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The Peninsula

Korea Overpromises Its Technological Capacity

Published August 25, 2021
Author: Korea View

What Happened

  • In May 2021, South Korea reached almost 16 million 5G subscribers.
  • South Korea’s ICT ministry stated plans to create around 1,800 companies that specialize in new 5G services over the next 5 years to power tech services such as remote-controlled factories, self-driving vehicles, virtual reality, and more.
  • Yet, 5G mobile users have filed lawsuits against mobile carriers arguing that the quality of service of 5G networks was much worse than had been claimed.

Implications: Korea sets overambitious targets in spaces where it is seen as a potential global leader. In the ICT space, the government plans to have more firms delivering services using 5G, even though there is an infrastructural deficit. In its attempt to be the first country in the world to roll out 5G services, the South Korean government barely beat out U.S. carrier Verizon by activating 5G services for only a few celebrities. The government’s rush to be a leader in this space has been premature as the average 5G download speed is only about four times faster than that of the previous 4G LTE technology, despite claims by the government and mobile carriers of 5G data transmission rates being 20 times faster than LTE. This shortcoming is caused by the relatively small number of 5G relay stations compared to 4G LTE relay stations. Moreover, mobile carriers are currently opting to build base stations that serve more people but at lower speeds. These infrastructural deficits contradict the government’s claim that the 5G network is enhancing the country’s reputation as a hyper-connected society.

Context: A similar trend can be seen in Korea’s attempt to appear as a leader in the global pursuit of carbon neutrality. South Korean President Moon Jae-in pledged that Korea will reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and declared that the country would actively innovate and lead the international community in its pursuit of sustainable growth. Yet, the pledge may be overambitious given Korea’s high growth in its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and high overreliance on fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas). Efforts to curb domestic carbon emissions are further disrupted by plans to phase out 11 of the country’s 25 nuclear power plants by 2030.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Sean Blanco, Marina Dickson, and Jina Park. Image from flickr account of Samsung Newsroom

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