By Kim Yoo-chul
SK Telecom and KT are in talks to offer long-term evolution (LTE) connectivity on Apple’s next handset, tentatively named the iPhone 5, officials from the companies said Wednesday.
The two local telecom companies are authorized Korean partners to sell the American firm’s i-branded devices here. The smallest carrier LG Uplus is unable to sell Apple’s products as it doesn’t own a suitable frequency.
The new iPhone should feature fourth-generation (4G) LTE support, which will put more of a strain on the battery than the current iPhone 4S’s third-generation (3G) capabilities. It’s widely expected that the new smartphone’s arrival will be announced on Sept. 12 and launched on Sept. 21.
``KT is in negotiation with Apple to persuade the latter to support KT’s 1.8-gigahertz frequency in Korea for the upcoming iPhone,’’ said one high-ranked industry source who is familiar with the situation.
The company, which joined the race for LTE-enabled smartphones later rivals SK and LG, is trying to persuade Apple to have its new iPhone support LTE connectivity, according to KT officials.
SK Telecom is also pushing for the same. Officials from the nation’s biggest mobile carrier are currently in Apple headquarters in California to persuade Apple to support SK’s LTE frequency for its local customers.
SK representatives didn’t respond to questions on the matter while Apple spokesman in Korea Steve Park declined to give any updates on the talks.
All existing 3G services are within the 2.1-gigahertz frequency, however, frequencies are different depending on the carrier when it comes to the LTE.
SK is using an 800-megahertz frequency as its main LTE network. Verizon of the United States uses 700-megahertz, while AT&T has both 700-megahertz and 2.1-gigahertz networks.
The negotiations come as the nation’s three carriers are heavily promoting LTE-enabled smartphones and tablets as the 4G telecommunication technology is seeing an impressive uptake, here.
That means Apple is the key either to revitalizing the local LTE market or to slow momentum. ``If Apple’s upcoming iPhone again fails to support LTE bandwidths, then this would be a very disappointing scenario as LTE is everywhere in Korea,’’ said a high-ranking SK Telecom executive.
Apple refused to apply LTE technology for its slightly-modified iPad in Korea, leading it to suffer from a decline in sales.
``KT is eager to narrow the market gap with SK Telecom and even LG Uplus in the fight for LTE-enabled devices. If the talks with Apple produce visible results, then we will rise as the top LTE service provider in Korea,’’ said the industry source.
The number of LTE subscribers in Korea reached 8.4 million by the end of July, boosted by the popularity new smartphones and nationwide coverage. SK Telecom has over 4 million LTE subscribers, KT some 1.4 million, and LG Uplus more than 3 million.
The number of LTE subscribers will surpass 10 million within the third quarter of 2012 if it continues to grow at this pace. By the end of the year, it could even reach 16 million. ``That’s why SK Telecom and KT are waiting for the so-called Apple effect,’’ another industry watcher said.