By Chae Yun-hwan
SEOUL, March 18 (Yonhap) -- Hundreds of 5G smartphone users in South Korea are banding together to take legal action against the country's three major telecom operators -- SK Telecom Co., KT Corp. and LG Uplus Corp. -- for spotty connection and the poor quality of the latest generation network, industry sources said Thursday.
As of Thursday, around 1,000 5G smartphone users have expressed intent to take part in the collective lawsuit to seek at least 1 million won (US$890) in compensation per user from the three mobile carriers over their 5G network quality that fall short of expectations, despite their costlier pay plans, according to Kim Jin-wook, a lawyer at law firm Joowon, which is spearheading the legal action.
Kim argues that 5G network quality is not a discernible improvement from previous 4G LTE networks and has drawbacks, such as limited availability.
The three telecom operators had deployed 166,250 5G base stations as of November last year, which is just 19 percent of the number of 4G base stations, according to industry tracker Opensignal.
South Korea's 5G coverage centers around major urban areas, such as Seoul, with carriers aiming for nationwide coverage by next year.
Carriers also initially advertised 5G download speeds as being 20 times faster than 4G LTE, but a government report last year found that average 5G download speeds were around four times faster than those of 4G.
"Considering that monthly 5G plans are around 50,000 won more expensive than 4G LTE plans, we expect around 1 million won in compensation for users subscribed to two-year plans," said Kim.
He added that the lawsuit will be filed in May after gathering more participants.
The lawsuit comes amid years of user complaints of slower than advertised 5G speeds and low quality.
The Korea National Council of Consumer Organizations, a consumer advocacy group, last October recommended carriers to pay as much as 350,000 won in compensation to users who filed for mediation over mediocre 5G service quality.
The country's high-speed networks have yet to achieve widespread adoption.
As of January, the country had 12.87 million 5G subscriptions, accounting for 18.2 percent of the total 70.69 million mobile network users, according to ICT ministry data.
Telecom operators recently rolled out cheaper 5G plans, aiming for faster user migration from previous generation networks. Subscribers to 4G networks accounted for the majority of total mobile network users at 73 percent in January.