Ha Sung-min, president of
SK Telecom’s mobile network unit
By Kim Yoo-chul
SK Telecom plans to tackle over Apple's iPhone in the domestic market by heavily betting on handsets that run on open-based Google's Android operating system, a company executive said.
The nation's top mobile carrier, which has been suffering from a falling local market share due to an impressive iPhone sales since late last year, said it will launch 15 new smartphones this year with as many as 13 models running on the Google-powered gadgets.
"SK Telecom will sell over 2 million smartphones in the local market by the end of this year by focusing on models based on Google's Android operating system," Ha Sung-min, president of SK Telecom's mobile network operator unit, said in a press conference held in Seoul, Thursday.
"We will have 25 smartphone line-ups in 2013, or 40 percent of our total handset offerings, mostly equipped with the Google OS," the executive said, adding Android phones have strong competitive edges on Internet-related interfaces than devices with other operating system(s) including iPhones.
"It's clear that SK Telecom will drive Android phones as consumers have greater preferences for phones providing a high accessibility toward Web-surfing and other multimedia contents. In that perception, Google's mobile services are qualified," he said.
The remarks seem to be a major blow to SK Telecom's local rival KT, analysts say.
KT, which is an exclusive partner to sell Apple's iPhones, has been in deep talks with the U.S. company to introduce 4G iPhones to South Korea as early as in April, officials say.
Although KT plans to extend it uptrend momentum in the nation's smartphone segment by launching Apple's new models, major handset producers including Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics as well as SK Telecom have been shifting their strategies to Android phones attracted by skyrocketing consumer demand.
KT has been selling over 240,000 iPhones since its debut in the domestic market on Nov. 28.
In the past, SK Telecom had a 50.5 percent share of the local mobile market compared with KT's 31 percent.
"We hope our App Store to grow further as more Android phones mean more contents. Meanwhile, SK Telecom sees a decline of smartphone prices as handset producers are ramping up the production of such pricey gadgets," the executive said.
To revitalize the local wireless Internet market, SK Telecom also plans to construct its own wireless-fidelity network called Wi-Fi in major cities.
Under the strategy, the carrier will begin the works capitalizing on public spaces and its "T-Membership" stores.
SK Telecom has also been set to drive open access point (AP) policy, making it possible to access wireless Internet via its Wi-Fi networks.
This is the first time for SK Telecom to independently build its own Wi-Fi networks. Ha said detailed investment plans will be announced sometime in February.
"SK Telecom has been in difficulties to expand smartphone-related businesses and other telecom services due to the vacancy of our own independent Wi-Fi networks. Now, that's past story," the executive said.
Its local rival KT has its own wireless service known as Nespot with 13,000 numbers across the country, while LG Telecom has currently secured some 2 million AP for Internet phones.
For WiBro-related businesses, SK Telecom will expand the coverage of such services by launching both WCDMA- and WiBro-enabled mobile phones, he said.
"SK Telecom has so far been invested over 800 billion won for WiBro services. We won't give up the business. Rather, we plan to expand WiBro coverage outside metropolitan areas."
KT has already released "Show Omnia"-branded smartphone, which is featured with WCDMA and WiBro functions.
Analysts say competitions are getting fiercer for more stakes in the local WiBro segment after SK Telecom's "WiBro+WCDMA" phone was released.