South Korea Launches 5G Mobile Networks: The World's First


Telecommunication carriers in South Korea have turned on their 5G mobile internet networks, ahead of schedule in an attempt to ensure the country becomes the first in the world to launch the services.

Originally, the South Korean carriers planned to start their 5G services on Friday, April the 5th, but rescheduled because U.S. carrier Verizon was planning to turn on its 5G network in some areas of Minneapolis and Chicago, a week ahead of schedule.

The 5G networks by SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplusm went live at 11pm Wednesday, hours before Verizon.

However, rescheduling its launch means that the regulators need to make some tweaks.

And that included modifying the service terms so that the carriers could quickly sign up half a dozen celebrity customers, including two members of the K-pop band EXO and the former Olympic figure-skating gold medalist Kim Yuna.

As for regular customers, they were able to sign up for 5G services starting on Friday - the original planned day - when Samsung began its sales of the Galaxy S10 5G, the world’s first available smartphone with the technology built inside it.

SK Telecom's CEO Park Jung-ho with other participants when launching the 5G networks on April 5th, 2019. The sign reads: "the world's first commercial services"

The government and private companies came together to achieve the world’s first commercialized 5G services and this proves once again our country is undoubtedly the top powerhouse in information and communications," said You Young-min, South Korean minister for science and information technology.

While South Korea may have won the bragging rights for the world's first 5G, Japan’s Nikkei business paper said that the race might have been a close call, noting that Verizon’s announcement was made at 11am U.S. eastern time, while South Korea’s SK said it had switched on its service an hour earlier.

Verizon dismissed South Korea’s launch as a publicity "stunt".

"They gave phones to six celebrities and they’re trying to say that constitutes a network launch? That’s a PR stunt," said Kevin King, the director of corporate communications at Verizon.

“We launched a network and made 5G devices available for any customers that wanted them. We had devices in stores in Chicago and Minneapolis, and available for purchase online.”

Carriers said 5G would enable compatible smartphones to download data up to 20 times faster than 4G.

This in theory, would enable users to download large files almost instantly. The faster networks would also improve live broadcasts and streaming services for music and video while allowing for a broader range of virtual reality services, added the companies.

The U.S. and South Korea are just two among a handful of other countries racing for 5G.

China for example, have invested heavily in the development of the technology. Japan, another player, has plans to have a full 5G service in place in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

As for patents, Chinese companies dominated with 3,400 5G patents - including 1,529 registered by Huawei. This is followed by South Korea which owns 2,051 patents, and on third place is the U.S. with 1,368.

After the 5G networks were finally open to regular users on April 5th, tens of thousands of users have registered to the three South Korean carriers.

Commercializing 5G gives South Korea the chance to build around the technology, which is crucial for the development of devices such as autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things (IoT). And this is what worries the U.S. and UK, as Huawei’s heavy involvement in 5G technology poses a security risk, citing technological backdoors could give Beijing access to 5G-connected utilities and other components.

South Korea is already known for its hyper-connected society. Besides its speedy internet, the country has a 95 percent rate of smartphone ownership, higher than any other developed economy.

This is why becoming the first to have 5G mobile networks was a national pride at stake