Korea will not be able to launch commercial 5G mobile services in March as scheduled. This is because it will take more time to verify the quality of 5G terminals. Industry insiders say 5G terminals are likely to go on sale in April at the earliest. They say the government caused confusion among consumers by sticking to its launch schedule without taking the industry’s situation into consideration.
"The possibility of Korea launching commercial 5G services in March is not great,” said Jeon Sung-bae, chief of the Planning and Coordination Department at the Ministry of Science and ICT in a briefing at the Gwacheon Government Complex on March 7. “If you think it better to start commercial 5G services after high-quality 5G terminals have been secured, March may not be the right answer." The remark means that the government virtually admitted that it would not be possible to start commercial 5G services in March, a schedule that the government has upheld since 2017. However, "It is not the case that 5G terminals are not ready at all. They are in the final verification stage so it needs a little more time before they are available for general consumers," Jeon said. Thus, commercial 5G services are expected to start between April and May this year.
As explained by the government, the biggest obstacle to 5G commercialization is the delayed launch of smartphones. Samsung Electronics's Galaxy S10 5G will be released first, but quality stabilization work for the 5G terminal is not over yet. "The Galaxy S10 5G is already available for exhibitions and giving tryouts to consumers but that is different from products that will hit the shelves at a price in the real market," a Samsung Electronics official said. "It is difficult to release the general retail version of the Galaxy S10 5G at the end of March when considering the verification of product completeness." The launch of the LG V50 ThinkQ for commercial 5G services will depend on the schedule for Qualcomm chip shipment. Qualcomm said it would be able to release its 5G modem chip by the end of the first half of 2019.
Korea’s 5G commercialization is facing some troubles in terms of other factors such as the construction of 5G networks and the formulation of monthly plans for users. Since 5G infrastructure is not completed nationwide yet, 5G telecommunication will be possible only in the Seoul metropolitan area and big cities. Even if 5G terminals are available, it is inevitable even for 5G terminal buyers to use Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks for voice calls for a while. 5G terminals will also switch to LTE networks when using data services depending on regions. However, industry sources explained that network construction entered the commercialization phase by passing the trial service phase.
The government’s approval of monthly plans needs to wait. The Ministry of Science and ICT rejected 5G terminal on March 5. The ministry said that SK Telecom should come again with monthly plans that can give customers wider selection in terms of monthly fees. In general, KT and LG U+ report their service rates based on SK Telecom's service rates approved by the government. Only if KT and LG U+ map out their monthly plans and report them to the government, they can meet conditions set by the government for launching their monthly plans. But it is only a theory so that the launch of monthly plans for commercial 5G services may be delayed after April depending on a tug of war between the government and SK Telecom.