South Korea’s telecom industry and smartphone makers are bending over backwards to stay in the race for bringing 5G network services to the market for the first time in the world.
Ironically, the biggest hurdle in commercialization is the government, which wants telecom companies to launch cheaper mobile plans so that it can be more widely affordable, according to industry officials.
“The government wants cheaper 5G mobile plans right from the start, but they would probably offer less than 10GB data, which is of no real use,” said an executive in the telecom industry. “I mean, you could easily spend 10GB in less than an hour by playing virtual reality mobile games.”
He added that the government seems to lack an understanding of how things work in the telecom industry. Industry watchers advise telcos to first target heavy data users for pilot services before rushing to cut prices. Users categorized as heavy data users reached at least 3 million at SK Telecom, Korea’s largest mobile carrier.
Samsung and SKT planned to release the first 5G-enabled Galaxy S10 by the end of this month, but their plans came to a screeching halt after the Ministry of Science and ICT, which oversees telecom sector regulations, rejected SKT’s proposal for its 5G payment plans this month. The base price was set at 75,000 won ($66.40). Under it, SKT would offer 150GB data with unlimited access but it would lead to slower network services after consuming it at 5G speed.
“Considering the 5G services in the US are priced at US$85 and above, SKT’s prices are not that expensive,” an industry official said. SKT, as the nation’s largest mobile network operator, is obligated to undergo government reviews for new mobile plans.
While Korean firms were grappling with bureaucracy, Verizon stole their thunder. Earlier this week, it said it would launch the 5G services for the first time in the world on April 5.
Collaborating with phone maker Motorola, the US mobile carrier plans to launch the 5G services in some parts of the US, including Chicago and Minneapolis. Base price plans start from US$85 and US$105. The announcement created ripples in the global telecom industry, especially in Korea where the government has long called dibs on the title of “the world’s first 5G-powered nation.”
Today, the ICT ministry said it would work with telecom firms and smartphone makers to achieve the world’s first commercialization of 5G services.
Now, some sources say the Korean government and Samsung have agreed to launch the first 5G smartphone on April 5, but it is unclear whether SKT can attain government permission in time.
“It has not been decided when to apply for the review again,” said a spokesperson of the telecom firm. Samsung is also unsure of the release schedule of the 5G-powered Galaxy S10. “It’s not clear whether we are going to keep the March launch schedule, but the company is closely discussing the matter with the government and mobile carriers,” said a Samsung spokesperson.
By Kim Young-won (firstname.lastname@example.org)