Only around a year into the launch of the 5G service, and South Korea easily holds first place for the greatest level of coverage in any nation.
Just a few months into the global rollout of the service, back in July of 2019, Korea had already reached a record high of 77% of the entire world’s 5G userbase. While this proportion hasn’t kept, Korea still maintains a steady lead.
At this point, there are roughly 14 times as many Koreans using 5G as Americans, in no small part due to a combination of considerable marketing efforts and substantial subsidies for 5G providers. Despite this progress, there remain complaints about the quality of 5G connections and questions as to the place they can play in most users’ lives.
Aggressive advertising rhetoric aside, the actual possibilities of 5G systems are quite simple. In general terms, the biggest advantages of 5G are available on three fronts.
- Bandwidth – Wider bandwidth allows much faster data downloads and uploads
- Latency – Faster response times between device and server
- Connections – Ten times greater simultaneous tower user capacity
Taken on the surface, these are all incredibly useful aspects. It is the understated drawbacks, however, which have been drawing criticism.
The first of these is poor building penetration as offered by 5G. This means that while it can work perfectly outdoors, moving inside will quickly and dramatically cut off the quality of a connection.
Adding into this is the general issue that many users have with actual 5G purposes. At this point in time, almost all apps used by the vast majority of people already work perfectly with 4G and 4G+ networks. In these instances, the extra cost of 5G mobiles and monthly connections can be unsupported by general use.
For example, consider the average use-cases compared to which 5G users would benefit. For watching Netflix or YouTube on the go, on a mobile screen, users have little use for resolutions over 1080p, and framerates above 30fps. For these uses, 5G is unnecessary. It is only if users wanted to go over 1080p and 30fps that 5G might prove necessary, and most mobile viewers aren’t looking for this.
Similar ideas show in gaming. When it comes to most mobile games, most players look towards smaller mobile experiences such as the Kajino casino games. These won’t need a lot of bandwidth or the lowest latency, no matter which or how many of the large selection of games users choose to play. It’s only for rare cases such as game streaming services like Stadia and Project xCloud that 5G would be needed.
In both of these examples, users are more likely to enjoy these indoors anyway, where 5G limitations can render the experience untenable.
While the advantages of 5G are undeniable, it should be remembered that mobile networks are rarely seen as straight replacements. Instead, it is usually the case that different generations operate simultaneously. Some countries still operate 2G networks, and 3G is still popular as a backup here in Korea.
Rather than jumping out and buying 5G devices, consider your use-case, and weigh up whether the advantages will really be worth the cost of a new device and a higher monthly bill. If nothing else, the prices of both will continue to drop over time. Until the point where they can match 4G, it might be worth delaying an upgrade.