South Korea raised KRW3.61 trillion ($3.3 billion) in one of the world’s first 5G auctions, with the country’s three mobile operators acquiring 280MHz of 3.5GHz spectrum and 2,400MHz of airwaves in the 28GHz band.

Despite expected fierce bidding for the highly efficient 3.5GHz spectrum, the final price per 10MHz block was just 13 per cent higher than the reserve price of KRW94.8 billion.

Korea’s largest mobile operator SK Telecom (SKT) and second ranked KT each acquired 100MHz in the 3.5GHz band, the maximum amount allowed per operator, while LG Uplus won 80MHz, the Ministry of Science and ICT said. SKT paid KRW1.22 trillion, KT KRW968 billion and LG Uplus KRW809.5 billion.

A source who spoke with the operators after the auction told Mobile World Live they were reasonably satisfied with the outcome, but complained they weren’t consulted about the reserve prices, which they considered high, particularly since the 3.5GHz licence is valid for only ten years.

In the 28MHz band, all 24 blocks of 100MHz sold for the reserve price of KRW25.9 billion, raising a total of KRW622.3 billion for the government. Each operator won 800MHz in the band.

The Ministry of Science and ICT said South Korea is the first country to simultaneously allocate the middle band (3.5GHz) and ultra-high band (28GHz) for 5G service.

Operators said they plan to launch commercial 5G services in 2019 next year: KT previously detailed a plan to begin in March.