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South Korea now faces 5G roll-out delays

Some promotional material for 5G via SK Telecom. (Source: SK Telecom)
Some promotional material for 5G via SK Telecom. (Source: SK Telecom)
The South Korean Ministry of Science and ICT has warned that South Korea is likely to miss the current approximate deadline at which 5G should be available in the country. This was estimated to be at the end of March, but now may be pushed back until later in the year. The authorities have cited costing disputes with providers as one factor in this delay.

The tech world has expected that South Korea will be the first country to see full 5G services in 2019. However, the nation's Ministry of Science and ICT has recently thrown a spanner in those works. It has advised citizens that it is now "more desirable to wait" for telecommunications on the new radio standard. This means that the next-gen bands may not be available by about the end of this month (March 2019) as anticipated.

There may be a range of factors that have driven the Ministry's announcement. For starters, it appears that the provision of 5G by major South Korean carriers such as LG Uplus, KT and SK Telecom will be less economically feasible than the government thought. For example, recent reports have indicated that negotiations between SK Telecom and state officials have broken down over the prices quoted. Besides this, it remains a fact that 5G-capable phones likely to be available in South Korea are still extremely rare at present. So far, there is the LG V50 ThinQ, as well as the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, which has not been released for sale yet.

These South Korean problems may also eventually reflect those in other markets and regions. Such developments are a good indication that 5G availability may go at a snail's pace in other countries to start off with at least, and be expensive compared to conventional, 4G-powered services. On this note, the US carrier T-Mobile has claimed that its own next-gen bands will work out no pricier than its current highest regular tariff (US$70). However, market forces may exert an effect on the chances of this holding true in the future. Finally, early-generation 5G-capable devices themselves are likely to be extremely expensive in their own right.


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Deirdre O Donnell, 2019-03- 9 (Update: 2019-03-10)