New 28-GHz licenses up for grabs in South Korea

28-GHz spectrum South Korea
Image by Anton Medvedev | Bigstockphoto

CommsUpdate: South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) plans to offer at least one new 28-GHz band license to a new operator to increase competition in the mobile sector and enable introduction of differentiated 5G services.

The announcement comes after MSIT confirmed last November it had cancelled the 28-GHz licenses previously issued to KT Corp and LG Uplus.

One license now, one more in 2026

According to Yonhap News Agency, the MSIT will initially award only one new 28-GHz license, while the other block of reclaimed spectrum will be allocated three years later to give the new entrant time to secure its position in the market.

The MSIT explained its decision to wait three years before offering the second 28-GHz concession, saying: “The government is giving businesses an opportunity to enter the market, one in which they can take their time, considering that it might be hard for them to make new investments in the 28-GHz band due to rising economic uncertainties at home and abroad.”

Meanwhile, the report notes that financial benefits, including tax cuts and fresh loans, will also be provided to whoever secures the first of the new 28-GHz licenses.

In terms of timings for the allocation of the new concession, the MSIT has said it will get the process underway in Q2 2023.

How KT and LG Uplus lost their 28-GHz licenses

South Korea’s three main operators – SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus – secured 28-GHz spectrum for 5G services via auction back in 2018, alongside 3.5-GHz spectrum allocations. However, all concessions contained a condition requiring that the operators construct at least 22,500 base stations using the latter band and 15,000 using the former band within three years.

Following an inspection last year, MSIT announced in November that while the cellcos had hit their construction targets for the 3.5GHz band, all three had fallen far short of the requirements for the 28-GHz band.

Both KT and LG Uplus were stripped of their 28-GHz licenses in line with the terms outlined in the initial spectrum award announcement, as they had failed to score at least 30 points in MSIT’s inspection.

Meanwhile, SKT – which barely scored above the 30-point threshold – was given a temporary reprieve. Its concession will remain valid until 31 May 2023. But MSIT confirmed that SKT will also have its 28-GHz license cancelled if it fails to achieve the mandated rollout target for 28-GHz base stations by that date.

Related article: Giddy promises of 5G remain unfulfilled in South Korea

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