Tag Archives: South Korea

South Korea leads the 5G race and lays out the blueprint for the rest of the world


In this report we took an in-depth look into how South Korea became the 5G power house that it is and why many countries and especially the United States are so far behind in the 5G race.

The US operators have misled Americans since 2019 about the capabilities that 5G can offer. Remember AT&T claiming 4G as 5G, with its new logo and icon 5GE. Still today, the US carriers are confusing the public with different names of 5G. For instance, AT&T uses three different nomenclature for 5G, such as 5GE, 5G and 5G plus. The same is the case with Verizon, which has two flavours of 5G, namely 5G Ultrawideband and 5G Nationwide. These are all the marketing tactics to hide US operators’ incapability, which still fail to provide fast and seamless 5G like South Korea.

It’s probably news to most Americans that South Korea’s 5G networks are No. 1 in terms of fastest download speeds. In this article, we look at the various factors contributing to the overall success of 5G in South Korea. There is much to learn for the rest of the world in order to enjoy fast speeds and budget-friendly mobile internet at the same time. We have analyzed and compared the US and South Korean markets in the following sections.

World’s highest download speeds: 10 times faster 5G speeds as compared to the US!

South Korea ranks No.1 with 449 Mbps in 5G median download speeds, based on speedtests conducted during February-March 2021 by Speedcheck. On the other hand, 5G operators in the US provide only 43.4 Mbps, ten times slower than Korean operators. No doubt speed thrills, especially when a subscriber feels enhanced and immersive experience while downloading big files/movies, enjoying AR/VR content or even playing online games.

Relative speeds (Mbps) and prices per Gigabytes shows an out of proportion ratio in both markets

The exciting result of our analysis shows that consumers in the US are paying a little less per Gigabytes than in South Korea, but at the same time getting ten times slower speeds. These figures show a considerable gap between the cost per GB and relative internet speeds in both countries. What’s the main reason for this huge gap? The situation could have been avoided by allocating a mid-band spectrum in the range of 3.5 GHz and following an aggressive rollout strategy by covering a more extensive US population, with much more 5G sites.

The following table shows the data prices of major mobile operators in the US and South Korea.

Operators 5G Data Plan Comparison in the US and South Korea
Mobile Operator
Verizon Play More 80$ /line per month 50 GB Premium data After exceeding allowance 600 kbps speed for the rest of the month
AT&T Unlimited Extra 75$/line per month 50 GB premium data After 50GB, AT&T may temporarily slow data speeds if the network is busy
T-Mobile Essentials 65$/line per month 50 GB of premium data Essentials customers may notice speeds lower than other customers and further reduction if using >50GB/mo. due to data prioritization
LG U+ Data Special D KRW 110,000 (98 $) 40GB/month+4GB/day After that up to 3Mbps
SK Telecom 5GX Prime KRW 89,000 (80 $) 30 GB/month
KT Super Plan Basic Choice 90,000 KRW (80 $) 40 GB data Speed limit at 200Kbps

Yet another insight of our research shows that the average price per Gigabyte in the US is around 1.5 USD, while in South Korea, it is 2.3 USD. Our study also indicates that affordability is not a constraint; US citizens could pay more if they can get faster speeds. The Purchasing Power Index (PPI) score published in 2020 shows the US well ahead of South Korea in terms of purchasing power. The US is placed at No.3 in the world ranking with a PPI score of 109.52 compared to SK, which is 20th place with a PPI score of 85.21.

5G Price Comparison between US and South Korean Mobile Operators
Mobile Operator
Price per Gigabyte
Verizon 🇺🇸 $1.6
AT&T 🇺🇸 $1.5
T Mobile 🇺🇸 $1.3
SK Telecom 🇰🇷 $2.6
LG U+ 🇰🇷 $2.45
KT 🇰🇷 $2

Mid-band is a must for 5G, whereas FCC is late to auction the required spectrum in the US!

Another important factor contributing to the successful deployment of 5G in South Korea was spectrum allocation in 3.5 GHz and 28GHz bands. The telecom regulatory authority released enough chunks of the spectrum (100MHz and 800 MHz in 3.5GHz and 28GHz, respectively) to power the telecom sector in SK. The three telecom operators got 280 MHz in 3.5 GHz and 2400 MHz in 28 GHz bands.

Available Spectrum in SK: 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz

South Koreans were lucky to get enough chunks of 3.5 GHz spectrum from the very beginning of the 5G launch in 2019. South Korean operators took advantage of the 3.5 GHz (C-Band) spectrum for 5G services due to its radio propagation characteristics, providing a perfect balance between coverage, capacity and speed. On top of that, SK operators used a 28 GHz (mmWave) frequency spectrum to ensure faster internet to a more extensive customer base in dense urban areas.

