Why South Korea is leading the 5G transformation in APAC

One of the fastest emerging technologies around today is 5G, and nowhere is its growth faster than in the Asia Pacific region. But one country within the region stands apart from the rest: South Korea.

The reasons why South Korea’s 5G efforts are accelerating ahead of the competition are vast and varied. Nevertheless, a few key factors are playing an outsized role, including the fact that South Korea is a world leader in developing smart cities and the home to some of the world’s biggest telecommunication organisations…

South Korea Is a Digital Innovation Hub

South Korea is a hub of digital innovation in APAC, and there is one very important reason for that: its telecommunication organisations.

The country is home to several global telecommunication providers, including Samsung and LG. Alongside these two, there is also the major public company SK Telecom, South Korea’s largest wireless carrier. These market leaders of telecommunications are pushing South Korea to adopt 5G faster and better than its rivals.

You need only look at historic trends in telecommunications within South Korea to see why. The country has seen unprecedented amounts of investment in its telecommunication infrastructure over the past few decades, and it is now ranked 2nd out of 34 Asian countries and has an Asian Telecoms Maturity Index score of 93. This pace of investment is continuing into the 5G era.

In 2019, South Korea became one of the first countries to launch 5G nationally. The gains are paying off already. Following 5G’s launch, the country took just 69 days to achieve one million 5G subscribers, which was 11 days faster than it took to achieve the same target with 4G in 2011. As of mid-July, 1.6 million people had switched to 5G, a staggering 77% of the current global 5G user population. Analysts expect the total subscriber base to hit anywhere between four and five million by the end of 2019, especially if more 5G capable Samsung devices launch before then.

Other countries are adopting 5G slower, but arguably South Korea cannot wait. Samsung is the global frontrunner within the smartphone market with a 20.9% market share – it needs to get 5G right and fast in order to maintain its dominant position.

5G, Smart Cities & South Korea

It isn’t just South Korea’s telecommunications that are pushing the country to adopt 5G – its smart city agenda also fuels demand for the updated network.

Since 2002, South Korea has been cultivating the world’s first Smart City, Songdo. Although Songdo’s development is overdue and overbudget, the thinking behind the city is still inspirational. A particularly interesting innovation is the fact that there are no trash trucks in the city, as rubbish is extracted via pneumatic tubes to be recycled to generate electricity.

But it is in the role of computers that Songdo stands out. The city has computers built into the streets to control traffic flow, and many tasks like opening doors can be done remotely. In short, Songdo should be a paradise for technology. It isn’t yet, as This Week in Asia notes, but the potential is there because the government continues to seek funding for Songdo. Nevertheless, soon there will be Internet of Things (IoT) smart cities that transform the way Koreans and the world live in cities.

Meanwhile, the project K-City is a 79-acre testing ground for autonomous vehicles that the Korean Government is funding with 11 billion won ($9.77 million). South Korea plans to use this data to become a market leader in the autonomous car sector, and 5G will further fuel this ambition.

With the dawn of 5G and a government commitment to make smart cities work, South Korea has the capacity to become a world leader in the next industrial era. The amount of data that will be exchanged in a post-5G world will be immense, and smart cities will be best positioned to capitalise on this wealth of data.

Opening Greater Trade Via 5G

Many countries and organisations see the potential of 5G. In fact, they’re already looking for new trade opportunities that 5G could unleash.

Again, South Korea is seeing benefits. The UK Government announced a new £2.4 million (3.5 billion KRW) project with South Korea in July 2019. The partnership will see 5G RailNext ‘test how 5G can provide uninterrupted ‘infotainment’ services across the Seoul Metro system,’ including Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) content.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. More investment will continue to flow into the country, and this is why South Korea is leading 5G transformation in APAC.

Learn more about 5G in APAC

To discover more about where APAC countries stand when it comes to 5G, our latest white paper has everything you need to know. It’s free to download and details the current trends and development of 5G infrastructure throughout Asia, including Japan, South Korea and Singapore.

Download All Points to APAC – Why Asia is leading the 5G race for free today.

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