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South Korean 5G users file legal action against mobile carriers for poor connectivity and call quality

Approximately 1,000 5G smartphone users in South Korea are coming together to take legal action against the country’s three major telecom operators because of the fifth generation of wireless’ poor connection and quality, local agency Yonhap News reports. These smartphone users are seeing at least $890 each from SK Telecom, KT Corp. and LG Uplus Corp. because they believe the carriers’ 5G network quality has not met expectations despite their more expensive coverage plans, according to attorney Kim Jin-wook.

Kim argued that these carriers’ 5G networks are not enough of an upgrade over the prior 4G LTE networks. Limited availability is another issue—the three carriers deployed a little more than 166,000 5G base stations as of last November. That’s just 19% percent of the amount of 4G base stations, according to industry tracker Opensignal. Currently, South Korea’s 5G coverage exists in major urban areas, but the carriers’ goal is to have nationwide coverage by next year.

Another issue is these carriers advertised that their 5G download speeds would be 20 times faster than 4G LTE. Those projections have fallen short—a government report from last year noted that the speeds were only four times faster than 4G.

“Considering that monthly 5G plans are around 50,000 won ($44.08 USD) more expensive than 4G LTE plans, we expect around 1 million won ($890) in compensation for users subscribed to two-year plans,” Kim said.

Kim also said that the lawsuit would be filed in May after more participants are added to it. The suit is a long time coming, according to Yonhap News. User complaints have been going on for years abut 5G speeds being slower than advertised as well as low quality. Consumer advocacy group Korea National Council of Consumer Organizations said last year that carriers should pay as much as $308 in compensation to users who filed for mediation over mediocre 5G service quality.

The Korea National Council of Consumer Organizations, a consumer advocacy group, last October recommended carriers to pay as much as $308 in compensation to users who filed for mediation over mediocre 5G service quality.

This lawsuit might be bigger if more people in South Korea had upgraded to 5G. As of January there are only 12.87 million 5G mobile network users in the country. That’s less than 20% of the 70 million mobile network users in South Korea, per ICT ministry data. Telecom operators are making efforts to increase those figures however. Yonhap reports companies are offering less expensive 5G plans in hopes that 4G users will upgrade at a faster rate. Fourth generation wireless network users comprised 73% of mobile network users in South Korea in January.

Preview of what’s to come in the U.S.?

The major wireless carriers in the United States are still working on their widespread 5G rollouts, so they haven’t faced quite the legal scrutiny that South Korea’s major telecom operators have yet. The lawsuit does raise questions about how satisfied U.S. mobile phone users will be with their 5G service as it becomes more readily available, however. Right now, widespread 5G isn’t much faster than 4G LTE. The “best in show” 5G, the super-fast mmWave has difficulty moving through objects, traveling long distances and is only available in major cities (does that last part sound familiar?).

To be fair, that’s what’s happening with 5G now. But what if when the major U.S. carriers make their big 5G push, these same issues exist? Will they really expect customers to pay more for something that isn’t much better than what they already have? They could always advertise it’s better and faster than 4G, but if it isn’t, they should expect to find themselves in a similar position that SK Telecom, KT Corp. and LG Uplus Corp. find themselves in now.

Joe Dyton can be reached at

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