SK Telecom, Deutsche Telekom deepen ties with new 5G tech JV

South Korea’s SK Telecom and Germany’s Deutsche Telekom are building on their relationship with the formation of a joint venture to develop 5G technology, starting with a dual-mode repeater.

Announced Monday, each operator will hold 50% of the Germany-based JV and name a respective representative to lead the entity.

Initially the pair plans to create advanced in-building 5G solutions targeting European market opportunities. That includes wrapping up development of a 5G/LTE dual-mode repeater from SKT that T-Mobile US-parent DT has used in a customer trial for indoor coverage. According to the companies, initial feedback showed that the test device delivered significant improvements in 5G and LTE for users’ voice and data experience during the trial, which took place in eight major cities in Germany from August to October.

RELATED: Deutsche Telekom-backed venture seeks to replace 5G masts with aircraft

SKT and DT appear hopeful for a stronghold on the 5G repeater market. In the joint announcement stating that, “Since there are not yet strong players dominating the market for 5G repeaters, the joint venture, which will combine the strengths of SKT and Telekom, will be well-positioned to pioneer the market.”

It cited anticipated strong growth in the global market for in-building Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), with Markets and Markets research that estimates a $10.33 billion market by 2023.  

SKT is contributing technology assets to the JV and has been working with 5G repeater technology for years. In 2017, SK Telecom demoed an in-building 5G relay repeater to deliver speeds up to 4 Gbps based on tech for the 28 GHz band, and had worked with SK Telesys for a 5G repeater supporting 3.5 GHz spectrum.

RELATED: SK Telecom taps relay repeater in 5G demo

The JV’s ambitions don’t end with the 5G repeater either.

“We will start with the repeater, but this joint venture is aiming at a much higher goal,” said Tim Höttges, CEO of Deutsche Telekom, in a statement. “That goal is to create major innovations for both companies in the years to come.”

DT is the majority stockholder of U.S. operator T-Mobile, with Höttges serving as director of T-Mobile and chairman of board.   

Later, in the mid-to-long-term, SKT and DT, through the joint venture, will explore opportunities to work together on innovations related to augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), mobile edge computing (MEC), and the app market.

“The partnership between SKT and Deutsche Telekom is very meaningful at a time when the world is heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Park Jung-ho, CEO of SK Telecom, in a statement.  “The deepened bond between the two companies will play an important role as a bridge between Asia and Europe and lead us to new technologies that can bring greater value to humanity.”

In-building coverage key for 5G

Operators globally have rolled out early 5G networks, but a key component is also getting coverage indoors.

In some cases, like for enterprise campuses or industrial settings, the industry is looking to private networks. Operators are exploring private network opportunities, but they also need equipment to help extend or boost macro network coverage for indoor use.

Verizon in particular has been looking to amplify in-building signals with technology like repeaters.  

Verizon so far has largely focused its 5G strategy around high-band millimeter wave spectrum that is limited in its ability to penetrate objects (like walls for one), and has been actively pursuing in-building and repeater solutions through technology partners.

That includes tapping Irvine-based startup Movandi for its cutting edge mmWave 5G repeater technology that not only expands indoors and out, but will enable more customers to add more devices to the network.

RELATED: Startup Movandi scores more funding to boost mmWave 5G

Verizon is also working with Kirkland, Washington-based startup Pivotal Commware for its extender tech to amplify mmWAve coverage in homes, buildings and public spaces.

In-building wireless infrastructure like small cells is also important to Verizon. The carrier picked indoor millimeter wave products from Corning and Samsung, which should be ready for commercial deployment later this year.

Samsung’s unit is meant to address challenges related to power and size needs for enterprise deployments. It adjusts to optimize RF performance, so users can transition form the outdoor macro 5G network to in-building connectivity without interruption. It could also be used for specific on-site mobile applications.