won ($151.75 billion) in 5G-related production in 15 key industries by 2026, achieving 15% of global market share.

Those kinds of numbers are a long way off, but South Korea's 5G expertise has already become something of a minor export industry.

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LG UPlus is offering its knowledge to new Japan operator Rakuten, while SKT has formed a partnership with Philippines cellco Now Corporation to help it build its 5G network next year. SKT has also established joint ventures with Comcast and Sinclair in esports and broadcasting technology respectively.

The one incentive Choi is offering to operators is more spectrum. The ministry is reportedly planning to nearly double the level of 5G spectrum available for 5G over the next six years.

It expects to set aside 2640MHz of bandwidth to add to the current allocation of 2680MHz, comprising 280MHz in 3.5GHz and 2400MHz in the 28GHz band. It has not given any details about which frequencies might be released or when they might be auctioned.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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