back to article South Korea's biggest mobile telco says 5G has failed to deliver on its promise

SK Telecom, South Korea's dominant mobile carrier and sibling of chipmaker SK hynix, has declared that 5G was over-hyped, has under-delivered, and has failed to deliver a killer app. The telco offered that assessment in a recent white paper [PDF] titled "5G Lessons Learned, 6G Key Requirements, 6G Network Evolution, and 6G …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I recently bought a Samsung A54 5G but have yet to see it connect to any 5G networks.

    Here in Thailand on DTAC there do not seem to be any 5G, including a recent trip to Bangkok.

    While visiting Singapore SingTels data packages are not 5G. You have to buy a 5G booster package, to enable 5G on the package you have already bought.

    So best I have seen is a 4G+ symbol on my phone, whatever means. To be honest its all alphabet soup and I too am skeptical of the benefits, my phone seems to work fine.

    1. druck Silver badge

      So far I've only got 5G on visits to London. I've been less than impressed as the phone will seek out any 5G network even if there is a better 4G signal available. I checked this with the OpenSignal app, doing a speed test with 5G, then forcing the phone to only connect to 4G and retesting. 5G was worse and I just ended up using half my monthly data allowance in one day.

    2. apdxb

      It's a chicken and egg story.

      Singapore population, technology oriented, could afford the devices because of the GDP/capita. Therefore, Singtel and Starhub, have invested heavily in 5G. Especially Singtel.

      Also, it was easy for them to reach 95% national coverage in just one year because of the geography.

      As soon as they reached that coverage, it was legit for them to charge a premium for 5G. But that premium is symbolic for prepaid, in an otherwise very competitive and very inexpensive market.

      DTAC don't have these advantages of a GDP/capita (10x less than Singapore) or a smaller geography.

      For mobile users today, the 5G vs 4G experience is unnoticeable because most 5G networks are non standalone (they rely on the legacy 4G packet core to carry traffic).

      For operators having invested in 5G standalone (with a totally new much faster core), then 5G can hold its promises, in particular because of edge application use cases.

      But 5G standalone penetration in operators is slow in most parts of the world (except China, and USA).

  2. b0llchit Silver badge

    ...5G was over-hyped, has under-delivered...

    And you needed expensive research to come to that conclusion? Anybody with any brain knew it from the start how this was being done.

    And 6G will be hyped just as hard, if not harder, and will put us all on the Moon, really, (pinky-swear) promise! Surely, 6G will enable us to use our flying cars and let us all rule like kings and queens.

    1. Joe W Silver badge


      Yeah. It's not like these forums were full of people expressing this view. Like, from when 5G was being introduced.

    2. apdxb

      5G standalone (with a real 5G core) will unleash a lot of new use cases.

      But it's a looong value chain, combining a lot of different actors and technologies.

      And today, this value chain still misses a few links.

      We're getting there but nothing happens by magic.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        And what will those be? I get that 5G standalone means even faster speeds, which is great, but I can't think of any products where someone said "It's just impossible with 4G speeds and we can't possibly get any faster network there", where 5G makes a serious difference. As it spreads, there will certainly be more use of the system and new things will show up, but I don't think those were impossible using previous technology we already have, nor will 5G have jump-started them.

    3. Justthefacts Silver badge

      Lessons Learned is good…..

      If they had indeed done so. They literally wrote down “the problem with 5G was no killer app”, and just a few paras onwards they write their proposals of “what is 6G for” bonkers stuff like holographic watches!

      They explicitly noted that regulatory issues should have been considered with the blue-sky claims for 5G…..and immediately segue into the idea that robotic surgery could be a key use-case for 6G. A use-case where: regulatory buy-in is key; the activity is famously conducted *indoors* where the high-frequency bands don’t penetrate; there’s simply no advantage against wired comms for the robot, and the endoscope (being inside somebody) won’t reach well on RF bands.

      The main merit of the paper is to note that a proliferation of network architectures caused fragmentation and costs to rise, so picking a couple of basic ones to focus on for 6Gwould be really good…..and immediately failed to mention which ones they proposed to focus on.

  3. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    3G & 4G were noticeable improvements for the end user. I'm not sure 5G is such a game changer. For many use cases 4G is perfectly usable - providing you get a signal. I think the only thing 5G has done for the consumer is get more frequencies which equates to more network capacity. 6G will be a "rinse & repeat" of 5G.

    Just as the pace of innovation in smart phones and slowed, so has the pace of mobile network innovation.

    1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

      The focus of the target user has changed.

