SK Telecom Rolls Out “4.5G” Service in South Korea-Plans 1G b/sec in 2018; Negative Outlook from Analysts

Executive Summary:

SK Telecom, the largest wireless telco in South Korea and first global wireless network provider to deploy LTE Advanced (aka LTE-A),  has now launched a higher speed “4.5G” [Note 1.] network service in 53 cities across South Korea.  The “4.5G” service delivers a speed of 700M b/sec to users that have a compatible handset (for now it’s only the Samsung Galaxy S8).  The 4.5G wireless network uses 4 X 4 multiple-input and output (MIMO), which enables downloading a 2G byte movie within just 23 seconds.  By using four- or five-channel carrier aggregation in conjunction with 4 x 4 MIMO, as well as other technologies that form part of the LTE-Advanced Pro standard, SK Telecom expects to be able to introduce gigabit-speed connections on its “4.5G” network in the first half of 2018.

The carrier’s “4.5G” network is expecting to reach 50 percent of its population by the end of 2017.  In a statement, Choi Seung-won, SVP and head of infrastructure strategy at SK Telecom said it plan to launch 1Gb/s LTE-A pro service in the first half of 2018. See quotes from Mr Choi below.

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NOTE [1]:  There really is no standardized “4.5G” service from ITU-R.  SK Telecom is simply exploiting features in LTE-A that enable higher speeds.  ITU-R originally referred to LTE as a 3G+ technology within IMT 2000.  Up till 2012, “4G” was associated with  IMT Advanced criteria being met.  LTE-A met all the criteria of IMT Advanced.

However, wireless carrier marketeers jumped the gun when LTE was first deployed.  LTE (part of ITU-R IMT 2000) was called a “4G” service by many carriers.  ITU-R didn’t want to fight the marketing hype and issued this statement: “ITU does not have a definition for 4G and ITU cannot hold a position on whether or not a given technology is labelled with that term for marketing purposes.”

Thereby, faster LTE-A is now called “4.5G”by many wireless carriers to distinguish it from lower speed LTE (or LTE-A).  Does that make any sense?

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SK Telecom launched 4.5 G network in 53 cities with speed of 700 mbps

http://www.stingtimes.com/News/sk-telecom-launched-45-g-network-in-53-cities-with-speed-of-700-mbps-13389_13

Key points:

  • SK Telecom  currently owns 10 MHz in the 800 MHz band, 20 MHz in 1800 MHz, 10 MHz in 2.1 GHz and a total of 30 MHz in the 2.6 GHz range.
  • Carrier aggregation, which combines two or more spectrum channels (sometimes from different frequency bands), is used to boost bandwidth to up to 700 Mb/sec.
  • The 900 Mbit/s service is based on a mixture of carrier aggregation — with SK Telecom combining either three or four channels — as well as 4×4 MIMO.  By using four- or five-channel carrier aggregation in conjunction with 4×4 MIMO, as well as other technologies that form part of the LTE-Advanced Pro standard, SK Telecom expects to be able to introduce gigabit-speed connections on its 4G network in the first half of 2018.
  • The higher-speed services will be available only to customers with a Samsung Galaxy S8, which will be able to support the LTE-A Pro technologies following an over-the-air firmware upgrade.  However, SK Telecom insists that forthcoming handsets will also be able to handle LTE-A.

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Whither 5G?

Some analysts are asking if 5G is really needed once SK Telecom and other carriers roll out 4.5G with speeds up to 1 Gb/sec.   There is intense rivalry in South Korea’s mobile Internet market as operators attempt to outperform one another on connection speeds.

Many proponents of 5G have responded to such criticism by drawing attention to the technology’s other attractions, including much lower latency, or network delay, than is found in a 4G system.

With 5G techniques such as network slicing, operators will also be able to provide many different types of network service over the same 5G infrastructure.

SK Telecom is keen to present its latest “4.5G” moves as a kind of stepping stone to the 5G standard, which it has talked about introducing in trial form in time for next year’s Winter Olympics in PyeonChang. (See SKT Airs 28GHz Concerns, Eyes Mid-Band 5G.)

“SK Telecom’s LTE-A Pro services represent an early application of 5G technologies that support Gbit/s-level data speeds and massive network capacity,” said Choi Seung-won, a senior vice president at SK Telecom and head of its infrastructure strategy office, in a company statement. “4.5G can be considered as the very last stage of LTE and will facilitate the spread of immersive multimedia services, including virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D hologram content.”  The SK Telecom executive also said he expected the investments in LTE-A Pro to give SK Telecom a “valuable edge in the 5G era.”

http://www.lightreading.com/mobile/lte-a-pro/sk-telecom-moves-closer-to-1gbit-s-4g/d/d-id/733419

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Wireless Network Analyst Opinions:

  1.  According to Bengt Nordström, CEO of consultancy Northstream, telcos are not innovating and the wireless network business will contract over the next few years:

“The trend which we are likely to see over the next couple of years is the deterioration of revenues, because what telcos are bringing to the market is fairly commoditized and very similar to competitors. But there is an upside, the cost structures are too high.

“They can do what they do today and even better, by trimming the organization such as replacing legacy equipment and processes or hiring and retraining new people. They can still maintain margins even though top-line revenues are shrinking.”

“If I were a (wireless network equipment) vendor I would base my business plan on the equipment market being smaller in the next five to seven years,” Mr. Nordstrom told Light Reading.

Of course, the reason for that is that the LTE and incremental LTE Advanced global roll-outs are slowing and that volume 5G (IMT 2020) won’t start to be deployed till 2021 or 2022.  Hence the next few years will see flat or negative growth in sales for wireless network equipment.

2.  The dismal forecast for cellular network equipment was earlier made by  Stéphane TéralSenior Research Director, Mobile Infrastructure and Carrier Economics, and detailed in a January 2017  techblog post.

“The mobile infrastructure market outlook remains cloudy as 2017 brings us 2 years past the LTE peak, with fewer and fewer potential 2G/3G mobile networks that need to be upgraded to LTE. In the Q4 edition of our Mobile Infrastructure Market Tracker – Regional, released 1 December 2016, we had 537 live commercial LTE networks and a total of 560 in the forecast for the full year. As we believe there are roughly 750+ mobile networks worldwide and those left with no LTE have small footprints in the range of fewer than 1,000+ nodes, the LTE infrastructure hardware market is poised for steep decline this year.

Telecom spending (CAPEX) appears to be very flat at best! Little has changed since last year, and in our most recent biannual Service Provider Capex, Revenue, and Opex Market Tracker – Regional report, released in November 2016, we still expect worldwide capex to barely budge from $341.5B last year to 342.8B by year end—just 0.4% YoY growth.”

 

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