South Korea Stutters Towards a National 5G Launch on Friday

Dan Jones
News Analysis
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor

South Korea's mobile operators will launch their national 5G networks on April 5, with one compatible 5G device available to consumers.

KT, SK Telecom and LG Uplus will all switch on their 5G networks this Friday, making South Korea the first country in the world with widespread 5G service availability.

The only device available at launch will be the Samsung S10 5G phone. This will be followed by the launch of the 5G-enabled LG V50 device in a couple of weeks.

The download speed from the 5G mobile network in South Korea is expected to be 2.7 GBit/s.

Park Jung-ho, CEO of SK Telecom, talks up the operator's 5G offering on Wednesday at what SKT called the 'beginning of the Age of Hyper-Innovation with 5G' at the company's 5G Launching Showcase.
Park Jung-ho, CEO of SK Telecom, talks up the operator's 5G offering on Wednesday at what SKT called the "beginning of the Age of Hyper-Innovation with 5G" at the company's 5G Launching Showcase.

Some will, no doubt, contend that the South Korean launches have already taken place, with widespread reports of 5G launches in the country on April 3. Indeed, SK Telecom held a "5G Launching Showcase" on Wednesday and unveiled pricing plans and details of video and VR services.

However, those launches appear to have been rushed, and ahead of schedule, to ensure that Verizon could not claim a "5G launch" first for the US. The South Korean operators issued some 5G smartphones to a small number of domestic celebrities on Wednesday, with Verizon dubbing the Korean launches as a stunt.

But when the Korean networks go live Friday, they will be widespread, reportedly covering half of the country's population of 50 million. In the US, meanwhile, Verizon has claimed a world first by launching in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis on Wednesday, a week earlier than planned, also with a single device -- a 5G clip-on module for its Motorola z3 smartphone, available to prospective customers. Verizon has two more market launches planned in the immediate future.

The claim to be first in the world to launch seems to have been taken far too seriously...

Elsewhere in the US, AT&T has limited mobile coverage in 12 cities, with more planned, but its 5G Netgear Nighthawk is still not available to the public. T-Mobile and Sprint have plans to launch mobile 5G in 2019.

South Korea is, of course, a relatively small nation in terms of geography -- it is just 20% the size of California. It measures just 38,691 square miles. Nationwide mobile 5G service in the US is not expected until at least 2020.

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— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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