Korean operators end March with almost 14.5 million 5G subscribers

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South Korea ended March with a total of 14.48 million 5G subscribers, up from 7 million 5G users in May 2020, local news agency Yonhap reported, citing data from the Ministry of Science and ICT.

The total number of 5G subscribers at the end of March accounted for 20% of the country’s total 71.1 million mobile subscriptions, according to the report.

In April alone, Korean telcos had added over 792,000 subscribers in the 5G segment.

South Korea’s largest carrier, SK Telecom, ended April with 6.74 million 5G subscribers, followed by KT, with 4.4 million and LG Uplus, with 3.33 million.

Korean operators have been pushing for a rapid user migration to 5G networks from 4G, launching relatively more affordable 5G data plans in recent months.

Also, the launch of new devices, including Samsung Electronics’ flagship Galaxy S21 series, has also boosted user adoption of 5G.

According to the report, the overall base of 4G customers in South Korea continued to decline during April, standing at 51.18 million, down around 250,000 from the previous month.

South Korean telecom operators currently provide 5G services via NonStandalone 5G networks, which depend on previous 4G LTE networks. The country’s three operators launched 5G technology in April 2019, and 5G networks are available mostly in large cities.

SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus are currently preparing to commercialize new technology, such as Standalone versions of the 5G networks and millimeter-wave 5G, according to recent reports.

The mmWave 5G service will be initially available for the business-to-business segment. Operators have not yet finalized investment plans for the business-to-consumer sector, as the cost of building additional infrastructure still represents a major issue, according to the reports.

In July of 2020, Korean mobile operators SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus agreed to invest a total of KRW 25.7 trillion ($22 billion) through 2022 to boost 5G infrastructure across the country.

Despite the rapid progress in 5G deployments, subscribers have been criticizing the poor quality of 5G services. Nearly 1,000 5G smartphone users in South Korea have recently expressed interest in taking legal action against the country’s three major telecom operators due to the alleged poor quality of the service.

The group plans to file a class action lawsuit in May after adding more customers to the complaint. The group is seeking at least KRW1 million ($885) in compensation per subscriber from the three mobile operators.

Kim Jin-wook, a lawyer at law firm Joowon, which is spearheading the legal action, claimed the quality of 5G services doesn’t meet expectations, with slower than advertised data rates and coverage limited to major cities despite the service costing more than LTE plans.

About Author

Juan Pedro covers Global Carriers and Global Enterprise IoT. Prior to RCR, Juan Pedro worked for Business News Americas, covering telecoms and IT news in the Latin American markets. He also worked for Telecompaper as their Regional Editor for Latin America and Asia/Pacific. Juan Pedro has also contributed to Latin Trade magazine as the publication's correspondent in Argentina and with political risk consultancy firm Exclusive Analysis, writing reports and providing political and economic information from certain Latin American markets. He has a degree in International Relations and a master in Journalism and is married with two kids.

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