Science Ministry plans 5G frequency auction

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Science Ministry plans 5G frequency auction

Korea’s telecom regulator unveiled its plans to auction off 5G frequency bands as local companies inch closer to commercializing the next-generation mobile network technology.

“The 5G network auction was initially scheduled for the first half of 2019, but we advanced the schedule by a year under the initiative to commercialize 5G earlier,” said Ryu Je-myung, the director general of the frequency policy bureau at the Ministry of Science and ICT.

The ministry, which will handle the auction, earmarked a combined 280 megahertz (MHz) band from the 3.5 gigahertz (GHz) wave frequency and a combined 2,400 MHz band from the 28 GHz wave frequency for the network. 5G promises to provide extraordinary data transmission speed - up to 20 times that of current LTE technology - as well as low latency.

The 280 MHz band will be used for the next 10 years, but the 2,400 MHz band will only be used for the next five years due to “extreme uncertainties over its stability,” according to Ryu.

The 280 MHz band was originally planned to be 300 MHz, but it was reduced to limit the potential of frequency interference, a problem mobile network operators raised.

They claimed that even minimal frequency interference could create a fatal disaster should 5G be used for autonomous vehicles.

Different wireless operators will bid for blocks, which will be 10 MHz each for the 3.5 GHz spectrum and 100 MHz for 28 GHz.

Each 10 MHz from the 3.5 GHz band will cost 94.8 billion won ($89.3 million), whereas 100 MHz of the 28 GHz frequency will carry a price tag of 25.9 billion won. Korean mobile network operators SK Telecom, KT and LG U+ will have to pay at least 3.28 trillion won to use the spectrums, the highest price ever charged for frequency bands.

The ministry will finalize the auction plan by May 1 after getting feedback from operators and experts and hold its auction in mid-June. Wireless operators will start deploying the frequency bands in December, three months before the first official launch of 5G.

Countries with advanced telecommunications infrastructure are vying to be the first to roll out 5G to claim an upper hand as the technology standardizes.

Korea is still trying to be the first country to commercialize 5G, though Britain was quicker to auction off its 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz 5G frequency spectrums on April 5.

Four British mobile carriers - O2, Vodafone, EE and Three - secured bands that cost them a combined 1.35 billion pounds, or $1.91 billion, far beyond the projected price of 1 billion pounds.

The United States Federal Communications Commission announced on Tuesday it will auction off its 5G spectrum in mid-November. Spain and Italy are also set to hold their auctions this year.

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