South Korea was the first nation to launch a 5G mobile network in 2019, signaling a warp-speed technological transformation to smart cities and self-driving cars.
But three years on, the dizzy promises are unfulfilled.
Nearly 45% of the country’s people are now in 5G, one of the highest rates globally, after almost $20 billion in spending on network upgrades that have boosted connection speeds by five times. But telecommunications companies have not been willing to invest in the fancier technology that would ramp speeds by 20 times over 4G technologies.
In April 2019, South Korea’s three mobile carriers—with a public relations campaign featuring K-pop stars and an Olympic gold medalist—as well as Unites States’ Verizon Communications—rushed their commercial 5G launches ahead of schedule, all keen to claim the first spot in the 5G wireless technology.
Asia’s fourth-largest economy has remained the 5G pioneer, but the hype had begun to fade even before COVID-19 slammed demand for 5G devices. Companies have flinched at investing the estimated $370 billion required to set up the world’s fastest 5G, and revenue growth has stalled.
SK Telecom and KT shares have risen some 26% since 5G rolled out, beating the broader market’s 18% rise even as ARPU’s growth has slowed.
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