A Comprehensive Guide to 5G in South Korea

While China is considered King when it comes to 5G technology, 5G in South Korea is not far behind.  South Korean telecommunication companies have made 5G services available to consumers in April 2019.  South Korea became the country in the world to launch 5G services.   Since then around 3% of the Korean population has subscribed to it. The South Korean government’s Ministry of Science and ICT predicts that by 2020, 30 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 a high demand for high-resolution videos and gaming content.

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.

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.  

LG U+ will invest over $11 million to create entertainment content for the 5G network.  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 continues in 2019.

SK Telecom began providing 5G services in April via various 5G plans ranging from $50 to $110 per month.  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.

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.  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.

Samsung launches the first 5G smartphone

Galaxy S10 SamsungSamsung was the first to launch a 5G smartphone with the Galaxy S10.  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.
  • International video calling will have no lag.
  • 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.

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 their 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.