Korea's LG Uplus taps Nokia small cells for 5G

South Korean mobile operator LG Uplus is turning to network partner Nokia to help accelerate the expansion of its 5G network throughout the country amid a growing clamor by users for better coverage.

The Finnish vendor said the market's third-largest player is to install 5G small cells in order to improve indoor and outdoor connectivity.

Nokia explained that the small cell AirScale Indoor (ASiR) systems are to be installed in "a range of indoor locations including shopping malls and office buildings."

Small packages: Nokia's small cell technology will help improve 5G in indoor areas like malls.  (Source: Daniel Bernard on Unsplash)
Small packages: Nokia's small cell technology will help improve 5G in indoor areas like malls.
(Source: Daniel Bernard on Unsplash)

Notably, the new 5G contract follows Nokia's announcement in March that LG Uplus is trialing its technology to support 5G network slices. The operator also uses 5G equipment from Ericsson, Huawei and Samsung.

Indoor focus

Although South Korea's operators have received plenty of plaudits from various market researchers about the quality and reach of their 5G networks, they have come under fire recently over network coverage and pricing.

Subscribers have apparently been complaining that 5G is little better than 4G in terms of speed, while coverage is said to be patchy.

The Yonhap news agency noted that the operators have been focusing on expanding 5G coverage in indoor locations amid complaints of lack of network availability.

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It cited a government report from late 2020 that found 5G was available in 61.8% of the total 4,516 major public buildings across the country's 85 cities.

Despite the complaints, 5G subscriptions are still growing: According to the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT), South Korea added around 1.8 million 5G users in the first two months of this year, reaching a total of 13.66 million.

Yonhap noted that SK Telecom had 6.35 million 5G users in February, followed by KT with 4.16 million and LG Uplus with 3.15 million.

Kim Hong-sik, an analyst at Hana Financial Investment, told Yonhap that because of the release of more affordable 5G data plans and budget 5G phones, "net growth in 5G users is expected to increase."

The big three operators are also under growing pressure from mobile virtual network operators in the area of 5G pricing. In early April, the MSIT said it is aiming to encourage more competition in the 5G market by allowing ten MVNOs to release more affordable 5G plans.

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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