A group of 5G mobile network subscribers in South Korea are pushing for a class action lawsuit against the country’s three telecom companies over the quality of the services.

Calling themselves “Victims of 5G”, the group aims to attract one million individuals to join the action to seek compensation of an amount not immediately known. The suit is to be filed through joint litigation platform called “Angry People”, it said.

“Nationwide establishment of 5G networks is delayed, which is essential for high-speed and high-quality 5G services, and in this we see a significant negligence of duty in the telcos,” the group in a statement, in reference to the nation’s three mobile carriers SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus.

The government has also played a part in this, they claimed.

Authorities were aware of the companies’ failure to provide services that match the price they charge on 5G subscribers, yet it allowed them to put off the rollout plans, they claimed.

In 2018, the Ministry of Science and ICT auctioned 3.5GHz and 28GHz frequency bands off to the three telecom providers. All three launched commercial 5G services using the 3.5GHz frequency, making Korea the world’s first to commercialise business-to-consumer 5G services in April 2019.

The number of 5G subscribers reached 12 million last month, accounting for 17 per cent of all mobile plans, according to data from the ministry.

The 5G subscribers have raised complaints that the average speed of 5G services is far slower than the telecom firms had promoted. They also take issue with the cost of the phone bills, which are about 20,000 won ($17.70) costlier than 4G bills.

In the second half of last year, the average download speed on 5G recorded 690 megabits per second, four times faster than 4G Long Term Evolution. The three mobile carriers had said their 5G services would be up to 20 times faster than 4G services.

Complaints with the service quality had been widely foreseen. Currently, all commercial 5G services in Korea are in “non-standalone” mode, using the 3.5GHz frequency. This means that due to a limited coverage of 5G stations, it automatically switches to 4G, when 5G connections are not reachable.

Some argue that a true 5G network service is only possible through the commercialisation of a stand-alone mode using the 28GHz frequency. But the ministry confirmed last year that the higher frequency will be developed only for business-to-business services, considering technical difficulties in commercialising the frequency.

There is consensus around the world that 28GHz frequency is only suitable for city centres and specific facilities like industrial complexes, according to industry officials.

“Due to its low diffraction, base stations should be built more closely to use the 28GHz band,” explained an official at one of the carriers. “Testing is currently underway, but B2C 5G service using 28GHz is expected to be reconsidered.”

“All three mobile carriers are currently providing 5G coverage maps for customers, which help them know where they can access 5G networks,” said the official. “The carriers are in the process of expanding the 3.5GHz 5G network across the country to provide wider coverage and better quality.”

KT, for example, provides details of its 5G coverage as part of efforts to raise transparency and clarity for its customers.

Across the nation, the company has built over 110,000 base stations for 5G. But about half of the base stations are set in Seoul and Gyeonggi areas.

By the end of this year, all three carriers are required to reach 15 per cent in establishing their nationwide network coverage.