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[Herald Interview] 'Korea's 5G leadership to continue with 6G'

GSMA execs call for more active regulatory efforts, discussions to keep up with technological progress

By Jie Ye-eun

Published : Sept. 8, 2023 - 20:21

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The GSMA’s APAC head, Julian Gorman, (left) and Chief Regulatory Officer John Giusti speak during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul, Thursday. (Jie Ye-eun/The Korea Herald) The GSMA’s APAC head, Julian Gorman, (left) and Chief Regulatory Officer John Giusti speak during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul, Thursday. (Jie Ye-eun/The Korea Herald)

South Korea will likely become a leader in promising technology sectors, including the sixth-generation telecommunications network and artificial intelligence, say executives of UK-based mobile industry nonprofit, the GSM Association, or GSMA, the organizer of the Mobile 360 series, citing Korea‘s track record as a leader in digital innovation.

“When I first came here for the 5G leaders event, the ICT minister (of Korea) said it was Korea’s ambition to export 5G. I expect the same ambition flows in the 6G, which means you have to be at the front end of the pioneer market,” the GSMA’s APAC head, Julian Gorman, said in an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Friday.

Korea commercialized 5G services for the first time around the globe in April 2019 and the penetration rate of the services has exceeded 50 percent less than five years after rollout. Gorman, who came to the country about five weeks after the 5G launch and saw the country’s technology advancements, he thought that Korea has innovative leadership in its nature and in its organizational DNA.

Pioneer challenges

Domestic consumers are disapproving of local telecommunications giants‘ plans to invest in 6G developments, while users here are still unsatisfied with the quality of 5G services, including speed falling short of expectations.

Regarding this public dissatisfaction, Gorman said Korea has a “very high” standard for itself and it is undergoing “pioneer challenges” at the moment, while other countries will eventually go through the same challenge later. The technology of 5G has great potential, but needs more time to be fully advanced and improved, he added.

GSMA executives visited Seoul as the two-day M360 APAC, the Asia-Pacific leg of the conference, kicked off here for the first time on Thursday. The UK nonprofit signed a memorandum of understanding with the 6G Forum, an industry-academia-research consultative body launched in May here to prepare for the commercialization of 6G services, on the same day.

“As with 5G technology, Korea will be at the leading edge across the spectrum of network usage, and when Korea is close to launching these use cases, I expect Korea’s mobile operators and the government to be highly present and participate across the board in those activities,” the APAC head said.

South Korea has secured two 3.5 gigahertz and two 28 gigahertz spectrum bands for the 5G network, known as a key technology for high-speed mobile services.

Earlier in May, South Korea's ICT Ministry canceled the license for the new 28 GHz spectrum of the high-speed 5G network owned by SK Telecom, the country's No. 1 wireless carrier, citing a lack of investment. GSMA Chief Regulatory Officer John Giusti encouraged the government to figure out how continuously to lead those applications "going forward."

“Korea is one of the most innovative markets in the world. ... There are exciting opportunities here, which has a huge amount of existing fiber (networks) that you can get to locations without requiring distance to be covered, especially with the millimeter waves,” Giusti said.

Ethics for AI

In line with the rapid growth of AI adoption, the European Union introduced the comprehensive AI law in June for the first time around the globe, but Korea still has a long way to go. However, GSMA executives said a slow adoption in regulations does not necessarily mean lagging behind in technology advancement.

Asia’s fourth-largest economy ranked No. 6 among the 181 countries, according to the GSMA’s report released on Thursday, which evaluated the government’s readiness to use AI in public services.

“Regulations can never completely keep up with technology,” Giusti said, while suggesting the Korean government to have ”active discussions“ with the GSMA and other countries how to integrate ethics in precisely and effectively.

Citing Korea’s ICT vice minister’s speech in which he mentioned that AI policies regarding responsible use are in development, at the M360 event, the APAC head also delivered his hope for Korea to be a part of discussions and be on the front lines, at the same time.

“The large sensation of AI began just six to eight months ago. Since different countries are adopting regulations in different ways. There are discussions among them about how ready they are. ... The right power of the discussion is going to come with inclusivity,“ Gorman said.

Net neutrality debate

The network usage fee debate is another ongoing issue around the world and in Korea. Global streaming platform Netflix and local internet service provider SK Broadband have been in a legal battle over the issue for nearly three years.

Giusti said the GSMA has been actively debating the network usage fee issue amid an ongoing commission consultation, which has raised questions about the future of connectivity in Europe -- and about who should contribute to those networks going forward.

The regulatory expert said that Big Tech firms should invest in sharing the cost of networks, since they are raking in profits from users globally while taking up significant traffic. The GSMA is advising Brazil and India on the issue, looking to Europe as an example. The EU came up with a special proposal on network cost contribution in which Big Tech companies share the cost of network investment.

But he expressed regret about Korea not actively tapping the organization for consultations, once again highlighting the importance of discussions.

“We have not been very active specifically in engaging with the Korean government. We‘ve been more active and filing in responses to consultations in other markets. However, we’re always happy to provide our insights (on the network fee proposals) here in Korea."