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Analysis: South Korea’s high-speed 5G mobile revolution gives way to evolution

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© Reuters. Engineers set up a 5G base station in Seoul, South Korea, May 31, 2019, in this handout picture provided by SK Telecom. Picture taken May 31, 2019. SK Telecom/Handout via REUTERS/Files

By Byungwook Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea was the first country to launch a fifth-generation mobile network in 2019, heralding a warp-speed technological transformation to self-driving cars and smart cities.

Three years on, the giddy promises are unfulfilled.

Some 45% of the country’s people are now on 5G, one of the highest rates globally, after some $20 billion in spending on network upgrades that have boosted connection speeds five-fold. But telecommunications companies have not been willing to invest in the fancier technology that would ramp speeds by 20 times over 4G technology.

That is because the demand is not there yet. App makers have not brought to mass market services like autonomous driving that would require more firepower. Customers can watch Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) and surf the net well enough with existing 5G technology.

Telcos have adapted by diversifying. To make the quantum leap to the highest-speed 5G will require the roll-out of essential services that need such fast connections.

“When households begin to have robots at their homes, for instance, telcos would then start ramping up infrastructure investments, so the highest-speed 5G will be partially available around 2025,” said Kim Hyun-yong, an analyst at Hyundai Motor Securities.

The lesson for other countries racing toward 5G may be: curb your enthusiasm. The new technology holds great promise, but for now there will still be as much evolution as revolution in the high-speed internet future.

In April 2019, South Korea’s three mobile carriers – with a PR campaign featuring K-pop stars and an Olympic gold medallist – as well as Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) of the United States – rushed their commercial 5G launches ahead of schedule, all keen to claim first spot in the high-profile wireless technology.

Asia’s fourth-biggest economy has remained the 5G pioneer, but the hype had begun to fade even before COVID-19 slammed demand for 5G devices. Companies have baulked at investing the estimated $370 billion needed to set up the fastest 5G, and revenue growth has stalled.

“Rolling out 5G that is 20 times faster is nearly impossible, even in Seoul,” said Ku Hyun-mo, CEO of South Korea’s top telecoms operator, KT (NYSE:KT) Corp.

“Establishing nationwide coverage just can’t be done – 5G frequency travels straight and it can’t go around obstacles,” Ku told Reuters. “It can’t deliver the same speed once it travels a few hundred metres.”

The fastest version, using ultra-shortwave in a high-band spectrum called millimetre wave (mmWave), would require 15 to 20 base stations per square kilometre (40-50 per square mile), compared with just two to five for 4G, according to a McKinsey report.

NO KILLER APP

South Korean telcos have built around 215,000 5G base stations, but only 2% of them can handle mmWave. Other countries that have introduced 5G, such as the United States and China, also largely rely on the slower mid-band spectrum.

As of March, South Korea had 22.9 million 5G subscribers, just under half the number of its 4G users. By contrast, when 4G celebrated its third birthday, its users had more than doubled those of its predecessor.

“When 4G was first rolled out in 2011, data demand exploded to watch YouTube and Netflix, and users aggressively switched to 4G,” said analyst Kim. Now, though, “telcos currently lack a killer service that can generate heavier data demand” that would justify paying up for 5G he said.

In the first two to three years of 4G, carriers’ average revenue per user (ARPU) climbed 5% to 12% annually. By contrast, KT’s ARPU rose 3.7% in the first quarter from a year earlier, while that of SK Telecom Co edged up 0.6% and third-ranked LG Uplus Corp saw a 4.2 decline.

“If telcos stick with the current connectivity business, they will plateau,” said KT’s Ku.

Mobile carriers are increasingly turning their eyes to new businesses. KT is developing artificial intelligence to power call centres, hoping that business will double this year, while SK Telecom has seen a jump in revenues for cloud services and data centres.

Diversification is paying off with investors so far. SK Telecom and KT shares have risen some 26% since 5G rolled out, beating the broader market’s 18% rise even as ARPU growth slowed.

“From 3G to 4G, data demand increased exponentially. But at the moment, data demand is growing linearly,” said Hyundai’s Kim. “Mid-band 5G would facilitate the popularisation of 5G and serve as a bridge to the next step.”

($1 = 1,275.6400 won)

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Tedros re-elected as head of World Health Organization

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addresses the 75th World Health Assembly at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, May 22, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

GENEVA (Reuters) -The World Health Organization’s (WHO) members re-elected Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as Director General by a strong majority for another five years, the president of the World Health Assembly said on Tuesday.

The vote by secret ballot, announced by Ahmed Robleh Abdilleh from Djibouti at a major annual meeting, was seen as a formality since Tedros was the only candidate running.

Ministers and delegates took turns to shake hands and hug Tedros, a former health minister from Ethiopia, who has steered the UN agency through a turbulent period dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The president had to use a gavel several times to interrupt the applause.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach tweeted on Tuesday: “Just re-elected as ⁦Director General of #WHO: @DrTedros⁩. 155/160 votes, spectacular result. Congratulations, fully deserved. Germany recently overtook the United States as the UN health agency’s top donor.

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U.S. Senate candidate sues over mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania midterms primary

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Republican Party U.S. Senate candidate David McCormick speaks to reporters after voting in the primary election at a polling station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. May 17, 2022. REUTERS/Quinn Glabicki/File Photo

2/2

(Reuters) – Republican U.S. Senate candidate David McCormick (NYSE:MKC) has filed a lawsuit in a Pennsylvania court to compel counties to count undated mail-in ballots in his primary race against TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, whom he trails by less than 1,000 votes.

