A Comprehensive Guide to 5G in South Korea – Outlook for 2020

While China is considered King when it comes to 5G technology, then South Korea is the prince. South Korean telecommunication companies have made 5G services available to consumers in April 2019. The Korean government has offered tax breaks and government investments totaling $27 billion by 2022. This will be called the 5G+ Strategy, which is designed to make 5G a technology that transforms a wide diversity of industries. Since the end of 2019, South Korea has secured over 5.8 million subscribers onto its 5G networks. In addition, South Korea has over 115,000 base stations in operation and has the highest penetration rate of 9.67%. Compare this to China which has less than 1%.

The South Korean government’s Ministry of Science and ICT predicts that in 2020, more than 45 percent of Korea’s mobile users will have access to a 5G network, with 90 percent coverage by 2026. This will ultimately lead to an increase in the monthly data usage per consumer as well as high demand for high-resolution videos and gaming content. Many telecommunications industry experts say that 5G will play a crucial role in helping the Korean economy recover from the coronavirus outbreak.

What is 5G?

5G in Korea
Photo by The Korea Times

5G is the fifth-generation of mobile internet connectivity. It will provide faster download and upload speeds, a wider range of coverage, and more stable seamless connections. A typical 4G phone offers 30 to 50 megabits per second. However, smartphones with 5G will offer 700 Mbps or more in the streets of Seoul. This is because 5G uses shorter wavelengths which can hold more data. The data speeds can end up being 100 times faster than with 4G.

People in Korea will be able to watch their favorite K-pop concerts from different angles and to zoom in closer on their smartphones leading to a more immersive experience. Furthermore, 5G will make viewing video content and live streaming on the go easier than ever. Youtubers in Korea will now be able to upload their content via their 5G phone at 5 times the speed. In addition, they will be able to stream their content without any lag or delay at a higher resolution. Imagine what this will do for Esports in Korea.

5G in South Korea Thanks to the Big Three

As China and the United States continue their battle over trade and technology, South Korea has slowly been advancing its next-generation 5G network. The three companies championing 5G technology in South Korea are LG Uplus, SK Telecom, and KT Corporation. These mobile careers in Korea have already invested over $3.5 billion into 5G networks for the first half of 2020. In addition, they are planning to expand their coverage by installing 5G indoor base stations in over 2,000 sites in Korea. This includes airports, department stores, subways, and office buildings. 


LG U+ will invest over $11 million to create entertainment content for the 5G network. Therefore, this means content for VR/AR and any real-time content. LG Uplus already has unlimited 5G network plans in Seoul. They have already built over 7,000 5G stations in 2018. That trend continued in 2019 and will continue in 2020. LG Uplus has over 1 million 5G subscribers.

SK Telecom

SK Telecom began providing 5G services in April via various 5G plans ranging from $50 to $110 per month. Therefore, they have the most 5G subscribers with over 2 million. SK Telecom built an autonomous driving city called K-City back in 2017. They were able to test outdoor tests on 5G technology in relation to not just self-driving cars but also TV broadcasts. SK Telecom is part of the 5G factory alliance which already has over a dozen companies looking to incorporate 5G to improve factory performance. They will play a vital role in building 5G stations and smart factories across Korea by 2022.

KT Corporation

South Korea’s largest telecommunications company KT Corporation is continuing to research 5G technology for its combination of hyper-connectivity, high speed, and low lag. Therefore, this will open up doors for KT to offer new services like cloud computing, AI, security, and autonomous vehicles. Currently, they offer 5G plans called KT 5G Super plans that come in three packages: Basic, Special, and Premium. It comes with unlimited 5G data and data roaming in over 180 countries. They hope to provide 5G coverage for over 80 cities before 2020. In addition, KT has committed to invest $20 billion into 5G R&D through 2023. So far they have over 1.5 million 5G subscribers.

Samsung launches the first 5G smartphone

Galaxy S10 SamsungSamsung was the first to launch a 5G smartphone with the Galaxy S10. In addition, they unveiled 5G version called Galaxy A71 and A51. The A91 will come towards the end of 2020. LG then came out with its own 5G smartphone called V50 ThinQ 5G.

Some things we will see in the future with 5G Technology

  • People will be able to download high-definition movies in just a few seconds.
  • Video conference with holograms.
  • International video calling will have no lag.
  • Smart factories that can detect errors and repair themselves.
  • Better 360 degree content for AR devices.
  • The next-generation in Wifi where devices will connect directly with your internet service provider.
  • Improvement in self-driving technology.
  • Real-time remote robotic surgery.
  • Remote diagnoses, treatments, and prescriptions.

5G Stations in Korea

Creating infrastructure for 5G requires lots of 5G stations. These stations need to be equipped with antennas to collect and transmit wavelength signals. Korea has decided to upgrade its 4G stations to 5G. In a city like Seoul which holds 10 million people with over 7.5 million of them having smartphones, it will require standalone 5G Stations to be built. This is because since 5G uses short wavelengths, it is easier for these wavelengths to get blocked or interfered with by trees, buildings, or other structures. It is estimated that there will need to be 5G stations every 300-500 meters. If the connection to 5G gets cut off, then the network would drop to 4G.

Kakao launches its own 5G smartphone

Stage 5GThe Whatsapp of Korea, Kakao launched its first 5G smartphone. It was developed by Stage Five which is a 5G service affiliate of Kakao, and Korean smart device maker Infomark. The smartphone is called Stage 5G and it has 128GB of internal memory and is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 5G.  In addition, it is equipped with facial recognition and a fingerprint reader. It has an affordable price of $700 and is designed for Kakao users. Kakao apps such as Kakao Talk, Kakao Pay, Kakao Navi, and Kakao page are pre-installed on the smartphone.

How Manufacturers will use 5G to Build Future Factories in Korea

As Korea quickly adopts 5G technologies, factories in Korea will become much more fluid. It will allow people and technologies to work side by side. To integrate new systems, manufacturers in Korea will tap into the speed of 5G to track analytics in near-real-time. Factories can become smart factories that can monitor themselves for issues or repairs. All this can be handled by machine vision and IoT sensors. These new technologies will generate tremendous value. However, they will also generate large amounts of data. With no need to worry about latency issues with 5G, edge-to-edge intelligence will drive performance and better outcomes.

With the emergence of 5G technology, expect to see humans and robots working together and drones used on the factory floor. The potentials are limitless.

The Future of 5G in South Korea

5G in South Korea will take time to adopt. The technology is very new and the full benefit of 5G technology might not happen until 2021. Most smartphone users don’t feel the difference and there really is no real use for 5G at the moment. 5G in South Korea at the moment has issues because the connection tends to drop as it goes back and forth between 4G and 5G. The greatest benefit of 5G technology will go towards live-streaming, VR/AR, gaming, and downloading. There has not been a killer app and the world has not yet fully adopted VR headsets, the need for 5G is not yet there.

In order for 5G to take off in South Korea, it will need to be used with other emerging technologies such as big data, IoT, cloud, and AI. 5G will play a vital role when it comes to fast data transmission. Developing these emerging technologies together will lead to a powerful ecosystem in Korea. Once the ecosystem is built, innovation can take place in regards to biotech, fintech, and etc. This will pave the way for new innovative startups that push the boundaries.