South Korea launches 5G services: Here's how 5G will change your life

5G services are finally live in South Korea, and are live in parts of the US as well. But what does it mean for the customers?


                            South Korea launches 5G services: Here's how 5G will change your life

The race to become the first country to launch 5G services has been a hot contest between South Korea, the USA, and China over the past year or so, and it seems like it's South Korea who has come out on top.

According to Reuters, South Korea's SK Telecom, KT Corp, and LG Uplus Corp started offering 5G services on Wednesday, April 3, at 11 pm local time, which is two days earlier than the originally planned date of April 5.

The carriers had originally planned to launch 5G services with Samsung Electronics' 5G-enabled smartphone Galaxy S10 — Samsung, which is the world's top smartphone maker by volume, had become the first company to release a 5G-capable phone with the Galaxy S10's unveiling this past February. LG Electronics plans to release its own 5G-capable phone in South Korea later this month.

Samsung's Galaxy S10 is the first phone to offer 5G services (Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Samsung's Galaxy S10 is the first phone to offer 5G services (Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

However, US carriers such as AT&T and Verizon have also claimed the honor of becoming the first provider to launch 5G for themselves. The former said they had launched a "commercial and standard-based" 5G network in December 2018, though the service was only available to mobile hotspot devices and not phones themselves.

Verizon, on the other hand, had originally planned to roll out the services in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis on April 11, but like the South Korean providers, pushed the release ahead to Wednesday. The company's CEO, Hans Vestberg, boasted that their customers would be the first in the world to "have the power of 5G in their hands." However, Verizon customers can only use 5G on either Motorola's Z3 or with a 'Moto Mod,' which is a physical magnet-like attachment for the phone. 

"This is the latest in our string of 5G firsts. Verizon launched the first commercial broadband 5G service last October, Verizon 5G Home, and now we’re lighting up our 5G Ultra Wideband network in Chicago and Minneapolis, providing the world’s first commercial 5G mobile service with a 5G-enabled smartphone," he said.

While in the larger picture, countries such as South Korea, Japan, and China hope that 5G will usher in a new era of autonomous cars and smart cities, what does the launch mean for customers and how does it impact them?  

The first major difference in 5G and the already-available 4G is, as expected, the speed. The technology is set to offer 20 times faster data speeds compared to its predecessor's long-term evolution (LTE) networks and also better support for artificial intelligence and virtual reality with low latency. It's also very possible that customers may experience 100 times faster speeds.

5G technology will thus allow customers to download entire films in less than a second, play games streamed with minimal delay on their smartphones, and, in what would once only be seen in futuristic-themed movies, stream holographic videos. Its hyperspeed can connect 1 million devices within a one square kilometer zone simultaneously.

Huawei alone owns more than 3,000 5G-related patents (Source: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
Huawei alone owns more than 3,000 5G-related patents (Source: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

A direct consequence of this speed would also mean that customers will then have access to a whole new range of services. 3G enabled widespread mobile web access, 4G enabled new applications such as social media and ride-sharing services, and 5G is similarly set to be crucial to the development of services ranging from factory automation to the 'internet of things' — which is a broad term used to encapsulate everyday devices such as toasters and fridges with internet connectivity.

The Japan Times reported that the 5G standard is expected to bring in $565 billion in global economic benefits by 2034 by stimulating stuttering economic growth across the countries which implement it. 

What are the drawbacks, however? If the US is to be believed, it's one of security. The US is trying to get allies and other major economies to avoid 5G solutions from Chinese-owned telecom giant Huawei because they feel there are technological backdoors that would allow Beijing access to any 5G-connected utility and component.

That's easier said than done. Huawei alone has registered 1,529 patents, and after manufacturers, ZTE and Oppo are also taken into consideration, Chinese entities own a total of some 3,400 patents. To put that into perspective, all US firms combined have 1,368.

There's also the issue of cost. The phones that come with the capability to use 5G do not come cheap, with the Galaxy S10 burning a $1,200-sized hole in your pocket. In comparison, 4G phones cost under $300.