The race between McCormick, a former hedge fund executive, and Oz, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, for the Republican party nomination is close enough to trigger an automatic recount under Pennsylvania state law.

While McCormick is slightly behind Oz after the May 17 vote, he is well ahead of his opponent in absentee ballots, according to polling firm Edison Research. McCormick has received 45,794 mail-in votes, compared with Oz, who has 32,944.

In a statement, McCormick’s campaign said it sued on Monday in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court “to compel the counties to follow the Republican-leaning (Third Circuit Court) order from last week stating that undated ballots returned on time be counted.”

The statement added that the ballots “are postmarked upon arrival to county boards of elections and, therefore, already dated and proven to be timely.”

It was not clear how many mail-in ballots lack a handwritten date, and whether counting them could help McCormick or make a recount less likely. State election officials expect to know this week whether a recount will be needed.

Pennsylvania’s Department of State, which oversees elections, said it agreed that undated ballots must be counted in the May 17 race, but advised they be “segregated” and “appropriately logged pending litigation.”

“A determination on whether the segregated tabulations will be used in certifying elections has not yet been made, given the ongoing litigation,” it said.

The Pennsylvania Republican Party said on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) that they “absolutely object to the counting of mail-in ballots. Pennsylvania law and our courts have been very clear that undated ballots are not to be counted.”

In a statement on Twitter, Oz called McCormick’s lawsuit “a tactic that could have long-term harmful consequences for elections in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

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Does the Commonwealth have a future after Queen Elizabeth?

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Queen Elizabeth leaves after watching the Royal Windsor Horse Show Platinum Jubilee Celebration at Windsor Castle, in Windsor Britain, May 15, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

By Sarah Mills

LONDON (Reuters) – As Queen Elizabeth celebrates her 70th year on the throne, there are questions about whether the Commonwealth of Nations, which she was instrumental in creating and remains one of her proudest achievements, has a future when her reign is over.

The Commonwealth evolved out of the British empire, and Elizabeth became its head in 1952 when she became queen, three years after the London Declaration formally created the voluntary association in its current form.

Now it is one of world’s biggest international organisations, made up of 54 countries, almost all of which were former colonies of the United Kingdom, covering some 2.5 billion people or about one third of the world’s population.

The 96-year-old queen has always been at its heart, but there are suggestions it has already become outdated and irrelevant.

“I think perhaps the Commonwealth has historically run its course,” said Philip Murphy, professor of British and Commonwealth History at the University of London. “And what you’re really seeing now is the ghost of an organisation.”

Commonwealth members range from wealthy nations such as Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada – who still all have the queen as their head of state – to populous India, as well as tiny Pacific republics such as Nauru.

Supporters say it provides a network to foster international cooperation and trade links, with a focus on promoting democracy and development, and addressing issues such as climate change.

So when Barbados cut its ties with the British monarchy last year when the Caribbean nation became a republic, it was keen to remain part of the Commonwealth.

“The Commonwealth is beneficial to many Caribbean nations as well as many African nations and it links us into countries like Australia and New Zealand and Canada,” said Barbados-based David Denny, general secretary for the Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration, a non-government organisation.

The organisation was regarded as playing a significant role in helping to end apartheid in South Africa, and Murphy says it has uses for smaller, less powerful members. But he remains unconvinced of its wider benefit.

“The Commonwealth talks about the importance of promoting democracy, tackling climate change, tackling gender inequality,” he told Reuters. “But the Commonwealth isn’t necessarily a logical framework internationally in which to deal with any of those problems.”

Where the organisation could have a role, Murphy says, is in dealing with the legacy of the British empire and colonialism, with a new purpose of dealing with issues such as reparation and restitution.

‘MASSACRED’

“We were massacred and killed for the economic development of Britain,” Denny said.

“The nation states within the Commonwealth should demand reparation for that sufferation from the royal family, from the British government, all of the British companies that would have benefited from slavery and the exploitation of our African people throughout the Commonwealth nation states.”

Another question the organisation will have to address is who will lead it, with Denny arguing it should not be the British royals, despite Commonwealth leaders agreeing in 2018 that Elizabeth’s son and heir Prince Charles should be her successor although the role is not hereditary.

Charles’s eldest son Prince William, after a difficult tour of the Caribbean nations earlier this year when he faced protests, calls for reparations and an apology for slavery, suggested he might not get the job.

“Who the Commonwealth chooses to lead its family in the future isn’t what is on my mind,” said William. “What matters to us is the potential the Commonwealth family has to create a better future for the people who form it, and our commitment to serve and support as best we can.”

However, in the meantime, there is no question of the importance of the organisation to its current head.

“Today, it is rewarding to observe a modern, vibrant and connected Commonwealth that combines a wealth of history and tradition with the great social, cultural and technological advances of our time,” Queen Elizabeth said in her annual message to the Commonwealth in March.

“That the Commonwealth stands ever taller is a credit to all who have been involved.”

Murphy said he suspected it would survive, but with even less attention that it attracts now.

“I think it will stagger on,” he said. “I don’t see the will to draw a line under it, and I don’t see who would really have the authority to do that. I think the danger is that it will just gradually become less influential, less important and less interesting to its citizens.”

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