      For those who weren't in Cannes in 2003 for 3GSM World Congress (the event now known as MWC and now held in Barcelona), you may not known that 3G really stands for "Girls, Games and Gambling" - at least according to those of us who were there. It pretty much achieved its goal of enabling mobile access to internet gaming and porn websites. 4G has also pretty much achieved its goal of making mobile the primary device of choice for consumer access to internet-based services even, now, at some pretty tough locations.

      5G was different. It was always intended, by the engineers who developed it, to be for new business services. Of course it had to do consumer stuff at least as well as 4G, and a bit faster (to enable some higher def video) - which it achieved but which is not a game changer for consumer services. Consumers expect each phone to last a few years, and when they change it to get better video - it's just par for the course.

      The problem here wasn't the engineers or the suppliers. It was the networks. They wanted to justify all this spending - and to justify their acquisition of valuable radio spectrum to stop their competitors getting it - so they promised stuff that 5G was never designed to achieve! Mobile network innovation continues at a very rapid pace. It just isn't really anything affecting the consumer experience.

      1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

        .... old man reminisces ... was that really 20 years ago? ... remember it like it was yesterday ... actually, don't remember yesterday but you know what I mean ...

        ... walking along the Croisette at 7AM, from the apartment we rented about 1 km away ... it was actually sunny, not raining for a change, but cold - it was always cold in February of course ...

        ... and at lunchtime, stepping out into the square - was it the Place Charles de Gaulle? - to grab a quick Pan Bagnat to quickly eat watching the old men playing petanque before going back to stand up all day in our booth ... still it was better than when I went in the late 90's - I was working for a larger company now so we had a booth outside instead of that horrible basement exhibition area with the low ceilings only just high enough to get the server racks in.

        Somehow I miss Cannes more than Barcelona, even though I did more years in Barcelona, across the 2 different venues.

        1. abend0c4


          It's perhaps fitting that the Côte d'Azur was a byword for Girls, Games and Gambling long before the advent of mobile technology (unless you count the railways) and the 3GSM World Congress seems a bit tame compared with Tender is the Night. The delivery may change, but the themes remain consistent.

          The rain, too, has always been a fixture. Since you're in nostalgic mood, I'm reminded, very much off-topic, of this very British homage to the beach..., also motivated by commercial considerations.

  4. abend0c4

    Customers on 5G therefore use 50 percent more data

    I'm suspicious of drawing general conclusions from such observations: the consumption of mobile data is often more constrained by tariffs than by technology. The visitor tariffs I've seen for South Korea seem to offer unlimited data for a fixed period (which may be hours of use or elapsed days) so it's not unexpected that a greater bandwidth might lead to greater usage. I can't see tariffs that are priced per GB showing the same results.

    I have a 5G phone and the biggest disappointment is the poor thermal management: if you attempt a video call over 5G the phone will eventually shut down because of overheating: the haste to ship 5G products has simply resulted in devices that are materially worse than the previous generation for a given price point and that's hardly likely to inspire consumer confidence.

    I'd happily have 5G as an alternative to fixed-line broadband (assuming it came with a routable address) but the problem seems to be that telcos never want the market that exists but are always trying to find one that is magically more lucrative.

    1. david 12 Silver badge

      Re: Customers on 5G therefore use 50 percent more data

      Well your both right then. 5G gave the networks lower costs, which give the users lower tariffs, which lead to greater usage.

  5. IGotOut Silver badge

    Wait, what?

    You mean people don't care about having UHD videos with 7.1 sound on a 7" screen?

    People really don't want to walk around with augmented reality goggle's on?

    Next you'll be telling me no one really notices the difference between 4g and 5g.

    1. Denarius

      Re: Wait, what?

      and in the Antipodes, Oz to be precise, the rollout of 5G is accompanied by a drop in 4G signal in rural areas in my bitter experience. The main Oz telco has responded to 5G rollout by increasing costs, again, as usual. I suspect 6G will acheive the ultimate goal of absolute no communications. But then, the Ministry of Truth being shovelled thru the Oz excuse for a parliament will make all communications potentially expensive

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wait, what?

        Yeah lots of 5G masts have gone up round here and 4G signal has got significantly worse. Why?

  6. TaabuTheCat

    5G Sucks!

    I can't tell you the number of times I've had two or three bars of signal, tried to use the browser and.... nothing. Look at the icon and it's 5G. Every. Damned. Time. On 4G if I have any signal at all pages load. Maybe slowly, but they load.

