South Korean operator KT is reportedly at odds with rivals SK Telecom (SKT) and LG Uplus over a government plan to make the companies share 5G infrastructure.

The government this week mandated the operators collaborate on 5G deployments in a bid to reduce the cost of rolling out the technology and so enable operators to pass on the savings to customers. Contrary to earlier reports, an industry source told Mobile World Live (MWL) the plan covers operators’ core fibre infrastructure rather than RANs.

KT, which has a more extensive fibre network in the country, isn’t pleased with having to share access to its rivals, the source added. SKT and LG Uplus, meanwhile, are reportedly happy with the arrangement as it will give them wider fibre access.

The mandate fits with the new government’s policy to bring down the price of telecoms services. The government estimates the move will save operators about KRW1 trillion ($935 million) over the next ten years. The three operators need to sit down and work out what facilities will be shared and how to charge for access, the source said.

Accelerating rollouts
Another objective behind the sharing mandate is to speed up the rollout of 5G services. The operators have not shared core infrastructure in the past with 3G or 4G services. They each have extensive RANs across the country so there is no pressing need for them to share base stations.

A telecoms analyst at an international bank based in Hong Kong, who was in South Korea recently, told MWL it appears the government is pushing the idea of network sharing to try and hasten the 5G rollout process: “it’s a very interesting shift.”

Nicole McCormick, a principal analyst at Ovum covering service providers, said the government’s goal of nationwide 5G coverage by 2020 is ambitious, especially since operators are not planning to turn on 5G networks until 2019.

“Network sharing can help achieve this 2020 network rollout target. Further, amid concerns over operators’ ability to monetise 5G (at least initially), this way they share some of the network costs,” she said.

It will be interesting to see if other countries follow this model to speed up 5G rollouts and lower deployment costs.

KT, the second largest mobile operator in South Korea, announced in late March it plans to start commercial 5G service in March 2019, which will make it one of the first operators in the world to launch the next-generation mobile technology.