Available Spectrum in the US: 600 MHz, 850 MHz, 39GHz… (NO 3.5 GHz)

Unfortunately, the US operators were left with limited choice when it comes to spectrum availability for 5G. The absence of a mid-band spectrum (3.5GHz/C-band) was the bottleneck to have successful 5G. Operators in the US used lower frequency bands (600/850 MHz) to cover larger geographical areas. However, they could not provide faster speeds due to the radio propagation characteristics of the low band spectrum. Even worse, in some areas, the 5G speeds were slower than 4G.

Moreover, to bear the fruits of the high-end spectrum (39 GHz), a more significant 5G cell site density is required to cover a more extensive consumer base. However, the US has fewer 5G sites, resulting in insufficient capacity and lower speeds.

The US is too late to auction the mid-band/C-band, which is called the golden band for 5G. Instead, the US either relied on lower and higher bands. The lower bands are good at coverage but not at speed, and higher bands are best for speed but not to cover a broader area. FCC is planning to auction 5G mid-band (C-band) later this year, at least three years behind SK.

The question is why the US delayed the C-band spectrum, while other countries like South Korea were too quick to set aside the C-band for mobile operators. It seems the US was too cautious about using C-band for mobile operators, considering the interference issues it may have caused for the devices already used in the military, aviation industry and satellites.

South Korean operators adopted an aggressive rollout strategy reaching a 5G penetration rate of more than 20 % just in three years, while in the US, the penetration rate is still under 10%

SK operators implemented an aggressive 5G rollout strategy since April 2019. As a result, the total 5G subscriptions in SK surpassed 15 million at the end of April 2021, which is more than 20 % penetration given 52 million people. Today, 5G is available in 85 cities of SK. The big boost in 5G subscriptions in 2021 came due to Samsung Electronics latest flagship Galaxy S21 smartphone. Three SK operators have deployed more than 166,250 5G base stations.

On the other hand, the 5G penetration rate is just under 10 % in the US. The US operators claim to have 75 % nationwide 5G coverage, with 5G available in 279 cities, and the performance of 5G networks remains uneven.

SK government boosted the competition by providing a level playing field and introduced independent MVNOs to reduce the prices further

Local 5G products and R&D helped fuel 5G in SK: In SK, the contribution of local industry and R&D from telcos such as Samsung makes it easier to deploy and cheaper to roll out. Whereas the US is primarily dependent on foreign companies for its 5G, though there is some change in the mindset to use indigenous products, it will take time.

South Korea provides a level playing field to boost the competition further. Unlike the US, in SK, there is no restriction on any company. Prominent vendors like ZTE and Huawei are allowed to participate in SK 5G, which provides a level playing field to all the telcos irrespective of the country of origin. Thus SK benefits from state of the art technologies at a lower cost.

Introduction of independent MVNOs: Till today, only the three players, namely SK, KT, and LGU+, dominate the Korean market. Recently the SK government has come up with a novel idea to further boost the 5G competition by allowing MVNOs to offer 5G data plans independently. According to a local news agency, the Mobile Virtual Network Operators will be offering 5G data plans (30 GB) at the cost of 35 USD. It is essential to mention that three leading operators do not currently provide 5G data plans at a similar price for the same amount of data. On the other hand, though many MVNOs are already operating in the US, they are not independent of legacy telcos, thus cannot provide the data prices feely.

SK mobile operators are offering compelling content and partnerships to boost 5G subscribers further

In SK, a considerable amount of content and value-added services (VAS) are bundled by carries into mobile plans to attract more 5G subscribers. Most of the VAS is related to gaming (e-sports and cloud gaming) and applications like AR/VR, which are very popular among South Koreans, ensuring an immersive experience while watching 360 live sports, dancing, and training sessions. While in the US, there is still a lack of rich AR/VR content to attract 5G subscribers. Only recently, big operators are acquiring media companies which is a positive sign.

Finally, we summarise our analysis in a tabular form, illustrating the main differences between the US and SK market.

