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5G competition heats up as KT launches unlimited data plan

No. 2 mobile carrier introduces 80,000 won 5G data plan without speed cap

Leading South Korean mobile carrier KT on Tuesday introduced its “unlimited” data plan for the fifth-generation wireless network, heating up competition over the hyperspeed network service that marks the world’s first commercial launch Friday. 

While unveiling a list of pricing packages during a press conference in Seoul, KT said the price for unlimited data program named “Super Plan Basic” will start at 80,000 won ($70.40). It also comes with unlimited roaming service in 185 countries, the company said.

Under the previous unlimited scheme of 4G Long Term Evolution, data speeds were capped once consumers used a set amount of data. According to KT, the Super Plan Basic data plan is cheaper than its 4G LTE service package by about 10,000 won.

“Given the expected increase in demand for contents such as ultra-high definition footage and virtual reality, we came up with an unlimited data plan,” said Lee Pil-jae, senior executive vice president of KT’s marketing group.


The company also introduced other unlimited packages with greater benefits in roaming service, priced at 100,000 won and 130,000 per month, as well as an affordable plan called 5G Slim priced at 55,000 won which caps speeds after 8 gigabytes of data has been used.

The announcement appears to be an attempt by KT to get ahead of competitors as consumers begin to migrate from LTE to 5G starting Friday -- when Samsung Electronics will roll out its first 5G-powered smartphone, the Galaxy S10 5G.

KT is the first mobile carrier to introduce an unlimited data plan. Smaller rival LG Uplus did not include an unlimited package in its pricing plan released last week. SKT was set to announce its pricing plan Wednesday, but it remains to be seen whether it will match KT.

“It’s like a checkmate move for us,” said a KT official, stressing it is an unprecedented decision for a telecom firm to introduce data plans without speed or usage caps before a service launch. “We are trying to overwhelm our competitors by gaining the upper hand in pricing plans.”

Mobile carriers here have been scrambling to attract more consumers with the promises of delivering the hyperspeed network at affordable price, amid lingering doubts over the lack of network coverage and killer contents. 

The telecom firms have touted their capabilities to provide extensive network coverage and various 5G contents. For example, KT has pledged to establish “the most extensive” 5G network in Korea by building up to 30,000 base stations in 85 cities by Friday.

But the scheme appears to fall short of providing full-fledged nationwide standalone 5G services for average consumers. The mobile carriers’ base stations are said to focus on areas around Seoul and other metropolitan cities, and most of them are subject to dual connectivity with 4G LTE.

“In the early stages, 5G will be a non-standalone service for a limited area,” said an industry watcher familiar with the construction of 5G network. “Without plans to build more LTE base stations, I’m not sure how to deal with overloads from unlimited data plan.”  

To prevent network abuse, KT said it would place caps on the use of 50 gigabytes per day. The company also said it would come up with various 5G contents, which range from video chatting apps and augmented reality games.

Debates have been going on over how much mobile carriers should charge for 5G network. Consumer advocacy groups urged the mobile carriers to lower 5G prices for those who cannot afford expensive telecom bills.

While KT and LG Uplus came up with 55,000-won pricing plans under the apparent pressure from the government, they are still up to 20,000 won more expensive than previous LTE plans. SKT’s lowest 5G pricing plan is also expected to begin at 55,000 won per month.

“The minimum price of 5G services at 55,000 won appears to have been devised to suit the government’s demand,” said another industry watcher, adding that consumers might prefer to choose subscribing to more expensive plans that offer more amount of data.



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