Total Telecom’s latest webinar caught up with the experts to discuss the progress of South Korea’s exceptional 5G market in 2020 and what important lessons telcos in other markets can build upon

When it comes to 5G leadership, there are few countries around the world that can go toe-to-toe with South Korea, where the successful rollout means that today around 12 million people subscribe to the new technology, around 17% of the total market. Beyond coverage and penetration alone, South Korea is also at the forefront of the technology’s new experiences, offering consumers numerous novel services, including augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), cloud gaming, and more.
But why is it that the country has seen such a rapid adoption of the new technology? In Total Telecom’s latest webinar, entitled What can we learn from South Korea’s 5G success, panellists discussed some of the key lessons operators in other markets can translate from their South Korean peers.
Collaborate and Create
At the heart of South Korea’s 5G success is a much more involved approach to the unique content and services that 5G has to offer. This includes partnering closely with well-known brands, to create exciting services that can be marketed to pre-existing consumer bases. 
“The carriers closeness to those consumer brands are really key,” explained RootMetrics CEO Kevin Hasley. “They are not trying to build it themselves, they are partnering with the right systems that the consumers are used to and want to be around. The carriers aren’t trying to replicate that same environment, it’s trying to leverage what already exists out there.”
When it comes to gaming, for example, he notes operator partnerships with the likes of Microsoft for Xbox cloud gaming.  
“In South Korea they were certainly ready even on LTE, but the transition to 5G is just a dramatic change in that environment. That experience is kind of a no-brainer in South Korea – everyone is doing it. That is a model that everybody needs to follow. I think we’re going to see a lot more of these partnerships around the world to bring out these 5G technologies into more of a consumer brand.”
It is not only a matter of picking the right partners to make the most of the new services, but also about creating packages that heavily showcase these new experiences, which were simply not possible on LTE.
“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 Kendall. “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.”
It is important to remember that every market is unique, with particular types of services and content which will become key drivers. While it is true that South Korea is a country with a natural affinity for the rapid adoption of new technologies and experiences, this does not mean that a similar level of adoption cannot be achieved in other markets through intelligent content partnerships.
“K-pop, baseball and golf have been key content drivers in the Korean market, which is clearly a local experience,” noted Kendall. “But operators around the world really need to understand what their local consumers want, what are the key needs for enterprise partners, and then find the content, find the partnerships to deliver the applications that meet those needs. It’s not a matter of copying what the Korean operators are doing, but copying the model of ecosystems and partnerships that they have.”

Focus on quality and coverage 
Of course, in order to enjoy these new type of content and experience, the quality and coverage of 5G needs to be ubiquitous, something which is not necessarily true in other markets around the world.  
“The Korean operators have always gone out hard and fast to build a quality network to really show off their service experiences,” explained Kendall.
He noted that this differs from many of the European operators so far, for example, which are often reliant on dynamic spectrum sharing, forcing 5G onto lower bands so that they can claim broader coverage. However, while certainly faster than LTE, this type of 5G is not fast enough to truly deliver next-generation services.
“It’s not a transformative service experience for many users,” concluded Kendall. 
Naturally, operators around the world are rolling out 5G as quickly as possible and South Korea’s example shows exactly why this should continue to be such a high priority. Faster mobile speeds alone are not enough to warrant the adoption of 5G, and without a good quality 5G network with high coverage, the novel experiences that will attract customers to your network cannot be experienced seamlessly.
“You can see why the operators have been so successful, given how fast they are and the availability of 5G,” said Hasley, citing RootMetrics data showing 5G availability in Seoul at 90.9% (LG U+) versus just 54.6% in New York City (AT&T), as well as median download speeds of 476.5 Mbps versus 53.1 Mbps, respectively. “The key aspect here is when the consumer experiences 5G not only when they are standing still, but as they walk through a city, go to other towns, visit their family… They are going to have the same experience and that’s very important.” 
Embrace 5G as a system, not a network
During the pandemic, the digitalisation has taken place around the world at a speed that none could have foreseen. Connectivity is increasingly coming to be viewed as a necessity in our daily lives, a utility akin to water or electricity. This is the environment that 5G finds itself maturing in and, for Dr Lee Sangchul, former CEO of LG U+, this lends a unique opportunity to position 5G at the forefront of the world’s technological transformation.
“5G should not stay as just a faster 4G,” explained Dr Lee. “The capability of 5G is far more than that, but only if you are making use of AI, edge computing, the IoT, the cloud – even with blockchain! The Great Reset will come much earlier than we think. 5G needs to be thought of as a system, not just a network. Human thinking will change and 5G will play a key role there.”
“There’s no real ‘killer app’ here, there are a lot of new service experiences and new platforms that operators will use to deliver incremental gains. The social change we’re seeing as a result of Covid-19, the need for more non-contact experiences as more of our lives are taken online is something that 5G is well set up to support,” said Kendall.
Ultimately, 5G will soon become a necessity, incorporated into nearly every facet of our daily lives. Operators must anticipate and innovate when it comes to 5G usage beyond the norm of previous telecoms technologies. The industry is changing and being at the front of the pack and driving that change will yield huge value to some operators, while those that are less progressive will find themselves left behind.
“It’s a matter of a few years development,” said Dr Lee. “For example, for augmented reality and virtual reality, you will need 5G. For autonomous cars, every vehicle will be carrying 10 cameras connected to a mobile network – you need 5G for that! It’s not that hard to find a ‘killer app’ with 5G. I would say, don’t worry too much, it will surely pay off, and everyone will enjoy 5G.”
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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