Pocket WiFi in South Korea (대한민국)

Mar 13, 2016

SK Telecom service counter at Busan International Ferry Terminal

Living in the modern, hyper-connected world has made most of us dependent on having 24/7 access to the internet. In the past, while traveling, the norm was to go without internet for long stretches of time. Your hotel might've had internet access or you may have gone to a cafe for a drink and some free wifi. However, there is another cost effective way to have internet access while traveling in many countries: Pocket Wifi Routers. South Korea has the best 4G/LTE coverage of any nation at about 95% on time and some of the fastest speeds, averaging around 17 Mbps[1]. This makes it one of the best countries for staying connected while on vacation.

Prior to leaving on our trip to East Asia we did some research on the pocket wifi companies available. After some digging on Google and and reading through several forums threads, such as this one, I came up with the following five companies offering the service:

SK Telecom: T mifi

Price: 5,000 KRW (~$4.25 USD) per day
Pickup Locations: Incheon, Gimpo, Gimhae, Busan Port, etc. (click here for full list)
Drop off Locations: Incheon, Gimpo, Gimhae, Busan Port, etc. (click here for full list)
Coverage: Nationwide
# of Users: 3
Speed: 100 Mbps, slowing to 200 kbps after the first 1 GB of data each day
Data Cap: Unlimited
Reservation: Online/Phone
Deposit: 100,000-200,000 KRW ($80-170 USD)
Email: callcenter@sk.com

KT Olleh: WiBro

Price: 5,000 KRW (~$4.25 USD) per day
Pickup Locations: Incheon, Gimpo, Gimhae, Busan Port, Jeju
Drop off Locations: Incheon, Gimpo, Gimhae, Busan Port, Jeju
Coverage: Nationwide
# of Users: 3
Speed: Varies with device, generally 4G (~15 Mbps)
Data Cap: Unlimited
Reservation: Online
Deposit: 200,000 KRW (~$170 USD)
Email: question@kt.com

LG U+: LTE Router

Price: 8,000 KRW (~$5.50 USD) per day
Pickup Locations: Incheon, Gimpo, Gimhae
Drop off Locations: Incheon, Gimpo, Gimhae
Coverage: Nationwide
# of Users: 3
Speed: 75 Mbps
Data Cap: Unlimited
Reservation: Email/Phone
Deposit: None
Email: lgrental@lguplus.co.kr

MobilePOP: LTE Router

Price: 5,000 KRW (~$4.25 USD) per day
Pickup Locations: Incheon, Gimpo, Gimhae mailed to your accommodation
Drop off Locations: Incheon, Gimpo, Gimhae
Coverage: Nationwide
# of Users: 5
Speed: 60 Mbps
Data Cap: Unlimited, may slow down after first 500MB of the day
Reservation: Online/Phone
Deposit: None
Email: customer.m.pop@gmail.com

Pocket Wifi Korea

Price: $5.25 USD per day
Pickup Locations: Incheon, mailed to your accommodation
Drop off Locations: Incheon
Coverage: Nationwide
# of Users: 5
Speed: up to 100 Mbps
Data Cap: 1 GB per day
Reservation: Online
Deposit: $50 USD
Email: contact@pocketwifikorea.com

While all the offerings are pretty similar on most aspects there are really only two companies (SK & KT) that offered pickup at Incheon and return at Busan Ferry Terminal. Our travel plans would have us arriving at Incheon International Airport and then departing via ferry from Busan International Ferry Terminal to Japan. After sending emails to both companies with request for pricing and confirming dropoff locations we chose SK as they had a promotion running at the time.

SK Telecom T-mifi with accessories 

When we landed in Korea picking up the router was easy enough as there are good directions for finding the desk on the SK website. With a reservation number in hand I was given the router, shown how to power it on/off and then shown how to connect my phone. Contract signed and deposit paid we were off on the A'REX headed for Seoul.

During our two weeks in Korea we never really had issues with coverage, even in smaller towns such as Jeonju or Suncheon. Reception was great on the train and even on the subway. I can't speak too much to the battery life as we really only turned it on when we needed to message people, use a maps application or read up on some travel destinations. The rest of the time it was powered down, likely due to our skimpy usage we never had the battery run out, although it did get low a couple days. The only issue we had with the router was that once or twice a day the phone would fail to connect and so we had to turn the router off for a couple minutes and power back on. Other than this minor inconvenience we found having a pocket wifi to be a spectacular tool for travelling in South Korea.

Roaming service counters at Busan International Ferry Terminal

Returning the pocket wifi was almost as easy as picking it up. Our only issue was that Busan had just completed a brand spankin' new ferry terminal earlier in the year and no good English information was available online for where the terminal was now located or where the pocket wifi return counter was located inside of the terminal. We did eventually find both without too much difficulty and now you can find the ferry terminal at this Google Map Location. The dropoff/pickup desk is located on the second floor near gate six.

*Pricing, data rate and other details for each service last updated on March 13th, 2016.

[1] https://opensignal.com/reports/2015/02/state-of-lte-q1-2015/

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© Curtis Barnard 2016