First major 5G network launch delayed over high-price plans, lack of phones

South Korea was expected to be the first in the world to have a full, working 5G network, and the launch had been planned for the first three months of 2019. Now, as the deadline nears, the South Korean government has warned that it will almost certainly miss the target. Instead, an April launch is now being pitched.

Why does this matter to you? South Korea’s activity highlights just how new 5G is, and how much there is still to work out elsewhere in the world before it becomes a reality. At the beginning of March, it was reported local carriers SK Telecom, KT, and LG Uplus were all ready to start 5G services at the end of March. Now, in a press briefing held by South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT, the government says it’s “much more desirable to wait.”

There are seemingly two main reasons for the decision to hold off on the 5G launch. The first is that the expected 5G smartphones are not ready. A source speaking to the Korea Herald said the 5G launch timetable was reliant on Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G phone, which it now seems will not complete tests in time for the March launch. Additionally, LG’s V50 5G is waiting to use the Qualcomm X50 modem, which will not be ready until April at the earliest, states the same report.

High prices

However, most concerning of all for those waiting to hear how much 5G will cost is that the government in South Korea rejected SK Telecom’s 5G pricing structure. No final prices were revealed, but a statement said the proposed plan would “restrict the consumer’s right for choice.” The plan was called “expensive,” and was built around those who use massive amounts of data, and therefore not considered suitable for other users.

In the U.S., carriers are all talking about 5G launches, and at MWC 2019 you couldn’t avoid companies promoting the next-generation network; but real-life details are still sparse. T-Mobile expects some cities to have 5G this year, but a wider launch will come in 2020. The carrier’s chief technology officer has said prices won’t be higher than its current $70 per month rate, but as the news from South Korea shows, things can change. Neither AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint have discussed prices, but all claim limited cities will see 5G in 2019, and are looking toward a wider 2020 launch.

Samsung and LG were two of the biggest names showing 5G phones at MWC 2019, although other prototypes were also on display. Expected launch dates were not precise. Samsung said the S10 5G would be out around summer 2019, while LG’s V50 5G was stated as coming this year. As South Korea squashes the final bugs in its 5G rollout plans, we wait to see if similar issues turn up before 5G gets underway in the U.S..

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