By Kim Tong-hyung
In all likelihood, the domestic debut of the iPhone, the hottest selling gadget at the moment, will be delayed to 2009 or later.
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.