Everyone launches unlimited LTE data in Korea

04 Apr 2014

ITEM: South Korea’s three cellcos have escalated their LTE rivalry with unlimited LTE packages.

According to Korea JoongAng Daily, LG U+ is now offering two plans that include unlimited LTE data, as well as unlimited voice and text messaging. The same day, SK Telecom and KT launched similar unlimited LTE plans.

SK Telecom also launched a “commuter” plan that offers unlimited data specifically during morning and evening commuter times.

All three cellcos are also throwing in various amounts of multimedia content and services, such as HD video, music, navigation and cloud storage.

There is one catch: the “unlimited” part refers to data usage, not speed. Customers still select a data cap – once they exceed it, their connection will be throttled down to sub-HSPA speed levels.

For instance, LG U+ customers who exceed a 2GB data cap will have their connection speed limited to 3 Mbps. SK Telecom customers can sign up for a wider variety of data caps (10GB, 14GB or 16GB), but will also have their connection speed throttled once they exceed them, JoongAng reports.

The new plans announced this week are the latest move by Korean cellcos to offer unlimited data plans, following similar announcements from LG U+ and KT in January this year. (SK Telecom had to await regulatory approval for its own unlimited data plans, as it is classified as the dominant operator by the Korea Communications Commission.)

It’s a remarkable turn of events, considering the mobile sector figured out some time ago that the all-you-can-eat mobile broadband data plans that characterized 3G were unsustainable in a post-iPhone world. The arrival of LTE gave them the chance to price mobile broadband at a premium and based on actual usage – and many took it, including Korean operators. Indeed, these days it’s harder to find 4G operators that offer unlimited LTE than operators that don’t, according to Analysys Mason.

So why are Korean cellcos going the unlimited route for LTE?

According to local media reports, it’s essentially a sales gimmick to attract new customers now that all three cellcos have been hammered by the KCC for illegal handset subsidies (again). After paying record fines and enduring a series of sales bans (which remain in effect), Korean cellcos need another hook besides subsidized handsets to compete.

Evidently unlimited data is it, though for the moment it’s not clear why it makes more economic sense now to offer unlimited data, throttling or no throttling.

Developing …

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