South Korea to launch world’s first national 5G networks

Hyper-wired South Korea has long had a reputation for technical prowess, and Seoul has made the 5G rollout a priority as it seeks to stimulate stuttering economic growth. (File/AFP)
Updated 03 April 2019
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South Korea to launch world’s first national 5G networks

  • The system will bring smartphones near-instantaneous connectivity — 20 times faster than the existing 4G
  • The superfast communications heralded by fifth-generation wireless technology will ultimately underpin everything

SEOUL: South Korea launches the world’s first fully-fledged 5G mobile networks Friday, a transformational leap that already has superpowers sparring for control of an innovation that could potentially change the day-to-day lives of billions of people.
The superfast communications heralded by fifth-generation wireless technology will ultimately underpin everything from toasters to telephones; from electric cars to power grids.
But while the South has won the race to be first to provide the user experience, that is only one part of a wider battle that has pit the United States against China and ensnared giants including Huawei.
Hyper-wired South Korea has long had a reputation for technical prowess, and Seoul has made the 5G rollout a priority as it seeks to stimulate stuttering economic growth.
The system will bring smartphones near-instantaneous connectivity — 20 times faster than the existing 4G — allowing users to download entire movies in less than a second.
In the same way that 3G enabled widespread mobile web access and 4G made new applications work ranging from social media to Uber, 5G will herald a new level of connectivity, empowered by speed.
It is crucial for the future development of devices ranging from self-driving vehicles that send data traffic to one another in real time, industrial robots, drones and other elements of the Internet of Things.
That makes it a vital part of the infrastructure of tomorrow, and the 5G standard is expected to bring about $565 billion in global economic benefits by 2034, according to the London-based Global System for Mobile Communications, an industry alliance.
But the implications have pitted Washington against Beijing in an increasingly bitter standoff.
The US has pressed its allies and major economies to avoid 5G solutions from Chinese-owned telecom giant Huawei, citing security risks that technological backdoors could give Beijing access to 5G-connected utilities and other components.
But Chinese firms dominate 5G technology.
Huawei, the global leader, has registered 1,529 5G patents, according to data analysis firm IPlytics.
Combined with manufacturers ZTE and Oppo, plus the China Academy of Telecommunications Technology, Chinese entities own a total of 3,400 patents, it says — more than a third of the total.
South Korea comes next, with its companies holding 2,051 patents.
In contrast, US firms have 1,368 altogether, IPlytics said — 29 fewer than Finland’s Nokia alone.
All three of South Korea’s mobile networks — KT, SK Telecom and LG UPlus go live with their 5G services.
“5G’s hyper speed can connect one million devices within a one square kilometer zone simultaneously,” KT said in a report.
On the same day, Samsung Electronics will release the Galaxy S10 5G, the world’s first available smartphone using the tech, with rival LG following with the V50s two weeks later.
More than three million South Koreans will switch to 5G by the end of this year, predicted KT vice president Lee Pil-jae.
Until now, no mobile networks have offered nationwide 5G access. In the US, hotspots in a few selected cities have offered 5G speeds but over wifi only, while Qatari firm Ooredoo says it offers 5G services in and around Doha, but does not have devices available to use them.
US network carrier Verizon will launch fifth-generation services for mobile users in Chicago and Minneapolis next week, with more than 30 cities due to follow this year.
Japan is also expected to roll out a limited deployment in 2019 before full services start in time for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
But cost is likely to be a barrier for user uptake initially, analysts say: the cheapest version of the new Galaxy handset will be 1.39 million won ($1,200).
“While there are many cheap 4G smartphones under $300, Samsung’s 5G phones are well over $1,000, which could be a major minus point for cost-savvy consumers,” a KT representative told AFP.
None of South Korea’s three network operators would say how much they have invested in 5G — but Seoul’s economy minister Hong Nam-ki put it at at least $2.6 billion this year alone.
“If 5G is fully implemented,” he said, “it will greatly improve people’s lives.”


