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After years of excitement, 2020 has seen major advancements in 5G adoption. Proof of concepts, field trials and early deployments are all rolling out. While still in its infancy, the impact on consumer and business use already can be seen, especially in markets with strong early adoption.

South Korea has emerged as a global 5G bellwether with more than 5 million 5G subscribers and a penetration rate of nearly 10 percent, the highest of any nation. South Korea, though, won’t be alone for long. The GSMA, a mobile industry association, projects there will be more than 1.8 billion 5G connections globally by 2025, including nearly half of all mobile phone subscribers in North America.

So now that 5G is here, the question on everyone’s mind is: How will it change our lives? Early data and applications in South Korea may offer a preview for the U.S. and the rest of the world.

King of the Road

Autonomous driving is arguably the most 5G-centric use case. Gartner predicts there will be over 19 million 5G-equipped consumer and commercial vehicles on the road by 2023. The possibilities of 5G associated with autonomous vehicles extend to vehicle sharing as well as a range of vehicle-to-everything (V2X) applications.

In South Korea, SK Telecom and the Seoul Metropolitan Government are collaborating to create a “Cooperative Intelligent Transportation System (C-ITS)” enabled through 5G that paves the way for self-driving vehicles. The project is equipping 1,700 buses and taxis with 5G Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) to update HD maps of public roads. The super-fast, low latency of the 5G network can support real-time updates of road conditions and lane-level accuracy, providing the detail needed for an autonomous driving ecosystem.

Smarter Cities, Happier People

Beyond self-driving cars, 5G can help expand smart cities and build efficient networks of sensors. According to a white paper from Accenture, smart city solutions applied to the management of vehicle traffic and electrical grids alone could produce $160 billion in benefits and savings through reductions in energy usage and traffic congestion and increased productivity.


The South Korean government is encouraging smart city initiatives - from water management and traffic control to emergency response systems - across the nation that take advantage of next-generation networks. 5G technology is critical to advancing these efforts because it can quickly and efficiently transfer large amounts of data from a growing set of IoT sensors in the field. When it comes to systems like traffic and emergency response, data collected by sensors only helps if it can be communicated in real-time to decision-makers.

A Better Gaming Experience

On a lighter note, the added bandwidth and lower latency of 5G will also promote adoption in other areas that use high amounts of streaming data and video, like gaming and eSports. According to SK Telecom data, 5G subscribers use around twice as much data. These users are more frequently accessing media services, such as gaming apps and streaming video, compared to LTE subscribers.

New cloud gaming services are being touted as “game changers” when paired with 5G technology. For example, Microsoft’s game streaming technology, Project xCloud, is giving gamers the freedom to play their favorite games on any device. 5G networks help provide a seamless, immersive experience in the smartphone environment. The lower latency means faster response times, which any competitive gamer will appreciate and eventually demand.

Just the Beginning

These examples show the vast possibilities for 5G applications across different sectors. As we’re seeing in South Korea, adoption rates and use cases for 5G will continue to grow in tandem. Futuristic technologies, like self-driving cars, will become reality in part because they’re supported by more robust communication systems.

We are standing on the threshold of a 5G explosion that will empower innovations across many industries. As 5G expands globally, we’ll see additional opportunities and advancements in technologies that will reshape business - and life in general.

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