Total Telecom were delighted to speak to Phil Kendall, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, about the way in which South Korean operators are focus on compelling service propositions has led to a rapid adoption of the new technology

In a year of enormous disruption, there has nonetheless been talk of various forms of ‘5G race’ taking place in telecoms markets around the world. But, when considered at a global level, there remains one market which is a step above the rest in almost all metrics: South Korea.

“There’s a lot that’s happening in South Korea that sets it apart from other countries from a 5G perspective,” said Kendall. “The network quality is really high and we have probably seen 90% population coverage for the best part of a year now from all three operators. These are C-band deployments delivering 400–500 Mbps, so these are really good, high quality service.”

“We’re also seeing quite impressive adoption levels,” he added. “We’re looking at around 1 in 5 smartphone users in South Korea actively using and paying for 5G services. Most Western markets are still in the 2–4%  range. It has only been in the last two or so months that 5G momentum has really started to build outside of South Korea and a couple of other countries, like China.”

Part of this high adoption is related to operators proactive attitude towards the new services that 5G enables, effectively bundling new types of experiences, like augmented reality, virtual reality, and cloud gaming, with their 5G packages. These operators are explicitly telling their customers why they should be paying for 5G, compared to operators in other markets that can be preoccupied with building out their network with no clear plan for monetisation. 

“There has been a good focus from the operators on building compelling service propositions,” explained Kendall. “Consumers are seeing reasons to adopt 5G. In a lot of other countries we’re still at the stage of just building the network and seeing what consumers want to do with it, rather than presenting them with enticing new service experiences.”

In short, services are driving adoption, not the reverse. Kendall notes that while the increase in speeds that 5G can offer customers may be initially attractive, the novelty soon wears off. Instead, it is ongoing efforts from operators to offer new services and new content that keeps the market booming.

“The operators have spent a lot of time and money investing in their own content creation capabilities, such as building volumetric video capture studios and bringing in the K-pop stars and local celebrities to film content,” he explained.


This is particularly true for a player like LG Uplus, which Strategy Analytics found in a recent report to have a higher 5G market share than 4G. The operator’s success in the 2C field comes from its continuous investment in XR content and the expansion of related services, attracting users in multiple market segments. At the same time, it is inseparable from the active cooperation with content and technology ecosystem partners. The move to bundle XR content and equipment with 5G core business packages has increased 5G penetration and average utilisation, laying a solid foundation for differentiated market growth. LG U+ established the Global XR Content Teleco Alliance in September 2020, and cooperated with multiple operators, Qualcomm and multiple content studios. The alliance aims to provide and distribute high-quality XR content, and will soon release the world’s first 360-degree 3D space roaming experience on the international space station.

But it is not only the consumer segment where South Korea’s operators have lessons for those in other markets. The enterprise segment is beginning to grow rapidly, with the operators beginning to learn the best strategies when working with these new partners and entering new verticals. 

“The enterprise 5G opportunity is there in Korea. The operators have all been very active in customer co-creation and collaboration with players in the enterprise ecosystem,” explained Kendall. “There’s been quite a good focus on using that to create turnkey 5G solutions; going to manufacturers with fully rounded 5G smart factory solutions, rather than going to them with the offer of connectivity alone.”

This growth comes at an important time for South Korea, looking to recover from the global economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Government policy is well-aligned with the telecoms sector’s 5G goals, especially its partnership with industry, offering major investment opportunities in new technology. Indeed, the country’s ‘New Deal’, which is investing $133.1 billion and seeking to create 1.9 million new jobs by 2025, is focusing heavily on AI, analytics, and 5G. Kendall suggests that it is time for operators in other markets around the world to be looking for ways to make the most of government funding, especially to help drive the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s probably time for operators not to cynically carve out a slice of that money for themselves, but to ask themselves where they can use 5G to support initiatives that play in that space. If the money is going to Green initiatives, for example, this is an area where 5G can have a big impact.”

But perhaps the most exciting area of South Korea’s 5G journey is one that has yet to start in earnest. The way 5G is set to revolutionise the consumer IoT market is an element of the market which operators have yet to truly explore, but is set to explode as our world becomes ever more populated with connected devices.

“What interests me most in South Korea is the extent to which they can bring in the broader consumer IoT market to 5G. Smart homes, wearables, and other consumer devices have always been quite a strong market South Korea, even with 4G – it will be interesting to see what 5G can bring to the game there,” said Kendall.


You can watch the full interview with Strategy Analytics’ Executive Director Phil Kendall from the link above.

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