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(LEAD) Gov't to unveil possible 4th mobile carrier next week

All News 10:33 January 22, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 6-11, 13)

SEOUL, Jan. 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's ICT ministry said Friday it will determine whether to license the country's fourth mobile carrier next week after months of deliberation on candidates.

The three candidates passed an initial government assessment in November in line with the ministry's plan to inject more competition into the market, which is currently dominated by only three -- SK Telecom Co., KT Corp. and LG Uplus Corp.

The Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, which oversees the country's communications policy, said it has established a special team of 16 experts that will assess the candidates' service, financial and technology capabilities, along with their plans to protect users' privacy.

The three candidates are Sejong Telecom Co., K Mobile and Quantum Mobile.

Korea Mobile Internet (KMI), which has been rejected six times by the government, did not hand in another application, along with Internet Space Time, whose two previous bids have also failed.

The South Korean government first rolled out the plan in 2010, but the previous six biddings ended up in vain as applicants mostly failed to meet requirements, especially in terms of finances.

The last application from KMI was also turned down by the government in July 2014, which cited an unclear funding plan.

Accordingly, industry watchers said the candidates' financial health will play a crucial role in the latest evaluation procedures.

Sejong Telecom Co. is currently a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), which borrows networks from existing mobile carriers. The fourth mobile carrier compares to MVNOs as it operates its own networks.

K Mobile was established by officials who separated from KMI.

The Quantum Mobile consortium is joined by Solid Inc., which also took over South Korea's No. 3 smartphone maker Pantech Co. through a separate consortium.

The ministry said it will not select a new carrier if the three candidates turn out to be ineligible.

The official operation of the fourth mobile carrier is scheduled to start in 2017, if the government chooses a successful single candidate.

Representatives of the three candidates will also go through hearing procedures, although they will not be able to meet judges face-to-face due to transparency concerns.

SK Telecom currently dominates around 50 percent of South Korea's mobile network market, followed by KT with around 30 percent and LG Uplus with 20 percent.

Public demand for a fourth carrier has been escalating over the previous years with more users seeking budget subscription plans.

colin@yna.co.kr
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