U.S., South Korea Carriers Claim Title of First to Roll Out 5G

Verizon Communications debuted its first 5G wireless service in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis, the same day that South Korean carriers rolled out their services in parts of Seoul. Both groups sped up their 5G launch to lay claim to being the world’s first to offer 5G services. South Korea’s two largest carriers, SK Telecom and KT Corporation (formerly Korea Telecom), claim to be first to sign up 5G subscribers. Being first in 5G is a way to advertise technology strengths, but it’s not very important to consumers choosing their wireless providers.

The Wall Street Journal reports that South Korea’s 5G carriers, which cover about half the country’s population, will use the network for such services as “eight-way video calls, holograms, virtual ‘star dates’ with K-pop idols and streaming live sports at a screen resolution triple that of an IMAX movie.”

Verizon plans to charge $10 per month additional on its unlimited data plan, and with it users can access the new network with a Motorola phone “with a clip-on modem that upgrades the device from 4G networks.” The company said it has sold “tens of thousands” of these devices, and also plans to sell Samsung’s “5G-enabled Galaxy S10 handset” by mid-2019.

South Korean users only have the Galaxy S10 handset, priced at $1,225, but carriers offer monthly data plans as low as $36, “comparable to current 4G pricing.” The priciest data plan is $115/month for a two-year contract.

International Data Corp. reported, “adoption of 5G devices will be gradual, projected to account for just over one-quarter of global smartphone shipments by 2023.” South Korea is projected to have the world’s highest 5G penetration, said Strategy Analytics, but “larger markets, like the U.S., Japan and China, are expected to start leapfrogging South Korea by 2021.”

This year, “about 10 to 20” 5G-enabled phones are anticipated to debut. “Expect high prices, short battery life, heavy device weight, or outsize hardware,” said Strategy Analytics’ Neil Mawston.

U.S. carriers, by and large, have not revealed their 5G prices, and still debate what qualifies as “real” 5G service. Sprint, for example, has sued AT&T for using the term 5GE, when customers are in fact receiving 4G service; the E stands for evolution. The Better Business Bureau’s national ad division recommended that Verizon cease TV ads saying it has already launched 5G. Both companies plan to fight the suits.

Engadget reports that AT&T, which “declared itself the first 5G carrier in the U.S. to reach gigabit speeds,” has now claimed that it’s the fastest wireless network in the U.S., largely due to its 5GE service. The claim is based on findings from Ookla, a third-party network-testing company. Ookla listed AT&T’s top average download speed at 40.7Mbps, saying its speed “improved more than 15 percent over the first three months of 2019.”

Since the service is “only available in certain areas in a number of cities,” however, few people will be able to take advantage of that. AT&T plans to merge its 5G and LTE services later in 2019.