We are finally seeing some real uplift in 5G.
The 18 months since 5G debuted in South Korea have been something of a phony war – a lot of preparation but not much action.
But it's in the South Korean market that strong signs of 5G driving revenue and service growth are now evident.
Analysts have raised their forecasts on the back of 5G takeup and usage.
It may be subscriptions and data consumption that are making the running, rather than ingenious new apps, but that is pretty much in line with expectations.
The industry view has been that 5G will initially grow data consumption, in particular from video, and then most likely from emerging AR and VR use cases.
One poll of South Korean analysts has found that the three operators are expected to boost aggregate operating profit in the third quarter to 798.1 billion Korean won (US$765 million), up 16.6% year-on-year.
Telcos added an estimated 700,000 5G subs in August, taking their combined total to around 8.6 million, while the September numbers were likely even higher, the state-owned Yonhap News Agency reports.
"The rise in mobile revenues on the back of the increase in 5G subscribers will be in full-swing from the third quarter," said Kim Hong-sik, an analyst at Hana Financial Investment.
The smallest operator, LG Uplus, is tipped to record the biggest rise, with third-quarter operating profit expected to reach 219 billion won ($190 million), up 41%, according to the Yonhap poll.
An analyst at KB Securities said: "Despite curbed marketing costs across the industry, LG Uplus should see its number of 5G subscribers increase 320,000 to 2.1 million in Q3 with the rollout of new handsets. 5G subscribers, whose ARPU stands at 70,000 won ($60.77), should improve mobile ARPU."
Market leader SK Telecom's operating profit is forecast to climb 14% to 345 billion ($299 million) won and KT's to improve 7% to 334 billion won ($289 million).
In another vote of confidence for 5G, Fitch Ratings has lifted its long-term outlook on SK Telecom to stable from negative.
"The adoption of 5G telecom networks in Korea will lead to a rebound in wireless ARPU and revenue growth over the medium term," the ratings agency announced Tuesday.
It said the revised outlook reflects its expectation of better operating cash generation thanks to growing 5G adoption and a scaling-down of capex.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading