First 5G mobile service in the US goes live

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS) – Verizon, one of America’s largest telecommunication companies, has claimed bragging rights as the first US carrier to offer fifth-generation mobile-phone service.

Starting Wednesday (April 3), Verizon customers with unlimited data plans in parts of Minneapolis and Chicago can get speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second on a limited number of phones for an extra US$10 a month.

The initial launch is part of a 30-city goal for 5G service this year.

The move makes Verizon the first wireless carrier in the United States to flip the switch on speedy, smartphone-ready 5G service in select urban areas, the company said in a statement. 

“For the first time ever, customers can access a commercial 5G network with the world’s first commercially available 5G-enabled smartphone,” Verizon said in a statement.

Other US carriers including AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have pledged to do the same in the coming months.

The service Verizon is offering – 5G, the fifth generation of wireless data networks – could provide consumers Internet speeds that are up to 100 times faster than 4G networks, according to an industry trade association.

Through the placement of small boxes that serve as conduits for invisible, data-transmitting radio waves, 5G networks could power a wide range of consumer devices, from smartphones that can stream Netflix videos more quickly to enabling the arrival of self-driving cars.

The promise of faster speeds and more reliable connections has generated a full-on race between AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, the country’s four largest carriers, to see who can offer service first (and capture new consumers and their cash in the process).

Telecoms and media company AT&T Inc has said it was the first to launch a “commercial and standards-based” 5G network in December 2018. The service was made available to mobile hotspot devices but not yet on phones on Dec 21 in 12 cities.

The US government also has taken notice, with congressional lawmakers and the Trump administration looking to supercharge research, investment and development in the telecom sector, believing that better wireless networks grant the country a more competitive business edge – particularly against China, which is racing to deploy 5G as well.

5G RACE

On Friday, South Korea will also join the 5G race as it rolls out the latest wireless technology with Samsung Electronics’ new 5G-enabled smartphone Galaxy S10.

With one of the world’s top smartphone penetration rates, South Korea is in a race with China, the United States and Japan to market 5G, hoping the technology will spur breakthrough in fields such as smart cities and autonomous cars, and drive up its economic growth that slowed to a six-year low in 2018.

“It is meaningful that South Korean telecom companies are providing services and networks meeting South Korean customers’high standard in speed and picture quality,” Ryu Young-sang, executive vice president at the country’s top mobile carrier SK Telecom, said on Wednesday.

5G will change the landscape of the gaming industry as it allows games streamed with minimal delay to be played on smartphones, SK Telecom’s Ryu said.

The technology can offer 20-times faster data speeds than 4G long-term evolution (LTE) networks and better support for artificial intelligence and virtual reality with low latency.

Sometimes it can offer 100-times faster speeds.

South Korean carriers have spent billions on campaigns marketing 5G and, on Wednesday, SK Telecom showed off K-pop stars and an Olympic gold medalist as its first 5G customers.

SK Telecom is working with its memory-chip making affiliate SK Hynix to build a highly digitised and connected factory powered by 5G technology, Ryu said.

The operator expects about 1 million 5G customers by end-2019. It has a total of 27 million users.

Smaller rival KT Corp is set to offer cheaper plans than its LTE service, with unlimited data and four-year installments to buy 5G devices.

Samsung was the first to unwrap a 5G phone in February when it unveiled the Galaxy S10 5G and a nearly US$2,000 folding smartphone, putting the world’s top smartphone maker by volume in pole position in the 5G race, some analysts say.

Smaller local rival LG Electronics Inc plans to release its 5G smartphone in South Korea later this month.

SECURITY CONCERNS

While security concerns over 5G networks using telecom equipment made by China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd have marred the buildup to the release of these services, South Korean telcos have tried to shrug them off.

“I don’t think we have a security issue in South Korea,”Park Jin-hyo, head of SK Telecom’s information and communication tech research centre, told reporters.

He added that the company uses advanced technology to block eavesdropping or hacking into 5G networks.

Among South Korea’s top three telecom operators, SK Telecom and KT Corp do not use Huawei equipment for 5G. Smaller carrier LG Uplus Corp uses Huawei gear.

But SK Telecom officials said it was likely there will be an open auction for network equipment makers including Huawei if South Korea needs more base stations for higher frequencies.

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