Cho Young-chu, CEO of KTF
By Cho Jin-seo
KTF is negotiating with Apple to sell the highly popular iPhone in South Korea, its chief executive Cho Young-chu said Thursday.
iPhone is Apple's blockbuster mobile gadget that is a hybrid phone, music player and full Internet browser. It has become hugely popular worldwide since its U.S. launch in June, but there has been no plan announced about sales in Korea and other Asian nations.
``We have been trying to bring the iPhone here, but we have to wait,'' Cho told The Korea Times after attending the iMobicon 2007 conference held at the COEX in Seoul.
He said that the firm is waiting on Apple's decision.
``The deal is up to the supplier, not us. Because the (Korean) market is so small, they will not release it until they have confidence in its marketability here.''
Apple is likely to give exclusive rights to the iPhone to a single Korean firm as it has picked one firm per country. In the United States, AT& T is the sole iPhone provider. Apple also awarded the right to O2 in Britain, Orange in France and T-Mobile in Germany, according to a Financial Times report Wednesday. KTF has been considered the strongest candidate to become Apple's wireless partner in South Korea since the firm is eager to catch up with its stronger rival, SK Telecom.
Apple Korea's spokesperson Park Jung-hoon refused to confirm the talks, saying it is against company policy to comment on ongoing events. He only said Apple is considering selling the iPhone in Asian nations from early next year.
The launch of the iPhone here could change many things in the Korean mobile industry.
The market is almost saturated. And it is driven by a near oligopoly of three telecom companies _ SK Telecom, KTF and LG Telecom _ while handset makers such as Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics are being treated as mere hardware subcontractors. But Apple has reversed the master-and-servant relationship between phone makers and network operators by utilizing its mighty brand power and unique software services such as the iTunes music store.
AT& T is reportedly sharing a portion of its revenue from voice calls and messaging service with Apple, and similar deals were made with the three European mobile firms, according to the Financial Times.
The powerful Internet capability of the iPhone is another issue that has made Korean firms reluctant about introducing it.
It allows users to freely surf the Web via Wi-Fi wireless network that is available in many public and private places such as schools, homes, offices and even Starbucks and McDonald's stores. Such versatility is a minus for telecom firms who force subscribers to use their own mobile Internet services for higher fees. For such a reason, none of them have officially expressed interest in it before Cho did, Thursday.
The telecom firms, however, have been put under growing pressure to change. Complaints have grown among tech-savvy consumers who are bored with the limited handset choices in Korea; even Nokia, the world's largest handset maker, is not selling any of its products in the country. The government is also to open up the telecom market to new firms in order to encourage healthy competitions in the field.
A KTF official said that the iPhone to be sold in Korea will be built on the new WCDMA platform. The iPhone was originally built for the GSM network which is dominant in the United States and Europe. Adopting it to the CDMA or WCDMA platforms has been considered easily achievable.
WCDMA, often dubbed as a third-generation (3G) technology, is capable of communicating with both GSM and CDMA phones. KTF launched the world's first nationwide WCDMA service in Korea in March, and has drawn more than 1.5 million users so far.