5G is quickly gaining momentum in South Korea. KT Corp., the nation’s largest wireless operator, claims to have launched the “world’s first nationwide commercial 5G wireless network” with enterprises and consumers now actively using the network.
The operator also says it is the first to offer unlimited data plans for 5G services. KT’s deployments began in November 2018. The network now covers the country’s most populated areas, including Seoul, six other metropolitan cities, most of the 85 major cities, 70 shopping malls, and 464 college campuses. Mobile edge computing (MEC) centers in eight major cities are supporting low latency, providing a more reliable service, and improving device batter life by about 25%, according to KT.
Samsung’s Leading Role
KT isn’t the only South Korean operator with live 5G service. SK Telecom and LG Uplus have also deployed services in the past couple months. And while Samsung isn’t the exclusive 5G vendor in the country, this week it claimed to have deployed the largest share of network equipment to date.
Samsung says it has supplied more than 53,000 radio base stations to all three operators. The vendor is also supplying the top three operators with virtualized 5G core solutions that support 4G LTE and 5G services in non-standalone (NSA) mode with plans to migrate to standalone (SA) 5G service through a software upgrade down the line.
Approximately 85,000 5G base stations have been deployed in South Korea, according to figures released by the government earlier this month. While Samsung commands a 62% share of the market based on those numbers, Huawei and Ericsson are also working with the country’s top operators as they expand services. The latest figures also highlight a dramatic ramp-up in equipment sales. In late February, Samsung announced it had delivered approximately 36,000 5G base stations.
“In supplying 5G networks to all three Korean operators, Samsung is learning by providing various 5G network pathways within early 5G markets where 4G still exists,” Alok Shah, vice president of network strategy at Samsung Electronics America, wrote in response to questions. “We are now optimizing 5G networks for the best operation and services for users, rather than just having 5G as an ‘on air’ technology.”
The Samsung gear sold to KT supports the 3.5 GHz spectrum band, but it has also deployed equipment elsewhere with sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave (mmWave) band support. “At this time we are not disclosing other market information but have seen significant commercial engagement and interest from global operators in our 5G technology,” Shah explained.
Progress in the US
In the United States, Samsung has commercial 5G network engagements with AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon. The vendor worked with Verizon on its limited 5G Home service and has conducted lab tests and field trials with the operators to support its standards-based 5G New Radio (NR) network.
Samsung is also installing 5G NR equipment supporting massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) technology for Sprint’s 5G network in Chicago, according to Shah. “We continue to install the massive MIMO solutions in markets that are within our current Sprint network footprint — in Chicago and spanning across other regions — to support Sprint’s 5G deployment strategies,” he wrote. Samsung says its massive MIMO unit radio base stations are among the “smallest and lightest in the industry,” which has enabled South Korea’s operators to deploy a 5G network with “tens of thousands of radios.”
Shah added that Samsung is supporting various deployment scenarios for operators. “Some deployments include existing Samsung equipment that is 5G ready and involves an upgrade path, while others involve an open interoperability approach,” he explained. “Samsung is committed to open interfaces and advancing a multi-vendor network approach for our customers.”
While KT says its network is nationwide, there are still many areas of the country without service. The South Korean government this week pledged to support the completion of a nationwide network by 2022, and plans to raise more than $26.4 billion to invest in that plan.