Q&A: Samsung’s Cheun boasts 5G milestones in Korea

The ability to reuse existing sites has been critical to enabling the Korean operators to deploy a 5G network consisting of tens of thousands of radios within just a few months. (Pixabay)

Samsung Electronics is celebrating its part in delivering 5G to South Korea, announcing that it has achieved leading vendor market share in its homeland for delivery of 5G network solutions.

The race to 5G heated up last week when Verizon launched its mobile 5G service, called 5G Ultra Wideband, on April 3, just about a week ahead of schedule and around the same time South Korea made its commercial 5G debut. Samsung is in the position of being able to talk about its market share in Korea and its work with Verizon, although the two markets where Verizon launched mobile 5G service last week—Chicago and Minneapolis—are using gear from Ericsson.

Korea is making an impressive showing of its own. All three Korean mobile carriers—SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus—are now offering commercially available 5G service to consumers and enterprises in 85 cities. Samsung itself has supplied more than 53,000 5G radio base stations to the operators there.

“Korea is one of the first markets in the world in which the 5G experience is opening up for consumers, and we’re thrilled to play a key role in the nationwide rollout of 5G with our unparalleled 5G network solutions,” said Paul Kyungwhoon Cheun, executive vice president and head of Networks Business at Samsung Electronics, in a statement. “As a long-standing innovator in the 5G space and one of the few vendors offering a full end-to-end 5G solution, Samsung is at the forefront of pushing the limits of 5G and beyond.

Paul Kyungwhoon Cheun
Paul Kyungwhoon Cheun (Samsung)

It’s worth noting that Nokia also has a presence in Korea, and Ericsson pointed out last week that it’s a 5G network partner to two of the three South Korean service providers: SK Telecom and KT. But Samsung, which has the advantage of being based in Seoul, gets to claim the lion’s share of the 5G market there.

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The Korean operators are using Samsung’s 5G Massive-MIMO Unit (MMU) radio base station at 3.5 GHz. According to Samsung, a key characteristic of Samsung’s MMUs deployed in Korea is that they are among the smallest and lightest in the industry, so they can be easily installed in existing operators’ cellular sites with minimal changes. The ability to reuse existing sites has been critical to enabling the Korean operators to deploy a 5G network consisting of tens of thousands of radios within just a few months since the initial Dec. 1 launch.

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The 5G core solutions in Korea support both legacy 4G and next-gen 5G services in Non-Standalone (NSA) mode—the operators can migrate to Standalone (SA) mode through a software upgrade in the future.

In a Q&A conducted via email, Cheun discussed working with early adopters in South Korea, Japan and the U.S. and the significance of being first with 5G. 

FierceWirelessTech: How is Samsung Networks celebrating 5G in South Korea?

Cheun: For Samsung, this is a great time to reflect on how far we have come since we began researching and investing in 5G technology in the early 2000s. Today, we’re proud to share that we are leading in the delivery of 5G network solution deployments across Korea.

Some key milestones have already been delivered in Korea—the Samsung Galaxy 5G smartphone service started on April 3, and the three Korean operators have held their own events respectively, celebrating their first 5G smartphone subscribers. With these announcements, carriers have shared some interesting case studies—a 5G-powered Robot Barista from KT, for instance, and a manufacturing robot from SK Telecom.

To provide some additional thoughts during this time: a new generation of mobile technology emerges about every 10 years. The early 2000s were marked by 4G LTE technology, and now, we are now entering the 5G era. This shift to the next-generation technology provides an important catalyst for Samsung, and as with every new wave of technology, offers an opportunity to become a leader.

We’re proud to contribute to the 5G commercial services launching across more than 85 major cities in Korea. Samsung holds the largest share of 5G network solutions deployments in Korea to date (as of April 5), with a deployment of more than 53,000 5G radio base stations (3.5 GHz Massive MIMO) for 5G commercial services. These 5G base stations on-air have already been receiving 5G smartphone customers since April 3rd.

