5G now carrying 21% of all mobile traffic in South Korea

Less than a year after launching the new technology, South Korea's 5G networks are now carrying close to a fourth of all wireless network traffic in the country, according to new figures from the country's telecoms regulator.

Phil Kendall, an analyst with research and consulting firm Strategy Analytics, offered a clear look at how 5G has grown across South Korea since operators there launched the technology in early 2019.

Perhaps more importantly, Kendall also highlighted how much data 5G users in South Korea are chewing through:

Kendall noted that part of the reason so much traffic moves over the country's 5G networks is because Korea's 5G customers are mostly signing up for unlimited data plans. He calculated that more than two thirds of 5G users in South Korea are on unlimited plans -- far more than customers on 4G and 3G -- and that South Korean 5G customers consumed an average of 33 GB per month in the fourth quarter of 2019.

South Korea's three wireless network operators -- SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus -- all offer 5G services, though SK Telecom has taken a commanding lead in 5G market share, Kendall noted.

What this means
South Korea has long served as a sort of technological testbed thanks to plenty of tech-savvy citizens and a governmental emphasis on innovation. In 5G, the country benefits from a widespread wired network for backhaul and plenty of unused and flexible midband spectrum that's ideal for both 5G coverage and capacity. Moreover, the country is about 1% of the size of the US -- it covers roughly the same area as the state of Tennessee -- making it much easier for South Korean operators to blanket wide swaths of the population with a 5G signal.

That said, it's difficult to assess how the US stacks up against South Korea in terms of 5G customers and network traffic considering US operators like Verizon and AT&T do not disclose those kinds of statistics.

And though South Korea has taken an early lead in 5G, the country will undoubtedly be overshadowed by China's push toward 5G. Although 5G is only a few months old in China, the nation's three big mobile network operators were offering 5G service in 50 cities at the end of 2019. With 130,000 basestations deployed, around 10 million subscribers signed up and 13.8 million handsets shipped.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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