Stamps, boxes, thrifty phones

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Stamps, boxes, thrifty phones

Thrifty phones, mobile phones that offer smaller fees for calls, will be sold through postal service offices across the country beginning today, Korea Post said yesterday.

The thrifty phones, called altteul phones in Korean, are provided by small local companies called mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) that use wireless networks borrowed from SK, KT and LG. Users of the phones pay call fees of about 30 percent less than the standard charged by the three commercial service providers.

Since they were introduced in 2010 in response to mounting criticism of expensive telecommunication fees, the thrifty phones have attracted slightly more than 2 million users. But a lack of sales outlets and government promotion has limited their popularity.

Some MVNOs have sold the phones at department stores and discount stores, though most sell online or through television home shopping channels.

Korea Post, under the wing of the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, said it will provide altteul phones with a choice of 18 pricing plans at its 226 branches across the country.

“We expect household telecommunication cost will be substantially lowered,” said Kim Joon-ho, head of Korea Post, in a statement.

There are 27 MVNOs in Korea and six were chosen to sell through Korea Post. Space Net and Merchant Korea borrow wireless networks from LG Uplus; Enex Telecom and Evergreen Mobile from KT; and Eyes Vision and Unicomms from SK Telecom.

Five of the 18 pricing plans are prepaid, with basic fees ranging from zero to 10,000 won ($9.30) and per-second call charges of 1.5 won to 2.3 won.

Basic fees of post-paid plans range from 1,500 won to 55,000 won, with call fees of 1.5 won to 1.8 won per second.

The basic fees are 8,500 won cheaper on average than those charged by the three major mobile operators, and call fees are an average of 10,000 won less per 100 minutes.

Even without subscribing to a multiyear plan, users can save 150,000 won to 430,000 won over two years for the same call time, according to the MVNOs.

There is no subscription fee for altteul phones.

“For the benefit of customers, we have minimized the scope of the [altteul phone] products provided with multiple-year plans,” said an official of Korea Post.

Seventeen kinds of altteul phones, nine of them with 3G or faster connections, will be available at postal service branches.

Some smartphones also can be used with the wireless networks provided by the MVNOs. For instance, iPhone owners can access service from MVNOs that use the networks of SK and KT, but not LG.

Thrifty phones have some shortcomings. For instance, users can’t get a personal confirmation process, which is increasingly a requirement for online banking and purchases.

According to the National Assembly Research Service, many advanced countries provide similar services. In Germany, about 20 percent of all mobile phone users subscribed to phones using the borrowed networks as of 2010. It was 14 percent in the Netherlands and 12 percent in the United Kingdom the same year.

In Korea, it is 4 percent.

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