updated 08:00 am EDT, Wed September 23, 2009
Korea rules now permit iPhone sales
South Korea's Communications Commission on Wednesday cleared a path for Apple to legally sell the iPhone in the country. The organization said (subscription required) that it would waive a normal rule that requires domestic location software and instead let individual carriers obtain permission for Apple on its behalf. The iPhone's operating system code base and policies on third-party software would previously have prevented the device from arriving in Korea as-is.
The clearance doesn't automatically translate to an official launch and will still require a separate deal. Rumors have repeatedly circulated of a deal with KT, but company spokespeople today only acknowledged that it was still in talks with Apple. SK Telecom has also said it's in talks; LG Telecom is assumed not to be in talks as the iPhone would logically undermine sales of LG's own smartphones.
Apple's clearance represents a further opening of the cellular market in the previously insular country. In December of last year, Korea lifted an earlier software standard, WIPI (Wireless Internet Platform for Interoperability), that forced all phones to adhere to certain guidelines for software; the guideline typically embraced Java code and prevented not only iPhones but also BlackBerries from reaching the country, as their software models realistically prevented these devices from going on sale.
In removing both the location and WIPI requirements, the Communications Commission has primarily sought to open up the historically very closed South Korean cellular market. Although requiring a common platform helped rapidly accelerate adoption of cellphones in the country and has led to quicker access to 3G and live TV tuning than in other countries, the heavy bias towards locally-developed technology has largely handed the market almost exclusively to Korean companies like LG and Samsung and prevented outsiders from offering competition.
The loosening of restrictions also clears one of the last major hurdles for the reach of iPhone into major but sometimes isolated markets. Apple has sold the iPhone in Japan since the launch of the iPhone 3G last year and since followed it with a Russian deal as well as its long-awaited Chinese agreement. The BlackBerry's creator, Research in Motion, has already had a wider reach due largely to its earlier entry into the smartphone industry.