Why South Korea’s 5G Network is Not as Fast as Advertised


South Korea is the first nation in the world to officially commercialize 5G. The three major telecom operators in South Korea, KT Corporation, SK Telecom, and LG U+, launched 5G commercial services for public users in April 2019. This means that 5G has been commercially available globally for 4 years. Over the past four years, there has been a steady increase in 5G network coverage. Also, the of mobile phones that support 5G is also significantly increasing. Despite growing numbers of 5G users, 4G still has more users in South Korea.

5G network

As the first country in the world to launch 5G commercial services, South Korea currently has a good number of 5G users. Currently, the number of 4G users in South Korea still surpasses that of 5G users. However, 5G users in the nation are expected to exceed 30 million by the end of last month. Although more people are using 5G, South Korea’s 5G network isn’t meeting initial speed expectations, according to MSICT.

South Korea 5G network upload and download speed

According to the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSICT) of South Korea, as of October last year, the average download speed of 5G in South Korea was 896.10Mbps. Also, the report claims that the upload speed was 93.16Mbps. From these figures, the upload speed is only 2.8 times that of 4G LTE. This is much lower than the advertised speed. At the start of 5G, there were several claims which are not happening for many users at the moment.

Telecom operators in South Korea claimed that compared with 4G, the speed of 5G will be 20 times faster. They also claim that the access capability will increase by 100 times and the delay is only one-tenth of 4G. Well, users had high expectations but it appears that their expectations were cut short.

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Why is it hard for South Korea’s 5G to be 20x faster than 4G?

South Korea was the first country to launch a fifth-generation mobile network in 2019, heralding a warp-speed technological transformation to self-driving cars. In April 2019, South Korea’s three mobile carriers rushed their commercial 5G launches ahead of schedule, all keen to claim the first spot in the high-profile wireless race.

However, there are key issues that cast doubt on the initial promises made by the carriers. Deploying 5G at speeds 20 times faster than 4G is a near-impossible feat, even in Seoul. The reason for this is very simple. 5G frequency travels straight and doesn’t penetrate obstacles as well as have lower-frequency signals. It can’t deliver the same speed once it travels a few hundred meters. So, unlike 4G, 5G will not deliver a high speed over long distances. This suggests that users closer to the 5G tower will get a higher speed than those far away from it. 

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South Korean telcos have built around 215,000 5G base stations, but only 2% of them can handle mmWave. Other countries that have introduced 5G, such as the United States and China, also largely rely on the slower mid-band spectrum.

5G Network Speed in South Korea

South Korea is known for having one of the fastest internet networks in the world. Paired with the high availability of smartphones, the country has become a leader in mobile internet usage. According to Statista, as of January 2022, South Korea had the highest average mobile internet download speed worldwide, at 113.01 Mbps. In May 2022, some 45% of the country’s people were on 5G, one of the highest rates globally, after some $20 billion in spending on network upgrades that have boosted connection speeds five-fold.


The complexity of 5G network makes it difficult to achieve 20 times higher speed than 4G in most places. In truth, 5G network in South Korea can hit speeds which is 20 times higher than 4G. But for this to happen, the user has to be in a specific position which favours the free flow of 5G waves. Of course, this will almost never be the case. This is why rolling out 5G which is 20 times faster than 4G is nearly impossible.

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