A new report suggests that the South Korean operators ended January with 12.87 million 5G subscribers in a country of below 52 million

South Korea’s 5G growth continues to soar, with the latest figures showing 5G subscriptions up to around 13 million at the end of January 2021.

According to a report from Yonhap, data from South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT is showing around one million new subscribers have subscribed to 5G since the start of the new year,  due largely to the popularity of Samsung’s latest smartphone, the Galaxy S21.

The report suggests that this growth is expected to continue throughout the year. SK Telecom, for example, who claimed 5.48 million 5G subs at the end of 2020, is expecting to see this figure rise to 9 million by the end of 2021. In total, the company added 3.4 million new subscribers in the 5G segment across 2020, with 1.21 million of those arriving in the final quarter. 

LG Uplus, meanwhile, is targeting four million 5G subscribers. 

In total, South Korea had around 70.69 million mobile subscriptions at the end of January 2021, meaning 5G subscriptions account for around 18% of total subscriptions. As would be expected, 4G subscriptions, which number around 51.9 million, are declining, down by 660,000 since December 2020.

South Korea has long been a country that has excelled in the adoption of digital technologies and 5G is proving no different. Back in July, SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus all agreed to invest around $22 billion until the end of 2022 to enhance their 5G quality in Seoul and six other major cities, as well as expanding network coverage. 

“The government and private sector will work together for a possible breakthrough in 5G network infrastructure to overcome the [Covid] crisis,” said Science and ICT Minister Choi Ki-young at the time, noting that the investment would be fundamental to the Digital New Deal.

South Korea’s New Deal strategy intends to invest around €144 billion in creating almost two million jobs by 2025, with around $51 billion of that total earmarked various digital purposes, with the main four being a stronger integration of data, network and AI throughout the economy; the digitalisation of education infrastructure; fostering the so-called ‘untact’ industry, such as supporting microbusinesses and remote working among small–medium enterprises; and digitalisation of Social Overhead Capital (SOC), including the incorporation of digital innovation in urban spaces.

In a recent Total Telecom webinar titled ‘What can we learn from South Korea’s 5G success’, panellists attributed South Korea’s rapid and continued success with 5G not only to a native population used to adopting the latest technology, but also to the operators aggressive rollout strategies and proactive approach to content creation.

“The South Korean operators have really embraced the content and the service experience – they have almost educated users about what you can do with 5G by bundling those experiences into the core service proposition,” explained Phil Kendall, Executive Director of the Service Provider Group at Strategy Analytics. 

“By and large, more of the operators in Europe have put up the network, sat back, and told the consumers to figure out what they want to do with it; whereas, with the Korean operators, there is a lot more guidance. The operators in Korea are really leading in terms of influencing that usage through bundling and package creation.”


The full webinar, entitled ‘What can we learn from South Korea’s 5G success?’ can be viewed in full, on demand, for free, by registering here

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