    Please oh please phone makers give us a way to force the radio back to 4G. I'm so tired of marketing driving the experience in reverse.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: 5G Sucks!

      a way to force the radio back to 4G

      On my phone running Lineage OS, Settings... Network and Internet... SIMs (tap your SIM), scroll down to Preferred Network Type, get acronym overload :-)


  7. Neal McQ

    "a 70 percent reduction in data cost per gigabyte compared to LTE. Customers on 5G therefore use 50 percent more data than those tied to the previous generation standard".

    A classic case of the Jevon's paradox here: "...occurs when technological progress or government policy increases the efficiency with which a resource is used (reducing the amount necessary for any one use), but the falling cost of use increases its demand—increasing, rather than reducing, resource use".

    Note though that, it's not an equal match so telcos are still more profitable on a 5G network - once the network is built out of course.

    5G network slicing comes to the iPhone next month (as part of the next iOS release) - tiwll be interesting to see if any new offerings become available off the back of that also.

    An aside, some comments above say 3G was a good thing. Rose-tinted classes in my eyes here: it was poor technology then, and hasn't changed. For anyone working in industry at the time, it probably looked great. However, I was leaving universities where I was seeing what 'real' broadband was like (it was wired, but that's not the point - 3G was being sold as broadband) and 3G was rubbish, unless you were standing right beside a tower. Any medium to poor signal and it's bad - as anyone can experience when using it today still.

    1. MrBanana

      I'm not sure Jevon' paradox is applicable here, as it doesn't clearly say "you've been sold a pup[". And I don't know how you've got the idea that others have said 3G was a good thing. Only thing I see is that it was better than what went before.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      It wasn't comparing 3G to wired networks, but to the previous services. I didn't have a data-capable phone at that time, but I remember people trying to use browsers on phones with 2G services (GPRS, I think, so not really 2G) and it never worked, to the extent that I didn't see any need to get a phone that could do it. Nobody ever used that except as an attempt to see if they could. With 3G, it certainly wasn't fast, but it became practical to retrieve at least some information when not connected to WiFi. It wasn't fast, but compared to what came before, it was quite an improvement.

  8. Lil Endian Silver badge

    Blackpool Already Has 6G, Honest!

    Blackpool is already 6Ged up according to some charlatans. Other than being marketing criminality, which has caught the eye of the Advertising Standards Authority, it's rather amusing. They install a small box on the customer's sucker's roof. It has a pretty blue LED in it, presumably to warn off low flying aircraft!

    1. TangoDelta72

      Re: Blackpool Already Has 6G, Honest!

      Bah! 8G is already out there. I seek the truth!

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Blackpool Already Has 6G, Honest!

        Peons! I'm using ∞G ("Infini-G"). Nothing can ever be better. Websites load on my phone before they've even been created.

        Now hush, I'm trying to watch next Tuesday's episode of Popular Show.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Waves

    But at least 5G has delivered comprehensively on the increased bandwidth for mind-control/virus-activation/conspiracy-theory-of-your-choice propagation.

    Still seeing the "No To 5G!!!" placards around here.

    Anonymous because I don't want those nutjobs on my case.

  10. xyz Silver badge

    Ah remember t'days when....

    There was 0G and I could still sit on a train reading websites and emails with my trusty iPaq connected infraredly to my Nokia and then someone decided to stuff a camera into a 'phone and started sceaming about their G spot and it all went titsup after that. Remember that tube crash or bomb or fire or whatever it was... Someone took some grainy photos and everyone wanted a camera phone after that. That should be the 6G hook, live streaming from disasters should boost sales.

    Never underestimate the power of people wanting to show their mates that they're not losers.

  11. Snowy Silver badge

    5G failure

    Largely due to the lack of coverage. I can not get 5G, 4G coverage is good and they have started to turned off 3G so coverage is patchy

  12. Tuto2

    It probably followed the AT&T " 5G " or the other 4.5G wannabees in the US, selling 3G as a 4G or 4G as a 5G... SK Telecom has not mastered the great BS game... It is either you have it or you don't... They have not finished deploying it throughout the country, but it is interesting to see that in some cities the download speed is 400 MBS vs the 50MBS for 4G... I just want to see all the websites in Korea delivering 10 MBS content to their superfast 5G costumers... The service side is lacking with the slow internet sites....

  13. Pete 2 Silver badge

    A marketing success!

    > 5G has failed to deliver on its promise

    Oh, I don't know. It has successfully convinced a load of people to change their phone for no better reason than an increment in a number.

    Even better, it has got all the world's telcos to spend billions on new and (it seems) unnecessary infrastructure.

    Oh, you wanted features?

