The mobile 5G race is now on: SK Telecom (SKT) and Verizon are gearing up to stake their claim as the first mobile carrier in the world to launch 5G services that actually work on new 5G smartphones.
The South Korean operator, which has already been actively messaging on its 5G position along with domestic peers KT and LG Uplus, plans to launch its mobile 5G services on Friday April 5, chiming in with the arrival of the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G smartphone in South Korea.
SKT said it has built a total of 34,000 5G base stations with a focus on data hotspots in urban areas and in-building coverage, and plans to expand the network in the second half of 2019. It has also unveiled its 5G price plans and a new 5G content strategy including games, ultra-high definition (UHD) video, and augmented and virtual reality.
SKT is already claiming that its 5G network supports data transmission speeds of up to 2.7 Gb/s, which it said “makes it ideal for streaming and downloading ultra-large volume VR and UHD content.”
Verizon has clearly been keeping tabs on its Korean rival, and on Wednesday it rushed out a press release to boast that it has already turned on its mobile 5G network in Minneapolis and Chicago “a week ahead of schedule.” While U.S. subscribers won’t be able to get their hands on the Samsung 5G smartphone until later in April, the U.S. carrier is for now relying on the availability of the moto z3 with a 5G moto mod. That means subscribers will need to buy and carry around a 5G modem to enable 5G on their device, at a cost of $199.99 for a limited period.
The rival releases certainly muddy the waters somewhat in terms of which carrier is first with commercial, mobile 5G services that work on 5G smartphones. Give that SKT will be launching its service to coincide with the availability of an actual 5G smartphone in Korea on Friday, purists would probably give it the edge over its U.S. rival when claiming this latest global 5G first. Verizon is also promising lower peak speeds of up to 1 Gb/s, with typical download speeds of 450 Mb/s. Furthermore, it seems to have been more reticent on revealing how many 5G base stations it has actually deployed.
It should also of course be noted that late last year, AT&T was the first U.S. carrier to launch a standards-based mobile 5G network with service in a dozen cities. The carrier has previously said it aims to launch a 5G smartphone from Samsung in the first half of 2019.