Telecoms Korea news service is reporting that Apple is planning a special joint release of their next gen iPhone in partnership with NTT DoCoMo (Japan) and Korea’s Telecom Freetel (KTF). Presumably there are strategic or technology reasons for coordination between these two Asian Pacific carriers. Both DoCoMo and KTF support the W-CDMA 3G protocol yet that commonality is nothing unique. They do get along well (DoCoMo owns a 10.31% stake in KTF) and have previously formed joint ventures and partnerships. Perhaps the joint iPhone launch is just another such partnership? Quoting Korea Telecom Freetel management, 3G Week reported in December 2007 that NTT DoCoMo and KTF would indeed form an iPhone distribution partnership. TUAW.com also carried an article on this topic EXCERPT: “The South Korean market is small and without a Japanese partnership, Apple may decline to offer the unit in Korea at all.” See > HERE
NTT DoCoMo has 53 million mobile subscribers (44.4 million use its 3G-based network); Korea Telecom Freetel has approximately 12 million subscribers.
There may be other reasons for the two carriers to partner on iPhone …
What do these two nations and carriers have in common that might require a special joint iPhone release? Hard to say … So we are left to do some guesswork. We can start by considering special iPhone features that might be in strong demand in both nations. Would any of these hot features require coordination between the two carriers? Or perhaps a special production run of a next gen iPhone uniquely designed for Japanese and Korean consumers?
Beyond the standard iPhone features, here are few theorized “next gen” iPhone features that might be important to both Japanese and South Korean consumers:
· Mobile TV
· Videophone (audio/visual iChat)
· “Wave-to-Pay” that turns phone into credit card*
Let’s take closer look at that third bullet point … wave-to-pay. Both Japan’s NTT DoCoMo and S Korea’s KTF have implemented their wave-to-pay projects for mobile phones. This could be the one special feature that would require a separate production run of iPhone. The separate assembly would be required in order to embed iPhones with a near-field communications (NFC) device unique to these two markets. I want to emphasize that this is complete conjecture and I would invite those more versed on this topic to lend their opinion.
What is wave-to-pay? By 2012 some 300 million mobile phones will have “wave to pay” technology whereby the handset can be waved over a wireless reader to complete a transaction. The mobile handset simply acts as a wallet and a transaction is charged against the customer’s bank account. Wireless payment technology is already widely used on toll bridges and for public transportation where riders need to move quickly through turnstiles. Several handsets today use a variant of RFID technology for “wave to pay” called near-field communications (NFC). Japan makes wide use of this NFC technology in handsets. Credit card giant Visa has already introduced a ‘payWave’ card that enables small contractless purchases in shops. Several major banks (Barclays, HBOS, HSBC, Lloyds TSB and RBS) have announced plans to incorporate this new technology into their bank cards.