South Korea’s three mobile operators enjoyed a sharp increase in traffic growth since they simultaneously launched 5G services in April 2019, as penetration of the technology in the country nears 10 per cent.
Oh Byung-ki, SVP of KT’s Investment & Management Department, said data usage on its 5G network increased by more than three-times compared with 4G LTE traffic.
Rival SK Telecom reported a similar surge, with Joseph Lee, head of the operator’s Technology Innovation Group, saying average 5G data usage per user as of end-February was two- to four-times higher. The growth was driven by big jumps in gaming, VR and media usage.
Meanwhile, Lee Sang-yeop, VP of Technology Development Group at LG Uplus, said it also experienced a threefold increase in data traffic vs LTE, with monthly usage reaching 30.6GB. It also saw a 37 per cent jump in 5G ARPU over the 4G level to about $50.
LG Uplus offers 5G service in 85 cities, with 90 per cent population coverage.
The three major players signed up a combined 1.08 million 5G subscribers in Q1, taking the country’s total to 5.89 million.
Oh said KT recorded early signs its strategy of attracting high ARPU subscribers with data plans offering more compelling content is improving margins.
The operator saw average 5G ARPU increase 23 per cent to $26.30 year-on-year to end-March.
It currently offers 13 5G devices, with prices dropping from $1,500 at launch to below $1,000 for some models. Prices are gradually declining, which will drive continued uptake of 5G services, he said.
“We are looking at how soon we can move LTE customers to 5G, and working hard to increase the coverage, although we still don’t have full nationwide coverage.”
Over the past year it more than doubled the number of 5G base stations to 87,000.
Oh acknowledged it took three months for its engineering team to stabilise the network. He noted that since the first wave of 5G subscribers was dominated by heavy 4G users, it helped lower the elevated stress on its LTE infrastructure, as it gained spectral efficiency on the new network.
It plans to use the 28GHz band mainly for indoor coverage and in specific areas, such as localised coverage for smart factories.
Sung-ho Choi, programme manager at Korea’s Institute for Information & Communication Technology Planning & Evaluation, said 2,000 of the country’s 118,000 5G base stations are deployed indoors at subway stations, airports, department stores, etc.
The operators were speaking at 5G Focus Korea, part of a series of virtual roundtables the GSMA is organising across Asia Pacific in 2020.