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SK telcos scramble to address unhappy 5G customers

Yehia El Amine

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As headlines worldwide boast the power and opportunities offered by the rollout of 5G networks, a different reality is being mirrored on the ground. 

South Korea, the first country to introduce 5G and one which boasts the largest mobile network, is experiencing customer-related issues across the board due to poor quality, slow connections, and a scarcity of new applications that are in line with the new network. 

“As many as 562,656 customers have switched back from 5G to LTE,” Hong Jung-min, a lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and a member of the National Assembly’s +Science, ICT, Broadcasting and Communications Committee, told reporters during the weekend. 

The number the lawmaker mentioned represents almost 6.5 percent of the total 5G users across the country’s three mobile carriers – SK Telecom, KT, and LG Uplus – as of the end of August. 

South Korea had previously rolled out 5G services and bundles back in April with 63,000 base stations, registering a whopping 1.6 million users by the end of June, according to numbers by GSMA. 

With consumers changing contracts due to several inadequacies, it seems as though the dream of lighting speed connections has fallen short, so far. 

Many analysts and engineers have pointed toward the need for much more base stations to successfully provide nationwide coverage. 

South Korea was successfully able to outrace Western countries to receive the title of the world’s first 5G adopters by rolling out services one hour before Verizon Communications did on the 3rd of April 2019.

Promises were made that the services and data bundles offered 20-times faster speeds than existing LTE. “The average 5G download speed of the three carriers was only about four times faster than that of LTE,” according to a survey since the rollout, published by the Ministry of Science and ICT.

The survey also highlighted that 5G coverage is limited largely to the Seoul capital region and six metropolitan cities.

Customer dissatisfaction is already skyrocketing as 82 applications for mediation in 5G-related disputes were submitted to the Korea Communications Commission’s dispute mediation committee from the start of this year to August, up sharply from just five last year, as reported by several local media outlets. 

Slow and inaccessible 5G services have also now become a political issue for the government.

“The government must correct the impression it has given to the people on the speed of 5G, by transmitting data at a speed of 20 gigabits per second, or 20 times that of LTE, requires a frequency of 28 gigahertz,” Byeon Jae-il, a lawmaker from the Democratic Party of Korea, said in response to consumer feedback. 

However, to meet the requirements mentioned by the South Korean MP, telcos would need to install a hefty number of base stations for radio wave purposes, while all three local carriers have merely adopted a 5-gigahertz band that requires fewer base stations, for cost reduction purposes. 

The country’s mobile operators had initially planned to build outdoor base stations, which would then be backed by indoor ones installed within office buildings and other facilities in an effort to stretch 5G coverage. 

However, investments narrowed due to a monkey wrench being thrown in the process, otherwise known as the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Based on numbers published by the Korean government, operators KT Corp, SK Telecom, and LG Uplus have already spend at least $2.6 bn on 5G-powered technology this year alone, as the country is banking on the fifth generation network to drive growth in the local ICT sector.

Currently, telcos are stepping-up efforts to address poor service quality by building even more base stations.

“The situation was similar when LTE services were spreading. It will take two to three years to change the nationwide communications network into a next-generation one. We informed customers about this since we heard complaints in the initial stage [of the new services],” A spokesperson from SK Telecom said in an attempt to quell customer dissatisfaction. 

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Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.

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On the road to digitization: Verizon expands 5G mobile and home service

Karim Hussami

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The future holds many interesting facts regarding the fifth-generation technology in terms of its usage and benefits in many aspects in our daily lives leading to the digitization.

As such, Verizon announced the expansion of its 5G Ultra-Wideband (UWB) network to cover a greater number of homes and phones.

The American telecommunication company broadened its network to six more cities which will get Verizon’s home 5G service and three are getting its high-speed mobile 5G service this month, in parallel with its continued hard work of spreading fast millimeter-wave 5G across the country.

Details of expanding 5G

Ronan Dunne, CEO of Verizon Consumer Group, said “We create the networks that move the world forward, and our 5G network brings incredible capabilities that will drive us all.” He added that “We’re committed to providing our customers with access to the newest technologies and experiences that will shape our future.”

While Verizon notes that its nationwide 5G service is available for 230 million people across 2,700 US cities, the network also has greater reach, reuses 4G airwaves and has performance similar to 4G.

In addition, the carrier is offering 12 months of access to the new Discovery+ service which IGN describes as “the ultimate streaming platform for foodies, nature lovers, and home repair aficionados,” in order to encourage more customers to become 5G Home subscribers.

New customers also receive a free smart home bundle of Amazon devices including an Echo Show 5, Ring Stick Up Cam, Echo Dot, and Amazon Smart Plug.

5G in homes during COVID

During the pandemic, Verizon’s $50 home gigabit service is a more captivating concept for many people than its outdoor-focused UWB 5G mobile service, however, it’s hard to know how many people in each city can get the home system.

The carrier asks customers to enter their address into a qualifier form to register the service instead of having a coverage map for the home service. For example, Chicago and Minneapolis fell short of the UWB mobile coverage service back in October 2020.

Nonetheless, some measures would change that fact.

Verizon partner Pivotal Commware, discussed in-home repeaters that, when placed on rooftops or outside windows, can help stretch 5G coverage to more homes. Also, Qualcomm plans on setting better 5G antennas that are too large for mobile devices but can fit into home internet units.

