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South Korea takes global 5G leadership

Initial Omdia market assessment shows home of Samsung as the world’s powerhouse for establishing and commercialising 5G networks

South Korea has established itself as the early market-leader for 5G technology deployment, according to the first version of Omdia’s Market progress assessment.

The study was based on data relating to the end-December period and was originally due for publication in mid-March, but was delayed by the impact of Covid-19. It analysed 22 leading 5G countries’ deployment of the technology, assessing the progress of 5G based on operator launches, network coverage and subscriber take-up, as well as 5G spectrum availability and the regulatory ecosystem.

At the end of December 2019, Omdia placed South Korea in pole position, ahead of Kuwait and Switzerland. The rankings used a relative assessment, effectively assigning Korea a score of 100% for the September quarter because of its global leadership across all five assessment criteria. That is, all three Korean service providers have commercial offerings available to the mass market, and mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) services have been launched in the country using 2,680MHz of 5G spectrum across the 3.5GHz and 28GHz bands.

About 90% of the South Korean population is covered for 5G take-up. Omdia calculated that South Korean 5G adoption amounted to 4.67 million subscribers – about 7% of wireless services in the market – boosted by strong government support and a leading local supplier ecosystem.

Leading players in the country’s 5G market include SK Telecom, which, since launching the world’s first 5G service on 3 April 2019, announced at the end of March 2020 that not only had it gained a 44.7% 5G market share, but it also planned to take 5G technology into what it believed would be potentially lucrative use cases.

The study also noted that expansive roll-out by Sunrise and Swisscom in Switzerland, Ooredoo and Vodafone in Qatar and Kuwait’s three service providers has rivalled Korea for breadth of market coverage.

As regards Switzerland, Omdia observed that in December 2019, there were 384 cities and towns in which Sunrise had more than 80% 5G population coverage, and this had grown to 426 localities in January 2020. For its part, Swisscom achieved its target of 90% coverage with a “basic” version of 5G, although devices supporting this network would only be available in the first quarter of 2020.

“The global market is steadily gearing up for 5G deployment, but right now South Korea is leading the way – although markets like Switzerland have also made steady progress,” said Stephen Myers, Omdia principal analyst, commenting on the finding of the Full 5G market progress assessment, end-2019 report.

“Limited coverage, device availability and cautious launches have limited take-up in other global markets,” he added. “Across the world, we are seeing governments and regulators fine-tuning their 5G spectrum allocations as operators get ready for their 5G launches and expand network coverage in those countries where 5G has already launched.

“We can expect to see a much larger number of commercial 5G launches in major global markets in the next 12-18 months as more spectrum is released across the world.”

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