South Korea's SK Telecom has deployed 34,000 5G basestations and published details of 5G pricing plans in preparation for a commercial launch of services later this week.
The update comes after the original 5G launch plans in South Korea were delayed because of issues including a lack of handset availability and government concern about operators' tariffs. Rival operators KT Corp and LG Uplus are also set to introduce their first mass-market commercial services on April 5, according to South Korean press reports.
In a statement published earlier today, SKT said it had deployed 5G infrastructure in the "main areas" of 85 South Korean cities and that its service would support data transmission speeds of up to 2.7 Gbit/s. It plans to extend coverage to "nationwide subways, national parks and festival sites" in the second half of 2019.
The operator is marketing four pricing plans under the "5GX" banner, including an 8GB-a-month service for 55,000 Korean won ($48.50) and a 150GB offer for KRW75,000 ($66.10).
For heavier data users, there is a 200GB service costing KRW95,000 ($83.70) per month and a 300GB one for KRW125,000 ($110.20). Both will come will unlimited usage until the end of the year, as part of a promotional deal.
KT Corp has deployed 30,000 5G basestations and will market three 5G offers, according to Yonhap News Agency: 5GB for KRW80,000 ($70.50); 50GB for KRW100,000 ($88.10) and 100GB for KRW130,000 ($114.60).
Both operators are using 5G network equipment from Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung.
In contrast, LG Uplus announced a 5G network deal with China's Huawei in February, despite some international concern that its products could include "backdoors" for Chinese government spies. LG Uplus had previously worked with Huawei on its 4G deployment.
In its statement on the 5G deal, the operator said it had deployed 10,000 5G basestations with Huawei at the end of February. The Chinese company claimed in its just-published annual report to have shipped around 50,000 5G basestations worldwide in 2018.
Most operators internationally are rolling out the non-standalone version of the 5G standard, which relies on a 4G core network, and have found it easier to stick with their existing 4G vendors when introducing 5G technology, say analysts.
The introduction of standalone 5G technology, which includes a new 5G core network, could therefore bring more opportunity for disruption.
Press reports indicate that LG Uplus is offering 150GB for KRW75,000 ($66.10) and 250GB for KRW95,000 ($83.70).
Operators in other markets will have a close eye on 5G developments in South Korea given its role as a pioneer of the technology.
While 5G is expected to boost capacity and be more spectrally efficient than 4G, market watchers doubt if it will lead to an improvement in service revenues amid fierce competition for customers.
In today's press release, SKT said it is offering "the same amount of 5G data at lower prices" than it charged for its 4G services.
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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading