KT Brings iPhone to South Korea

South Koreans finally have the chance to purchase Apple's iPhone, available this Saturday from KT, the country's second largest mobile carrier.

After years of anticipation and pent-up demand, Apple's iPhone smartphone is coming to South Korea via network operator KT, with the phones offered in three different models, with a price range of $342 to free, depending on the service plan chosen.

The Wall Street Journal reported usage plans will range from 45,000 won to 95,000 won, or about $40 to $80. KT, the country's second-largest carrier, said it will start taking Internet booking orders soon and begin selling the device on Nov. 28.

Mobile industry analysts are also closely watching the impact the of the iPhone on the South Korean mobile phone market, which is dominated by handset makers Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics. It is estimated that 80 percent of the country's phones come from the two companies. "This is phenomenal," Hwang Sung-jin, who monitors the mobile industry at Prudential Investment & Securities Co. in Seoul, told The Associated Press. "The iPhone's release will definitely stiffen competition for local companies such as Samsung and LG."

Approximately 6.4 million iPhones are active in the United States alone, and data from research firm Gartner showed that Apple's share of worldwide smartphone sales grew from 5.3 percent in the first quarter of 2008 to 10.8 percent in the first quarter of 2009. "A lot of people here, the Korean media, are very critical of iPhone," Chin Wonsuk, a Seoul filmmaker who had previously used an iPhone, told the Journal. "But no one has used it here before. They don't know what it can do."

Apple already has a three-year, nonexclusive agreement to sell iPhones in China through mobile operator China Unicom and is in talks with China Mobile. Despite an underwhelming start (according to a report in Bloomberg, Unicom sold fewer iPhones than anticipated, due to an offering price as high as 7,999 yuan, or $1,172), Unicom Chairman Chang Xiaobing told foreign media in Hong Kong that the company is "very confident" about the market position of the iPhone.

While Chang admitted sales could have been better in the world's largest mobile phone market, he told Bloomberg Television sales are "acceptable" and the company is now focused on subscriber growth. "In some markets where vendors get their marketing right, the iPhone is already the best-selling smartphone," IDC research analyst Aloysius Choong told the news service. "Unicom must lower its prices if it wants to access the mass market for the iPhone."