FierceWirelessTech: Samsung has been working on 5G for nearly a decade. What do you know today that might have surprised you 10 years ago?

Cheun: A decade ago, when LTE commercial service just started, we wondered about the potential of LTE, since it was a technology-enabling paradigm shift from voice communications to data communications. This enabled people to enjoy new kinds of cultural multimedia content over the air.

At the same time, we set our eyes on next-generation 5G—and we have believed in the potential of vastly available mmWave frequency. It has been exhilarating to see how fast a range of new possibilities are becoming reality—such as autonomous vehicles and 5G video drones in use across cities and venues. With the low latency and ultrafast speed of 5G, these and other capabilities will be supercharged. Now that we are helping lead the 5G era—a decade after we began this journey—it is a very exciting moment.

FierceWirelessTech: What are the top peak speeds and what kinds of speeds are users most often going to experience in South Korea?

Cheun: In general, it will be around 1 Gbps with 5G smartphones, using 100 MHz bandwidth at 3.5 GHz spectrum in Korea.

Samsung has already tested with SK Telecom and KT last month and delivered results. Working with SK Telecom, 2.65 Gbps speed was achieved on a 5G smartphone by combining LTE and 5G frequency using dual connectivity. And working with KT Corporation, 1 Gbps speed was achieved over the air on a 5G smartphone in Seoul, using 5G spectrum—proving that the 5G commercial network is ready to deliver stable gigabit speeds for end-users. 

As the only provider of end-to-end 5G network solutions, Samsung is uniquely positioned to realize the full potential 5G technology. Fully commercial 5G service requires not only 5G equipment, but also devices and chipsets. We can expedite the global adoption by providing all of these essential products to operators.

FierceWirelessTech: How does the 5G service in South Korea differ from what’s being offered in the U.S., either fixed or mobile versions?

Cheun: Service-wise, there is no major difference at this initial stage. Korea started 5G commercial service using 3.5 GHz for mobility service last December. But there was no smartphone available last year, so the 5G Mobile Hotspot device was first introduced, as well as interesting industrial models like the 5G-powered Robot Barista (KT) and a manufacturing robot (SK Telecom). Now, of course, we have the new service provided with 5G smartphones here in April. In the next phase, Korean operators are looking for wider bandwidth to unlock the potential of 5G by adding 28 GHz frequency. 

The U.S. started 5G commercial service (5G Home broadband service by Verizon) using 28 GHz last October, and now, U.S. carriers are adding 5G smartphone services, as more 5G phones become available to the market.

FierceWirelessTech: In what ways is the 5G service in South Korea similar to what’s being offered in the U.S.?

Cheun: With 5G services, Samsung is working with early adopters in countries such as Korea, Japan, and the U.S. Each country and operator have different demands, so an integrated 5G product portfolio will enable wider choice across all countries for potential customers and more tailored solutions.

We look forward to jointly exploring growth opportunities globally by combining and collaborating across the two countries’ 5G products offerings. This not only includes 5G network solutions, but also other IT and security solutions.

FierceWirelessTech: Why is it important to be first with 5G?

Cheun: It’s great to be able to help create a market for the first mover and truly expand what is possible. There is vast potential when leading the industry to understand customers better and further develop new innovative technologies.

From 5G onward, we need to think bigger. In the 5G era, more people—and all sorts of things (cars, devices, sensors)—will be connected based on 5G’s unique ability to bring low latency, mass connectivity, and higher throughput. We call this machine-type communication. Combining AI with 5G networks will serve as a base platform connecting industrial sensors, traffic utilities, consumer electronics, automobiles, and more—beyond smartphone communications. So 5G will be a driving force of the 4th industrial revolution. 

We think many countries and companies see the power of 5G and AI, so it is natural for them to invest in 5G.

Leveraging our knowledge and experience in supplying products for above and below 6 GHz and mobile service, Samsung will continue to work towards providing customized solutions for operators globally, which will ultimately deliver new and exciting experiences to consumers and businesses.

Article updated to reflect that South Korea launched 5G earlier than originally planned.