South Korea to add fourth mobile operator

The South Korean government has decided having just three mobile operators doesn’t create enough competition, so it will select a fourth within the next year.

According to the Ovum WCIS, SKT is the clear market leader with a 49% share of South Korean mobile subscribers. KT is second with 31% and LG U+ has 20% with no MVNOs. These shares have been pretty much static, indicating a lack of dynamism in the market.

The Korea Herald reports that the Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning included the fourth operator objective in a bill reviewing the country’s mobile networks in general. It expects the move to lower prices for consumers.

Among the specific measures proposed to facilitate this move are prioritized frequency allocation and relaxed coverage conditions, but the selection process is expected to be very rigorous, to maximise the chances of success.

Other measures in the bill include incentives for operators to offer more low-price service plans and a relaxation of the approval process for new service plans. The plans are currently in a public consultation phase, which will conclude next month.

Opinion is divided on the optimal number of MNOs for a given market, but four is often considered ideal. France decided that a few years ago when it allowed the creation of Free Mobile, but then seemed to regret the move when the three incumbents complained about making less money. Consolidation in many Western markets such as the UK may result in there being just three MNOs, but unlike Korea they also feature a number of MVNOs too.

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