Digitization will grow and increase by having 5G reach homes and phones with smart homeowners being able to better access video and images of their property and receive more data faster than before on their smart phone regarding the occurrences taking place in their home.

“We ended 2020 with 2,700 cities with Nationwide 5G service serving 230 million people, 12 cities with access to our 5G Home service; We’re rolling out new services to more customers continuing the digital transformation Verizon has been driving,” Kyle Malady, Chief Technology Officer for Verizon said.

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Former SoftBank employee leaks 5G secrets to rivals

Yehia El Amine

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A former SoftBank Corp. employee has been arrested under the suspicion of illegally sharing 5G trade secrets with new employer, Rakuten Mobile, before the former was planning to launch their very own mobile network.

Tokyo Metropolitan Police have arrested Kuniaki Aiba who allegedly leaked classified company information, breaching the Unfair Competition Prevention Law as well as a non-disclosure agreement signed with SoftBank, according to local media.

Aiba is suspected to have sent trade secrets of his initial employer from his company email to his personal one, relating to SoftBank’s 5G technology on December 31, 2019, Tokyo Police stated.

“Even though the former employee had signed a non-disclosure agreement with us, during the period from resignation to departure, information related to our network technology corresponding to our trade secret was illegally taken,” a statement from SoftBank said, highlighting that it had consulted with the Metropolitan Police Department, reported the damage, and cooperated in the investigation.

It remains unknown whether Aiba has admitted to the allegations.

According to the statement, the information leaked pertained to the company’s 4G and 5G base station equipment, and fixed communication networks that connect base stations to each other, though no client data had been exposed.

In parallel, a Rakuten Mobile spokesperson told reporters that Aiba is indeed an employee of the company, which is fully cooperating with the police investigation.

SoftBank suspects that the leaked data has already been put to use by Rakuten, which may be stored on Aiba’s company computer, with plans to file a lawsuit to force its rival to destroy the information.

“We recognize that our trade secrets are stored on Rakuten Mobile’s business PCs used by the former employee, and that it is highly likely that Rakuten Mobile has already used our trade secrets in some way,” the statement read.

Rakuten Mobile, a subsidiary of Rakuten Inc., was down as much as 2 percent in Tokyo on Tuesday, while SoftBank Corp. was up just over 1 percent.

SoftBank stressed that information relating to the confidentiality of communications, and business partners of corporate customers who provide communication services to the company are safe.

“Until now, we have regularly concluded non-disclosure agreements and conducted security training for all employees,” the statement said.

This act of corporate espionage highlights the growing rivalry in one of the world’s most competitive telecom countries.

Rakuten’s strong presence within the local sector – launching the fourth major network in the country last year and pushing unlimited mobile data allowances – has put pressure on competitors such as SoftBank, NTT Docomo Inc. and KDDI Corp.

5G networks and devices have been a contested group within the country since they open up new applications, revenue streams, and opportunities. While SoftBank was one of the first to adopt 5G technology, its coverage remains shaky at best, as it is across most of the globe.

Rakuten, on the other hand, launched their service months after their rival and has consistently aimed to make large gains within the market using a single-priced offering at half price of its competitors.

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Zain KSA to push for second 5G rollout phase

Inside Telecom Staff

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Zain KSA to push for second 5G rollout phase

Zain KSA has announced that it will accelerate its second phase of 5G network rollout throughout the Kingdom in partnership with Infovista’s radio planning portfolio.

The company plans to spread and geographically expand the country’s 5G network aims to deliver the new 5G services to every corner and spot in Saudi Arabia, to ensure that citizens and residents alike have access to the latest, most advanced, and efficient internet services, reflecting positively on working and living conditions.

The rollout is in line with Saudi Vision 2030 and to support the comprehensive digital transformation of the Kingdom.

“As we accelerate the rollout of 5G services in the country with new cities being covered, we want to ensure we deliver best-in-class experience in the location of our customers and to better serve them. As well as provide residents and citizens alike with tools for innovation and development that will benefit the diversification and the competitiveness of the national economy,” Abdulrahman Al-Mufadda, Chief Technology Officer at Zain KSA, said in a statement.

Zain KSA has initially rolled out it’s the first phase of its 5G network during October of 2019 and was ranked first in its 5G in the Kingdom, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, and fourth globally.

It is also recognized by ICT government authorities as the number one operator for covering all Saudi’s administrative regions, having the largest 5G reach within governorates, and covering to date 50 cities enabled by more than 4,700 towers.

Zain KSA has selected to partner with Infovista based on the company’s track record in network planning, testing, performance and application control solutions for that mission.

Leveraging crowdsourced dataset, including a large volume of social media data, for traffic map creation, Infovista radio planning solution helped Zain KSA reach high levels of accuracy in precise planning for densification to successfully introduce 5G in new cities of the Kingdom.

“We are committed to help Zain KSA deliver in its second phase the incomparable 5G experience to its customers throughout the entire Kingdom. Our radio planning software and optimization solution aims to support the fast and complete deployment of Zain KSA’s 5G network as well as help Zain KSA in creating a paradigm shift in the telecommunications infrastructure by leveraging network automation capabilities,” Faiq Khan, managing director, East Europe, Asia, and Africa at Infovista said in a joint statement.

Zain KSA will benefit from Infovista’s advanced End-to-End 5G planning capabilities, which covers radio to transmission in a synchronized and automated way, to reliably provide the best subscriber performance, capacity, and coverage.

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