KT Hedges 5G Bets With Innovation Splurge

Ken Wieland
2/27/2019

BARCELONA -- MWC19 -- Korea Telecom is looking for business and consumer use cases that will benefit most from a 5G boost.

Sung Eunmi, VP of services in KT's 5G department, candidly admits the operator is a bit in the dark about which 5G offerings will gain traction, with the possible exception of "smart factory" applications which, along with many operators, KT sees as highly promising.

"It's why we're testing a wide range of 5G services," she told a small group of journalists at Mobile World Congress.

For the 5G business model to make sense, 5G has to be about much more than customer retention, said Eunmi. On the consumer side, KT aims to boost monthly average user revenue by $10-12 compared with LTE packages. When asked by Light Reading if KT will introduce full-on unlimited data -- without speed throttling after users hit their data allowance limit -- she didn't rule it out. "It's one of the things we're thinking about," said Eunmi.

Like South Korea's other mobile operators, LG Plus and SKT, KT hopes the first batch of 5G-enabled smartphones from Samsung and LG will become commercially available by the end of next month. Without revealing the extent of KT's 5G coverage, but Eunmi predicted it would be pretty much nationwide by the end of this year, using LTE as the anchor network to support the non-standalone version of 5G New Radio.

5G innovation, Korean style
Plenty of 5G-based product innovation was on display at KT's booth, harnessing the likes of facial recognition, AI and high-video resolution -- each aided by 5G connections that leveraged cloud computing.

5G pilot services the operator put through their paces included a surveillance drone for emergency services that used a dedicated 28GHz channel. A remote car control, that can kick into action if a driver falls ill, was another. Currently in trial at K-City, a self-driving car testing facility, the remote-driver also can change traffic lights (at least in the demo) to get the stricken driver to hospital as fast as possible.

Likewise, the booth featured 360-degree real-time video streaming and an AI-powered robot. If the automaton dispenses 80 cups of coffee a day, the robot-buyer breaks even, with the added advantage of no long queues since orders can be made remotely, according to KT. The "barista" informs customers via an app when coffee is ready. It also has facial recognition, allowing a sort of personal touch as customers can be addressed by name. It's quite expensive to build, though, costing a grande $100,000.

KT also is trialing a security-guard app: The human security officer wears a video camera, which uploads a guest's image to the cloud in real time where it is analyzed by facial recognition software. The solution reportedly recognizes people who should be at an event, say, and, more importantly, who shouldn't.

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— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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