South Korea puts others in 5G shade – report

Put your stat sunglasses on and prepare to be dazzled by the latest 5G metrics coming out of South Korea.

A new report from IHS Markit's RootMetrics – "The future of 5G in practice: South Korean operators leading the worldwide 5G race" – revealed what it called "outstanding results" after testing the performance of the country's three 5G networks in seven South Korean cities.

Bright lights: Research shows South Korea is blazing a trail when it comes to 5G.  (Source: min woo park from Pixabay)
Bright lights: Research shows South Korea is blazing a trail when it comes to 5G.
(Source: min woo park from Pixabay)

Using Samsung Galaxy S20+ 5G devices, the research firm found massive improvements in 5G availability, median speeds and latency since previous tests in June 2019.

Readily available…

In Seoul, according to the latest tests carried out between September 15 and October 12, LG U+ achieved an impressive 5G availability of 90.9% (up from 44.6% in June 2019). In the city of Incheon, LG U+ racked up 94.5% 5G availability.

KT and SK Telecom didn't fare too badly on this metric in Seoul either, clocking up respective 5G availability rates of 78.8% and 71.3%.

RootMetrics went so far as to remark that these results "could mark a true tipping point on the path toward 5G ubiquity."

In contrast, 5G availability was below 55% in every other major city RootMetrics tested around the world.

As a way of comparison, in tests carried out in H2 2020, Swisscom's 5G availability in Zurich was 45.6%, although AT&T mustered 54.6% in New York City. In tests carried out by RootMetrics in H1 2020, EE's 5G availability in London was 28.9%.

… speedy, too

5G median download speeds showed a similar story of improvement since 2019. LG U+ led the way in Seoul with a 5G median download speed of 476.5 Mbit/s (50 Mbit/s increase since June 2019).

KT and SK Telecom also impressed in the capital city. KT's 5G median download speed of 425.8 Mbit/s nearly tripled its 163 Mbit/s performance in 2019, while SK Telecom’s 5G speed improved by 149 Mbit/s since 2019, reaching 436.2 Mbit/s.

By comparison, 5G median download speed in Zurich (Sunrise) was 324.6 Mbit/s, and a comparatively lowly 53.1 Mbit/s in New York City (AT&T). In London, using measurements from H1 2020, Vodafone's 5G media download speed was 181.8 Mbit/s.

KT stood out for recording latency of 30ms or lower in all seven cities, while SK Telecom delivered latency below 45.5ms in every city. LG U+ registered its lowest latency of 22ms in Seoul.

"With a few exceptions," noted RootMetrics, "each operator's latency was generally outstanding."

Catch-up possible

The research firm concluded that because South Korean operators showed such dramatic improvements in relatively short order, it suggested that networks in other countries could follow suit, "which would level the worldwide 5G playing field."

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

In addition to the continued expansion and improvements to 5G networks in South Korea and beyond, RootMetrics reckons the recent release of the iPhone 5G could also help bring further parity to the global 5G landscape.

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— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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