The Korean government previously said that SK Telecom had to install a total of 15,000 sites for its 28 GHz 5G network by the end of May
Korean operator SK Telecom is likely to give up on its efforts to build a 5G network using the 28 GHz spectrum band, Korean news site Pulse reported.
According to the report, the telco had installed 1,605 units of 28 GHz equipment for the 5G network as of November last year, but has not installed any new equipment since April. Taking into account that more than 13,400 units are needed to be installed to meet the mandatory 15,000 units set by the government by the end of the month, SK Telecom has in effect withdrawn itself from the project, the report concluded.
According to Pulse, SK Telecom has claimed that it is practically impossible to utilize the 28 GHz spectrum for business-to-consumer (B2C) transactions, indicating its unwillingness to meet the mandatory number of installations.
“If SK Telecom fails to meet the number of mandatory equipment installations by the end of May, they will also have to initiate an allocation revocation process after a set of hearings,” a government official said.
At the beginning of January, the Korean government effectively cancelled the spectrum licenses in the 28 GHz band that had been previously allocated to local operators for 5G deployments, due to the lack of investment and missed rollout requirements.
As a result, local operators KT and LG Uplus lost the right to use the 28 GHz frequencies they had won in a spectrum auction in 2018. Meanwhile, SK Telecom, had its use time of the 28 GHz spectrum reduced by six months. At that time, the government said that the telco will also lose the right to use the spectrum completely if it failed to deploy 15,000 radio stations that use the 28 GHz spectrum by the end of May 2023.
The three operators had secured frequencies in the 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz bands in 2018, under the condition that they each deploy 22,500 and 15,000 radio stations for each spectrum band. The government noted that telcos had fulfilled with the stipulated number of radio stations for the 3.5GHz spectrum but all failed to reach the deployment goal for the 28GHz frequencies.
Following SK Telecom’s withdrawal, the Korean government is now seeking new operators for the 28GHz band. According to the report, new operators will be able to enjoy a smaller number of mandatory units, in addition to low-interest rate loans, tax credits and exclusive use of the frequency for three years. The ICT ministry plans to announce the new frequency allocation plan by June and select new operators in the fourth quarter of 2023.
In June 2018, the ICT ministry completed an auction for 5G frequencies in which local carriers SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus secured spectrum to launch 5G services in the Asian nation. SK Telecom and KT each won 100 megahertz in the 3.5 GHz band while LG Uplus had obtained a bloc of 80 megahertz of spectrum. In July 2022, LG Uplus secured an additional 20 megahertz of spectrum to use for 5G.