Mobile phones in South Korea

Mobile phones are quite pervasive in South Korea. OK, being on the move and still be able to phone others or be phoned is the first principle of having a mobile. Or is it? Well, using the mobile phone in South Korea goes well beyond phoning home. Korean mobiles are all capable of accessing the Internet. The mobile (Samsung SPH-W8350) I bought for my stay can navigate all sites without a problem. And it’s very flashy, a thing Koreans like a lot, given their extensive use of flashy neon displays in the streets. The only problem with this phone is flash video, but even the IPhone has a problem with flash video. Furthermore it has many features a smart phone would be proud off.

The price of 80,000 Won combined with a subscription of 20,000 Won per month shows this is a very reasonable price. That is, compared to the Netherlands. They, my students at Yeungnam University,  however mentioned this is an expensive one. So, I should switch to another provider after three months. What? OK, so the phone and the subscription are quite cheap, and I can switch after three months already? In the Netherlands, when you take a combination offer of a mobile phone and a subscription you need to stay at least 12 to 24 months. A few reasons these phones and subscriptions are that cheap probably have to do with the enormous market and fierce competition. This means that the profit can be relatively low. Furthermore, a few of the largest producers of mobile phones are Korean, such as Samsung and LG. As such import taxes don’t apply for the home market.

OK, prices aside, phones are also used for payments. Phones with a special T-money card can be (re)charged at charge stations. Swiping the phone near a receiver deducts money from the card and ergo you’ve paid. You can also pay with T-money cards, but that’s not as sexy as a paying with your mobile.

Korean phones are quite distinctive when you see them. Not so much by their shape, but by the fact that there’s always something attached to it, dangling on a string. This may be various things. The most common attachment is an adapter to charge you phone with. Also attached are miniature T-money cards.

Another use of the mobile phone is using it to tell the time: ask a Korean what time it is and chances are high that s/he will pick up his/her phone to tell the time.

One thing that bothers me a lot though, is the enormous amount of spam I receive on my phone: at least 10 spam messages. I’d hope that some regulatory organization in South Korea would be as tough as the OPTA in the Netherlands who fines spammers up to 250,000 Euro.

As for smart phones, what struck me a couple of weeks ago was that the IPhone was not for sale in South Korea. Apparently, the telecom providers were very apprehensie to introduce it, because the IPhone’s Wifi connectivity could jeopardize there earnings.  With wifi, smart phones can easily use Skype as an alternative. Recently, however, the telecom providers decided to start selling the IPhone in Korea, two and a half years after its introduction. Talking about late adopters.

PS apparently the phone will costs 280 Euro’s in the Netherlands, according to the Dutch website.

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Maurice Vergeer

I am Maurice Vergeer, working at Communication Science department of the Radboud University Nijmegen, in the Netherlands.