US eases restrictions on China’s Huawei to keep networks, phones operating

Updated 21 May 2019
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US eases restrictions on China’s Huawei to keep networks, phones operating

  • The company is still prohibited from buying American parts and components to manufacture new products without license approvals
  • Out of $70 billion Huawei spent buying components in 2018, some $11 billion went to US firms
WASHINGTON: The US government on Monday temporarily eased some trade restrictions imposed last week on China’s Huawei, a move that sought to minimize disruption for the telecom company’s customers around the world.
The US Commerce Department will allow Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. to purchase American-made goods in order to maintain existing networks and provide software updates to existing Huawei handsets.
The company is still prohibited from buying American parts and components to manufacture new products without license approvals that likely will be denied.
The US government said it imposed the restrictions because of Huawei’s involvement in activities contrary to national security or foreign policy interests.
The new authorization is intended to give telecommunications operators that rely on Huawei equipment time to make other arrangements, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
“In short, this license will allow operations to continue for existing Huawei mobile phone users and rural broadband networks,” Ross added.
The license, which is in effect until Aug. 19, suggests changes to Huawei’s supply chain may have immediate, far-reaching and unintended consequences for its customers.
“The goal seems to be to prevent Internet, computer and cell phone systems from crashing,” said Washington lawyer Kevin Wolf, a former Commerce Department official. “This is not a capitulation. This is housekeeping.”
Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, declined to comment.
The Commerce Department said it will evaluate whether to extend the exemptions beyond 90 days.
On Thursday, the US Commerce Department added Huawei and 68 entities to an export blacklist that makes it nearly impossible for the Chinese company to purchase goods made in the United States.
The government tied Huawei’s addition to the “entity list” to a pending case accusing the company of engaging in bank fraud to obtain embargoed US goods and services in Iran and move money out of the country via the international banking system. Huawei has pleaded not guilty.
Reuters reported Friday that the department was considering a temporary easing, citing a government spokeswoman.
The temporary license also allows disclosures of security vulnerabilities and for Huawei to engage in the development of standards for future 5G networks.
Reuters reported Sunday that Alphabet Inc’s Google suspended business with Huawei that requires the transfer of hardware, software and technical services except those publicly available via open source licensing, citing a source familiar with the matter.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new authorization.
Out of $70 billion Huawei spent buying components in 2018, some $11 billion went to US firms including Qualcomm Inc. , Intel Corp. and Micron Technology Inc.
“I think this is a reality check,” said Washington trade lawyer Douglas Jacobson. “It shows how pervasive Huawei goods and technology are around the globe and if the US imposes restrictions, that has impacts.”
Jacobson said the effort to keep existing networks operating appeared aimed at telecom providers in Europe and other countries where Huawei equipment is pervasive.
The move also could assist mobile service providers in thinly populated areas of the United States, such as Wyoming and eastern Oregon, that purchased network equipment from Huawei in recent years.
John Neuffer, the president of the Semiconductor Industry Association, which represents US chipmakers and designers, said in a statement that the association wants the government would ease the restrictions further.
“We hope to work with the administration to broaden the scope of the license,” he said, so that it advances US security goals but does not undermine the industry’s ability to compete globally and remain technology leaders.
A report on Monday on the potential impact of stringent export controls on technologies found that US firms could lose up to $56.3 billion in export sales over five years.
The report, from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, said the missed opportunities threatened as many as 74,000 jobs.
Wolf, the former Commerce official, said the Huawei reprieve was similar to action taken by the department in July to prevent systems from crashing after the US banned China’s ZTE Corp, a smaller Huawei rival, from buying American-made components in April.
The US trade ban on ZTE wreaked havoc at wireless carriers in Europe and South Asia, sources told Reuters at the time.
The ban on ZTE was lifted July 13 after the company struck an agreement with the Commerce Department that included a $1 billion fine plus $400 million in escrow and replacement of its board of directors and senior management. ZTE, which had ceased major operations as a result of the ban, then resumed business.
(Reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York and David Shepardson in Washington; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Angela Moon; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Cynthia Osterman)