SK Telecom’s 5G Smart Port Highlights Blueprint for How to Build Out Enterprise 5G

M. Rogers

Summary Bullets:

• SKT’s partnership to build out 5G-IoT test beds for Smart Ports in Busan will help the company develop repeatable vertical solutions in a critical industry.

• The move highlights SKT’s leadership in 5G and points to lessons learned around strong investment in network and an intensive focus on developing vertical specific use cases.

On October 14th, 2020, SK Telecom announced a partnership with the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and the Busan Port Terminal Corporation that will see the partners develop a 5G test-bed in Busan for the development, testing, and eventual deployment of Smart Port services. The aim of the project is not only to develop services for the port in Busan, but to develop an industry solution set that can be readily applied to ports across South Korea. SK Telecom has already outlined IoT asset tracking and close circuit video analysis as initial use cases that will be deployed. This is another announcement for SKT around working with industry to develop novel 5G solutions. For example earlier this year SKT partnered with Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power to create a “Smart Plant” solution.

The announcement underscores the efforts made by SK Telecom to become one of the leading 5G operators in the one of the leading 5G markets worldwide. SK Telecom has been aggressive in building out its coverage and speed to ensure that their 5G services deliver significantly better performance than 4G. During 2019 the company invested KRW2.9 trillion (US$2.5 billion) into network CapEx, its highest total since 2012, and as a result has reached nearly 90% population coverage and is averaging over 220Mbps download speed on its standalone network (according to OpenSignal).

However what really sets SKT apart is its focus on developing industry-specific 5G solutions for the enterprise market. From the early days of its 5G network launch back in December 2018, the company was already targeting the manufacturing vertical with its “5G Smart Factory” solution and had a client live at launch. The company has continued to expand its focus on the enterprise market, promising to deploy 28GHz spectrum for even higher speeds to support enterprise use cases by end of 2020. Further SKT is heavily committed to 5G mobile edge compute (MEC) and offers a trial 5G MEC as a service, through its own edge environments at local offices. The company is also working in conjunction with AWS Wavelength/Azure Stack Edge and will soon add Google to its edge and through deployments at customer sites Further the company is particularly invested in delivering edge compute solutions based on vertical industries targeting “Smart Factory”, “Smart Office”, “Smart Store”, and “Smart Hospital” as use cases for 5G edge (MEC). Full commercial launch is expected in end 2020. The company is confident enough in the development of these services that the CEO set a target for overall 5G edge/cloud new business revenue over the next three years at KRW200 billion (US$170 million).

SK Telecom’s approach to 5G should be the model for operators worldwide looking to not only continue growth in existing mobile services but also drive new revenue streams from 5G networks. SKT invested heavily in network CapEx to ensure that their 5G network achieved coverage, speed and capacity targets rapidly after initial roll-out and the company continues to upgrade network quality. Further, SKT understands the enterprise is the true driver of new 5G revenue streams and has from the outset worked closely with industry and government to test and develop repeatable vertical 5G solutions. Operators worldwide should look to replicate this model in order to deliver value from their 5G investments.

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