SEOUL • South Korea's launch this week of national fifth-generation wireless services is about more than just bragging rights.
By beating the United States and China to the punch, it provides a major selling point for Samsung Electronics against Apple in premium smartphones and China's Huawei Technologies in the market for mobile network gear.
It provides a chance for South Korean companies to show off their know-how and lay the groundwork to set standards and capture sales in a global 5G services market expected to grow to US$123 billion (S$166 billion) by 2025.
"Being the first means a lot because it means we are the first to lay the entire 5G infrastructure, having overcome lots of technological difficulties through collaboration between telecom, phone and gear companies," said Mr Yang Maeng-seog, a vice-president of SK Telecom, South Korea's biggest carrier.
"5G provides a chance for South Korea to take a leap again."
Officials from carriers such as Deutsche Telekom and Singtel have visited South Korea to check out 5G tests, Mr Yang said. The fact that the country is far smaller than the US or China makes it a cost-effective test-bed for national networks, he said.
The US has pressed its allies and major economies to avoid 5G solutions from Huawei, citing security risks that technological backdoors could give Beijing access to 5G-connected utilities and other components. Among South Korea's three 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.