South Korea is the world’s first country to launch the new generation of mobile Internet: 5G is set to fundamentally change everyday life and industry.
Here we go: Workers mount camouflaged 5G antennas on a rooftop in Seoul Photo: afp
In the end, everything had to happen frantically: South Korea’s telecom providers had originally planned to launch the world’s first nationwide 5G network on Friday. But then there were rumors that U.S. provider Verizon Communications might beat the Asians to the punch. So, in a hasty move, SK Telecom decided to bring the launch ceremony forward to Wednesday evening. In the end, the Koreans won the digital race by two hours.
"As a market leader, you shape public perception. South Korea was already ahead in 4G. Accordingly, it was important for the country to maintain its status as a leading high-tech nation," says Sanjeev Rana of the investment group CLSA Korea. 5G is the latest generation of mobile Internet. The industry is hyping the technology as a "leap of light" in speed and connectivity.
Indeed, 5G has the potential to be hundreds of times faster than the currently prevailing LTE. But existing infrastructure is only taking advantage of one-fifth of 5G’s technical capabilities. South Korea’s largest provider SK Telecom is demonstrating how this affects consumers at the 5G presentation at its Seoul headquarters, which aptly juts into the skyline like an oversized smartphone. Hundreds of journalists have gathered in the lobby of the skyscraper. When CEO Park Jeong-ho enters the stage, it is designed as a kind of rocky moonscape. The message is clear: 5G, like the moon landing, is a big step for mankind.
SK Telecom’s network already covers 85 cities and towns, and 34,000 base stations have been installed. By the end of the year, it hopes to have one million subscribers to its 5G services, which will cost between euros a month.
Things get underway on Friday thanks to Samsung
The actual starting signal for commercial use will now begin on Friday. That’s when Samsung Electronics will launch the first and so far only 5G-compatible smartphone on the Korean market. The Galaxy S10 will cost the equivalent of 1,000 euros. With the "Real 360" application from Korea Telecom, for example, users can rotate their viewing angle by 360 degrees on the touchscreen during video streams in real time. This can be used at Formula 1 races, for example: If the driver is wearing a 360-degree camera, the spectator can decide whether he wants to look ahead or at the stands.
So 5G consumer services are not really groundbreaking yet. "As yet, I see 5G more as a technical evolution than a revolution," says tech analyst Rana of CLSA as well, "But 5G ultimately has the potential to change entire industries from the ground up. This will be visible to everyone in the next five years."
Autonomous driving, for example, involves processing extreme amounts of data. Only 5G can help driverless cars achieve a market breakthrough. The new generation of mobile Internet will also increasingly automate work processes in "smart" factories by incorporating artificial intelligence and robots.
South Korea’s belief in technology is deeply rooted
Inevitably, this will lead to massive job losses, but at the same time create new occupational fields. According to the Korean KT Research Institute, 5G will create around 960,000 new jobs by 2035. In part, this would be due to Korean enthusiasm for technology. While in Europe new technologies mainly trigger skepticism, South Korean society is characterized by a deep-rooted belief in technology.
Whether the as yet unexplored 5G could possibly emit mobile phone radiation that is hazardous to health? Not an issue in South Korea. Nor is there any discussion about whether the Chinese corporation Huawei, which is controversial in the U.S. and Europe, will be allowed to bid on the infrastructure. In fact, the tech giant from China is collaborating with LG Uplus, South Korea’s third-largest telecom provider.
"When it comes to industrialization, South Korea was a late bloomer – a mistake that led to us becoming a global powerhouse in the early 20th century. The government was all the more determined to be a pioneer in digitization," says Professor Park Jae-shin from Kookmin University in Seoul. The government was all the more determined to be a pioneer in digitization," says Professor Park Jae-shin of Kookmin University in Seoul, who served as an advisor to the president in the early 2000s. Back in the late 1990s, the government expanded the broadband network nationwide. South Korea is now the best-connected country in the world.