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Rare: 5G Millimeter Wave Spectrum Recalled

On Nov. 18, South Korea’s Ministry of Science and Information and Communications Technology announced a bombshell that shocked the industry:

Cancel the 5G 28GHz band frequency allocation by KT and LG U+. SKT, another operator, was given a stay of execution and its 28GHz MMW usage period was reduced to six months. It will also lose its 28GHz spectrum licence if it fails to build 15,000 28GHz 5G base stations by the end of May next year.

Rare 5G Millimeter Wave Spectrum Recalled (1)

The First Ever Recall Of Spectrum

In 2018, Korea will allocate 5G frequency bands, including 3.5GHz (3.42~3.7GHz) mid-band and 28GHz (26.5~28.9GHz) millimeter wave band. Among them, SKT, KT and LG U+ three operators each get 800M millimeter wave bandwidth.

The spectrum allocation also sets minimum network conditions, including a five-year term for 28GHz MMW, provided each operator builds 15,000 base stations within three years.

However, in the past three years of 5G commercialization in South Korea, although the construction of 3.5GHz 5G network is in full swing, the construction of 28GHz 5G is very slow.

According to the data, LG U+ has built 1,868 5G 28GHz base station equipment, 1,605 SKT units and 1,586 KT units. The completion rate of millimeter wave base stations of the three operators is only 10.6-12.5%.

In view of this, the South Korean government withdrew the 28GHz spectrum, saying that the operator failed to fulfill the promise of spectrum allocation that year.

According to the evaluation committee, SKT received 30.5 points, LG U+ 28.9 points, and KT 27.3 points. LG U+ and KT scored less than 30 points, and SKT, which scored just above 30 points, received only a suspended execution because 10,000 base stations need to be built within six months. It’s a Mission Impossible.

This is the first time South Korea has ever recalled spectrum. After KT acquired 800MHz LTE spectrum, its service life was shortened due to the inability to build a network, but the spectrum was not recovered.

According to the Ministry of Science and Information and Communication Technology, unlike KT, this time there is a clear lack of subjective willingness to build networks.

Officials at the Ministry of Science and Technology expressed strong concern:
The United States and Japan are expanding the construction of 28GHz 5G networks, and 33 countries including Australia and Indonesia are preparing to release the MMW band. Meanwhile, more than 50 smartphones supporting 28GHz have been released worldwide. However, Korea has not even built the minimum number of MMW base stations, resulting in the domestic 28GHz band ecosystem lagging behind overseas countries. The 6G era is expected to increase the use of millimeter waves, which will make it difficult for Korea to maintain its leading position.

Operators Are Not Good At Building Networks

Why are South Korean operators reluctant to build 5G millimeter wave networks?

Millimeter wave has high frequency, large penetration loss and poor coverage ability. If operators want to build a 5G millimeter wave network with continuous coverage like 3.5GHz, they need to build a large number of base stations, and the investment cost is very high.

However, the South Korean industry analysis, the biggest problem is millimeter wave to operators to bring negligible business revenue. At present, there are almost no terminals supporting 5G millimeter wave in South Korea, and the applications such as XR and metacom that can make full use of the ultra-high speed and ultra-low delay capability of millimeter wave are not yet mature in scale. The high investment risk and business uncertainty brought by these are the main reasons for the lack of network construction motivation of operators.

Due to the lack of terminal support, South Korean operators mainly construct millimeter wave base stations in subways, stadiums and other scenes, and provide users with 5G millimeter wave-based Wi-Fi services by converting CPE to Wi-Fi signals.

KT and LG U+ high-speed Wi-Fi services based on 28GHz millimeter wave are also expected to be suspended following the cancellation of spectrum allocation.

Rare 5G Millimeter Wave Spectrum Recalled (2)

A New Operator Could Be Born

The Korean government announced that it will decide on the disposal of the three carriers through a public hearing next month. If KT and LG Uplus receive the 28GHz spectrum, one of them will be assigned to a new carrier.

This means that the market pattern of three operators competing in South Korea will be changed to four, in order to stimulate network investment by increasing competition.

“From the government’s point of view, we want to build the communications infrastructure in five to 10 years, so we have no choice but to put Catfish on the market.” A science and technology ministry official said.

In addition, the Ministry of Science and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is considering a new allocation of 3.7-4.0ghz intermediate frequency bands for 5G, which is expected to be auctioned.

The 3.7-4.0ghz band is adjacent to the 3.42-3.7ghz band that has already been allocated, and the continuous spectrum can be used by operators to efficiently expand the existing 5G network. However, the problem is that the Korean government is trying to stimulate operators to invest in 28GHz MMW networks. The 28GHz factor is likely to be included in the new mid-band allocation conditions, which will also be a headache for operators.

Post time: 12-06-2022