  14. anon01789

    people sorry to disapoint you all. Here in South Warwickshire where I live. 5g is good even if not as good as it is in other parts of UK. I had 4g at the same location before, 5g is a clear improvement. Network providers here charge the same weather you have 5g or not, this is not fixed line where more speed does cost more. I gave fixed line the middle finger, I'm glad 100% that I did. Fixed line companies are very dishonest to my mind. Some don't provide the full fat service but do charge the full price without telling you. One for example does not support caller display for incoming calls. The same fixed line company has obscene price rises each year, but can't tell you what it is to pay for. 5g mobile that I uses so far each year the service does improve noticeably. Part of the problem is NIMBY

  15. steelpillow Silver badge

    I am shocked. Shocked and stunned.

    5G is about three things, and delivering only one of them does not cut the mustard.

    1. The RAN, the radio access network. A new timing system and the neverending mystical quest for higher frequencies offer faster airspace. Only we're still waiting for the Open RAN to deliver the low-cost mass rollout that proprietary systems refuse to.

    2. The PLMN, the public land mobile network (or do they call it something else these days?). Yeah, great, we pushed TCP/IP further out than ever, right to the base stations. Only that didn't really speed anything up, just simplicated and added lightness.

    3. WiFi Calling. That's Voice-over-WiFi-to-PLMN. With call billing. Yes, it's true, with call billing!!!!!!!!!! The holy grail of telecomms convergence. After a quarter of a century of trying, at last the telcos are happy not to drag their feet any more. But It doesn't actually use 5G technology, just the latest suitably-refactored WiFi. The only 5G bit in that is the embedded business logic to implement call billing, the rest is just plugging WiFi routers into a slightly different part of the network.

    Yawn! But you get the telcos to admit that to their shareholders.

  16. DS999 Silver badge

    So if 5G didn't deliver a killer app

    Why in the world would they expect 6G will?

    There's a limit how much data a human can take as input, streaming 4K video is probably at that limit. I'm sure some will point to stuff like Apple's upcoming Vision Pro that has two ~8K displays so maybe you get a small increase over that level but we're still limited by human senses. Sure you won't mind faster speeds when downloading updates and such but "download a massive game update in one second" is not going to be anyone's idea of a "killer app".

    What definitely won't be a 6G killer app is streaming multiple gigabits a second all the time to support some nebulous "AI" dream. Stuff that demands that much data transfer will take place in the cloud, and only the result of that work need to be sent to a mobile device.

  17. Tron Silver badge

    5G worked for some.

    It allowed manufacturers to sell new phones, even to people who had little chance of actually connecting to a 5G service. That will happen again with 6G.

    It created an enormous amount of e-waste leveraging the ending of 3G (as 6G will probably do for 4G) and causing idiots to dump their 4G, when it still worked fine for everything they did with it.

    It allowed governments to sell spectrum chunks for huge sums of cash, ensuring consumers would be charged more, so telcos could make a profit. Ideally fundamental infrastructure should be funded by the state, so use of it can be made by everyone at the lowest possible cost.

    The lesson they refuse to learn is that user costs and e-waste could be reduced by having a standardised TRX module that could be replaced by a new one when +1G crawls out. As easy as removing a memory card. For Pixel users, a 'memory card' is something on which you can store your data, so when your phone dies, you can move it to another phone, rather than having to send it with your phone to a random stranger if you want your tech fixed.

    Incidentally, South Korea is famous for having had really fast internet connections early on, so 5G probably wouldn't be as impressive as it could theoretically be in other countries.

  18. David Pearce

    5G is working fine in urban parts of Malaysia now. It does drain your phone battery faster.

    So far the telcos have been unable to charge the premium price they were hoping for and my monthly data cap is an order of magnitude higher than my usage.

    The IOT hype for 5G has not worked out at all and I cannot see 6G helping.

    To me 6G is really about patent control and excluding China.

  19. david 12 Silver badge

    5g battery life

    The biggest selling point of 5g -- which hasn't even been mentioned here -- was that it was going to permit high-density phone networks. Lots and Lots of phones in a small area. That's a lot of network development, and it mostly hasn't happened yet. Around here, after testing, some of the femto-cell and pico-cell stations were just switched off. There is no femto-cell or pico-cell network around here. This has had two effects:

    1) To maintain phone connections, your phone probably runs a 4g phone network and a 5g data network. At the same time. If you 'connect on 5g', you aren't 'disconnecting 4g'. 4g means your phone runs one network: 5g means you power up two radio networks

    2) To maintain data connections, your phone is probably at the edge of the small 5g cell. Your 5g is probably running at maximum transmit power most of the time

    5g is designed as a low-power network. It can run at lower power than 4g. But that promise depends on being close to a 5g transmitter, and with a 5g data provider that is providing a 5g phone system instead of 4g phone system.

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