SEOUL, Jan. 2 (Korea Bizwire) — The number of South Koreans who switched their mobile carriers reached a 13-year low in 2018 due to weaker subsidy competition, industry data showed Wednesday.
The country’s three mobile carriers — SK Telecom Co., KT Corp. and LG Uplus Corp. — and budget carriers posted a combined 5.67 million in so-called number portability last year, according to the data by the Korea Telecommunications Operators Association (KTOA).
The tally was down 19.3 percent from the previous year and the lowest level since 2005.
The figure translates into around 472,000 mobile telephone users changing from one mobile network to another a month while retaining their mobile telephone numbers.
It marks the first time since 2005 that the monthly number portability has dropped below the 500,000 mark.
Industry leader SK Telecom registered 1.91 million number transfers in 2018, down 22.5 percent from a year earlier. The number for No. 2 carrier KT also plunged 20.6 percent to 1.39 million, with that for LG Uplus sinking 19.8 percent to 1.36 million.
About 1 million customers of budget mobile carriers switched their numbers last year, down 9.2 percent from the prior year.
Those “thrift phone operators” refer to mobile virtual network operators that rent networks from SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus to provide cheaper services.
Industry watchers attributed the drop in mobile number portability mainly to weaker industry competition over the use of subsidies to attract customers.
“The level of mobile number portability rides much on the amount of subsidies,” an industry source said. “The number has been on the decrease since early 2018 due to tougher regulations.”
In January last year, the Korea Communications Commission slapped hefty penalties on the three mobile carriers for providing illegal subsidies.