Major South Korean mobile operators were penalised for failing to reach a mandated base station deployment target in the 28GHz band, with KT and LG Uplus having their licences revoked, the government revealed.

The Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) explained in a statement it cancelled the five-year spectrum licences of KT and LG Uplus as they failed to reach the minimum requirement, with both deploying less than 10 per cent of the target.

SK Telecom (SKT), which achieved a slightly higher rate of more than 10 per cent, had the validity period cut by six months to 31 May 2023.

MSIT warned SKT if it doesn’t step up the deployment, its mmWave assignment would be cancelled.

The operators were each required to install 15,000 base stations in the 28GHz network within three years, starting when the spectrum licences were awarded.

Industry analysts noted operators have been slow to rollout 5G service on the 28GHz band since device makers haven’t launched compatible handsets in Korea, unlike the 3.5GHz band which has a more mature ecosystem.

The ministry said inspections showed the three met the allocation target of 22,500 base stations in the 3.5GHz band, which carries ten-year licences.

South Korea raised KRW3.6 trillion ($2.5 billion) in 2018 in one of the world’s first 5G auctions, with the three mobile operators acquiring spectrum in the 3.5GHz and 28GHz bands.