LightTrends Newsletter

Korea's 5G debut with great fanfare remains unimpressive

November 2020

Although the full year capex target remains on track and 5G subscribers grow at a 25% sequential rate, the “on the street” user experience has been dismal at best so far. Several reports from Korean friends and media outlets including The Wall Street Journal and The Korea Herald indicate that 5G users have not seen that much of a difference in their service when compared with 4G LTE, prompting a fair number of users to switch back to 4G LTE.
  • The Wall Street Journal: published its first assessment on December 31, 2019, 9 months after the commercial launch and ending the full year of steady speedy 5G rollouts. Authored by Eun-Young Jeong and titled “5G Underwhelms in its first Big Test,” the article reported that although download speeds had risen, users were unimpressed. Early adopters had higher expectations that were not met: the 5G connection was unstable and they were left ping ponging between 5G and the 4G LTE network. In a second report published November 11, 2020, Timothy Martin, The Wall Street Journal’s Korea bureau chief, shared his experience—“I’ve seen the 5G future, I’m not impressed yet—after spending 1 year in South Korea: basically, nothing has changed since the December 31, 2019 article. Same story: random and elusive coverage and what was promised in terms of 5G performance is tough to see.
     
  • The Korea Herald: reported on October 7, 2020 that half a million 5G users had switched back to cheaper 4G LTE plans after complaining about poor quality connections and coverage. During an Assembly Audit, lawmaker Rep. Hong Jung-min, who belongs to the Science, ICT, Broadcasting and Communications Committee at the National Assembly reported that at the end of August, 562,656 users or 6.5% of total 5G users had downgraded from their 5G subscriptions

Meanwhile, the 3 carriers report steady 5G subscriber growth

Aggregating 3Q20 5G subscriber data released by the 3 Korean communication service providers (CSPs) lead to a total of 9.3M as of September 30 and a steady growth rate of 25% each quarter. It’s worth mentioning that the government provides subsidies to incentivize 4G LTE subscribers to switch to 5G to accelerate the uptake.

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