Comparison of 5G in South Korea and the USA
South Korea
Speeds Slow (43Mbps) Fast (450Mbps)
Spectrum Limited, No C-Band, Only low and ultra-high bands are available Enough spectrum in low, mid (C-band) and higher bands
Price per GB Relatively Low Relatively High
MVNOs Dependent Independent
Healthy Competition No Yes
Vendors Dependent on foreign companies with limited options due to restrictions No restriction on local and foreign vendors
Aggressive Rollout No, it results in the low penetration rate Yes, it results in a high penetration rate
Content Limited to the media industry Rich AR/VR content and VAS, extended partnership to media and other verticals

Autonomous Robots Take Over At South Korea’s Largest Airport

LG Robots to Deliver Expert Service for Visitors to Korea

Airport Guide Robot 01

As South Korea prepares for the largest winter sporting event in its history, LG Electronics (LG) is focusing on improving automated services at the main hub for the world’s travelers – Incheon International Airport (IIA). Starting on July 21, LG will put into trial service a number of Airport Guide Robots and Airport Cleaning Robots at the award-winning airport to assist travelers arriving and departing Korea. The Airport Guide Robot will roam the airport providing information and assistance to visitors while the Airport Cleaning Robot will be on hand to keep the floors impeccably clean.

By dispatching its robots to one of the largest and busiest airports in the world, LG will be able to provide its robotic services to approximately 57 million travelers who pass through the airport every year. While the robots are officially going into trial service today, they have been a familiar presence to frequent travelers since February, when they began beta testing at IIA. LG engineers have been fine tuning the robots for the past five months, improving their performance based on the data and experience collected during the beta test.

Equipped with LG’s voice recognition platform, the Airport Guide Robot understands four different languages – Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese – the four most popular languages spoken at the airport, in order to provide assistance verbally. The robot can connect to the airport’s central server to provide information regarding boarding time and locations of restaurants, shops, and much more. With a quick scan of a boarding pass, the Airport Guide Robot can escort the late or lost traveler to the right departure gate on time.

The Airport Cleaning Robot takes LG HOM-BOT’s powerful cleaning performance, autonomous navigation, and object-avoidance capability and applies them to a commercial, public environment. This robot detects the areas that require the most frequent cleaning, stores those locations in its database and calculates the most efficient routes to get there.

With these airport robots, LG is demonstrating its initiative to develop and expand its commercial robot business as a future growth engine. Currently, LG’s robot business is divided into two sectors: home and commercial. LG’s home robots include the HOM-BOT vacuum cleaner and the new Hub Robot while LG’s commercial business consists of robots specially designed to provide services in public areas such as airports, hotels and banks.

“LG is dedicated to the advancement and development of its robot technologies which includes navigation, voice recognition, natural language processing, and of course, DeepThinQ,” said Song Dae-hyun, president of LG Electronics Home Appliance & Air Solutions Company. “It is this kind of effort and innovation that will drive LG forward in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Airport Guide Robot 01

Source: LG

South Korea launches commercial IoT network


SK Telecom have announced the completion of the nationwide deployment of Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN)* in South Korea based on LoRa technology; the launch of price plans for LoRa-based IoT services; and its plans to vitalize the IoT ecosystem.

The company finished building LoRaWAN across the country by end of June, six months earlier than its initial schedule, covering 99 percent of the population. By securing both nationwide LTE-M and LoRaWAN, which are two main pillars of the IoT network, SK Telecom said that it is now fully ready to create valuable business opportunities in the IoT era. The company had completed nationwide LTE-M rollout in March, 2016.

To promote the growth of the IoT market, SK Telecom plans to offer attractive price plans and develop innovative IoT services, while offering strong support for SMEs. To this end, the company will invest a total of KRW 100 billion by the end of 2017. It expects these efforts to lead to rapid expansion of the IoT industry by connecting over 4 million things to its IoT-dedicated networks by the end of 2017.

SK Telecom unveiled new price plans for LoRaWAN-based IoT services. The “Band IoT” plans come in six different tiers – i.e. from Band IoT 35 (approx. USD 0.3) priced at KRW 350 to Band IoT 200 priced at KRW 2,000(approx. USD 1.75) – depending on data use (refer to table 1) to allow SK Telecom’s customers – both enterprises and individuals – to choose one that suits the needs of their services. The Band Lora plans are highly affordable – costing merely one-tenth of SK Telecom’s LTE-based IoT services – and thus are expected to support active development and provision of diverse IoT services by easing the cost burden of startups and SMEs. The company is also offering diverse discount benefits for enterprise customers depending on their contract period and the number of lines they use.

For instance, a gas meter, which transmits relatively a small amount of data can be used by signing up for Band IoT 35, while a service that requires real-time communication like lighting control service can be used by signing up for Band IoT 200.


Considering the characteristics of the LPWA network, SK Telecom plans to develop services in the areas of metering, tracking and monitoring.

In the area of metering, the company is currently focusing on Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)*, which enables the utilities companies to not only accurately measure/monitor usage but also control the metering devices. SK Telecom has been conducting a pilot project on AMI with SK E&S since November 2015, and plans to expand the service coverage to more regions of the country in July 2016. Going forward, the company will launch AMI services for other utilities including water and electricity.

* Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) is an architecture for automated, two-way communication between a smart utility meter with an IP address and a utility company. AMI is expected to enhance user convenience and safety through its sophisticated remote metering & control features as well as automatic safety capabilities.

SK Telecom is also developing in tracking services to identify and track the location of vehicles, people/things, and assets. In cooperation with the local governments, the company plans to launch “Safe Watch,” a wearable designed to enhance the safety of children and the elderly in July 2016.

Moreover, SK Telecom will offer monitoring services capable of controlling and managing manufacturing/public/commercial facilities. For instance, monitoring service for a company that has a large-scale production facility will ensure that the equipment within the facility are operated in an optimal manner and the production environment is kept safe at all times. Environmental monitoring of CO2 concentration, temperature/humidity, as well as hazardous substances – e.g., measuring concentration levels of radon in the atmosphere and soil – can also be provided. In August 2016, SK Telecom will start an environmental monitoring service at Changjo (Creative) Village in Sejong.

Furthermore, the company plans to launch a total of 20 LoRa-based IoT services by the end of 2016, including a manhole monitoring service (in September) and a real-time shared parking service (in October).

Besides developing and launching IoT services of its own, SK Telecom will be making multifaceted efforts to vitalize the IoT ecosystem by encouraging the participation of developers, SMEs and startups. To this end, the company plans to set up a comprehensive program named ‘Partner Hub Program’ to nurture partners. Through the program, SK Telecom will share its expertise and knowhow, provide training and conduct joint development/ marketing.

To support the development of IoT services and devices, SK Telecom will create a space called ‘IoT Open Testbed’ for SMEs and startups at its Bundang Building to offer a one-stop development environment – which encompasses network, device and platform – for IoT services. At IoT Open Testbed, SMEs and startups will be able to verify their IoT devices, carry out tests to check interworking between their device and the IoT network/platform, and receive technical/service consultation.

SK Telecom also began providing LoRa modules free of charge on July 1, 2016. Aimed at facilitating the development and launch of LoRa services, the company will provide a total of 100,000 units of LoRa modules for free. Also, the low cost of the LoRa module – which is just one-fifth of that of an existing LTE module – will contribute to the development of the wide variety of IoT devices.

“SK Telecom is proud to announce the nationwide deployment of LoRaWAN as it marks the first important step towards realizing connectivity between infinite number of things, going beyond the traditional role of telecommunications centered on connectivity between people,” said Lee Hyung-hee, President of Mobile Network Business at SK Telecom. “Going forward, SK Telecom will develop and offer a wide variety of IoT services designed to offer new value for customers, while working closely with partners including SMEs and startups to vitalize the IoT ecosystem.”

Source: SK Telecom

South Korea rolls out LTE Drones for First Responders


KT Corporation has unveiled technologies that are part of a public safety project to enable fire, police and rescue responders to better communicate with each other using everday devices.

South Korean telco KT Corperation on Tuesday demonstrated new technologies engineered to better respond to disasters or public safety crises in remote areas, including a mobile network server that can deliver LTE coverage mounted from a backpack.

In Pyeongchang in the country’s Gangwon Province, the telco demonstrated the LTE Backpack, a lightweight network mini-base station designed to be deployed on the fly and in remote areas, such as at sea or in the mountains; along with its Drone LTE, specially armed with telecom modules as well as video and thermal cameras to facilitate search and rescue operations by first responders.

The LTE drone and backpack were displayed as part of a multi-billion dollar emergency communications infrastructure project dubbed Public Safety LTE, which will enable fire, police and rescue responders to better communicate with each other using everyday devices.

The technologies can be effectively used for search and rescue operations because they work together using the emergency IT infrastructure, according to Oh Sung-mok, KT network division head and company vice president.

South Korea is in the process of building a national public safety network to be used by the military, police, fire department, transportation department and other agencies — a project worth 2 trillion won ($1.74 billion) tentatively projected to roll out next year. The project became prioritised after the Sewol disaster last year, in which over 300 people died after a ferry capsized. The heavy casualty was blamed on late responses.

KT and SK Telecom were officially chosen to participate in the project, while handset makers Samsung and Pantech are also in talks to supply specially made devices that will be a boon to their enterprise businesses.

KT will also deploy its “Triple GiGA Network” of satellite, fiber optics, and microwave technology to make sure the communication links stay connected in case one or two of them malfunction. “KT can contribute to making the nation safer by leveraging KT’s LTE network technology,” Oh said in a statement.

The telco also teamed up with local handset makers and other companies to roll out smartphones and walkie-talkies running on the public safety networks.

Source: Philip Iglauer-ZDNET