Update: November 3, 2008
Nov 3, 2008
By Kim Tong-hyung
But with the government now moving quicker to scrap the software standards that kept foreign handset makers at bay, a result of pressure from U.S. trade authorities, an iPhone for Christmas now sounds slightly better than a pipedream.
According to industry sources, KTF, the country’s second-largest mobile-phone carrier, hasn’t given up on the idea of releasing the iPhone 3G, the latest version of Apple’s immensely popular phone, within the month of December yet.
The company sees Dec. 1 as an ideal launching date, a source said. However, making the target date is considered an extreme long shot. The timing of the iPhone’s release depends on how fast the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) lays its verdict on the future of “WIPI” (wireless platform for interoperability), the domestic software standard required for any handset with mobile data capability.
Departing from its earlier stance that called for “extensive discussions,” officials at KCC, the country’s broadcasting and telecommunications regulator, is now saying that a conclusion could be reached by the end of the year.
“A decision could be soon, and it wouldn’t go past early next year at the latest,” said an official from KCC’s policy bureau.
In a National Assembly audit last month, KCC chairman Choi See-joong told lawmakers that the regulatory body was leaning toward lifting the WIPI requirement, although citing the need for further discussions due to the complicated web of interests entangling wireless operators and electronics makers.
And in a regular trade meeting between Korea and the U.S. last week, U.S. authorities raised concerns that the WIPI requirement is effectively acting as a trade barrier.
A KTF official refused to confirm whether the company has set a goal for a December launch, saying there was “nothing to report” at the moment. He did say, however, that things are expected to move fast once the uncertainty over WIPI is cleared.
“There is no need for us to call it impossible, but releasing iPhone within December would indeed by a huge challenge,” said the official, who refused to comment on whether the company had finalized its pricing agreement of Apple or whether they have put the iPhone 3G handsets through network interoperability tests.
“Unlike Nokia or other foreign handset makers, Apple has no intensions of releasing a WIPI-enabled handset,” he said.
In a recent conference call, KTF chief financial officer Cho Hwa-jun confirmed the company’s commitment to bring in the iPhone and other high-end phones from foreign electronics makers to diversify its handset lineup and increase sales from mobile data services.
KTF’s cut-throat competition with industry leader SK Telecom over third-generation (3G) customers is also adding to the company’s urgency to provide the iPhone.
SK Telecom has currently released “smart-phone” models, including a touch-screen phone by Taiwanese maker, HTC, which was released in July this year.
The country’s biggest wireless carrier will also released the Samsung Electronics’ highly anticipated Omnia handset in mid-November and another Blackberry handset, produced by Canada’s Research in Motion (RIM) by the end of the year.
By Kim Tong-hyung, Staff Reporter
Apple’s iPhone is a gizmo just about everybody wants to get their hands on. However, in Korea, the world’s mobile-phone capital, the iconic handsets are likely to be crossed off from Christmas gift lists.
KTF, the country’s second-largest wireless carrier, has been negotiating with
Apple over adding the iPhone 3G, the latest version of the immensely popular smart phone, to its handset lineup, and had hoped for a domestic release around the high-demand winter season.
However, with state regulators slow to lift the software requirements that prevented foreign handset makers from gaining ground here, Koreans aren’t likely to get a taste of the iPhone craze at least until next year.
“For now, there is no agreement of any kind between KTF and Apple over the release of iPhones,” said a KTF official, denying rumors that a deal had been reached.
“Even after a deal is inked, the network interoperability tests will take about two or three months and there is also the process of enabling KTF’s existing mobile-phone applications to work on iPhones. It would be virtually impossible to release the handsets earlier than early next year,” he said.
Foreign electronics makers have been effectively blocked out of the Korean mobile-phone market. The barrier has been “WIPI,” or “Wireless Internet Platform for Interoperability,” a software standard the government mandated in 2005 for all handsets designed to deliver mobile data services.
Most foreign companies were reluctant to produced WIPI handsets just for the Korean handset market that is only worth about 20 million units per year.
As a result, top Korean makers like Samsung and LG combine for nearly 90 percent of the domestic market, with Motorola and Casio managing a modest following for their WIPI-enabled handsets.
However, the Korean Communications Commission (KCC), the country’s broadcasting and telecommunications regulator, have been facing increasing pressure to scrap the WIPI requirement and recently said it will reconsider the policy.
Consumers have been complaining that the regulations have restricted their choices, while wireless carriers KTF and SK Telecom, the No.1 mobile-phone operators, would prefer widening their handsets lineup to differentiate offerings.
This allowed Taiwanese maker HTC to release their “Touch Dual” handset through SK Telecom in July. SK Telecom is also planning to release a Nokia handset next month.
However, it would certainly be a joke to identify iPhone, right now the hippest gadget on Earth, as a smart phone for tie-wearing corporate customers.
“We can’t make exceptions for foreign handset makers forever,” said a KCC official. However, he also said that the WIPI issue is not one of the scheduled subjects to be discussed in the KCC’s executive meetings this month.
“The scrapping of the WIPI requirements is too big of a decision to make a quick judgment. It will definitely take more than one meeting,” he said.
KTF, which is competing toe-to-toe against SK Telecom for third-generation (3G) customers, hopes that iPhone could serve as the franchise player that gives them an edge in the handset match up.
However, LG Telecom, the smallest of all carriers, wants the WIPI requirements to stay. Unlike the WCDMA technology used for the 3G services of SK Telecom and KTF, LG Telecom is one of the few global carriers that rely on EV-DO Revision (A), an evolved version of second-generation (2G) CDMA technology, to handle mobile data services, which puts them out of the consideration for foreign handset makers.
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