KT and LG Uplus lose their 28 GHz spectrum licenses

South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT revoked the 28 GHz spectrum licenses of KT and LG Uplus because it said that the operators didn’t deploy enough cell sites in the spectrum band and didn’t invest enough money to deliver 5G services over the 28 GHz band.

However, according to ZDNet, SK Telecom, which is South Korea’s largest operator, was given a bit of a reprieve. The operator will have until the end of May 2023 to build 15,000 base stations in the 28 GHz band or it will also lose its right to use the spectrum. The government, however, did penalize SK Telecom by saying it will have its use of the 28 GHz band spectrum reduced by six months.

All three operators —SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus — won 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz spectrum licenses in a spectrum auction in June 2018. The operators were able to start using the spectrum in December 2018 and their 3.5 GHz licenses were for 10 years while the 28 GHz licenses were for just five years.  As a condition to using the spectrum, each operator was required to build 15,000 cell sites in the 28 GHz spectrum band and 22,500 cell sites in the 3.5 GHz band.

A review by the Ministry of Science and ICT earlier this year found that all operators had met the requirement for the 3.5 GHz band but all had failed to meet the required buildout in the 28 GHz band.  Further, the Ministry said that none of the operators even met the minimum buildout requirements for the 28 GHz band and they also offer no devices to consumers that support that spectrum band.

The Ministry also pointed to U.S. operators, such as Verizon, that are successfully using the 28 GHz spectrum band for 5G services.

South Korean operators were early to deploy 5G and all three launched their 5G networks in 2019 and by April of that year the country reported that it had more than 1 million 5G subscribers across the three networks.

The country is now moving quickly in 6G research and is already investing millions in developing 6G.