updated 10:35 am EDT, Mon April 30, 2012
Korea reverses phone policy to derestrict sales
South Korea is about to take further steps that could open up not just overall mobile competition but a possible retail presence for Apple, local publication Maeil said Monday. As of May 1, the country will reverse its whitelist policy for which phones can be sold into a blacklist. Rather than only allowing phones registered through carriers and thus letting them restrict where the devices can be sold, the Korea Communications Commission will now allow any phone and any store, as long as the device wasn't reported lost or stolen. The move will likewise let stores sell phones independently of subscriptions rather than forcing customers to sign up as soon as they get the device.
Regulators were also talking to carriers to make sure customers wouldn't be punished for buying a phone outside of the carrier-blessed channel.
The change will be a reflection of efforts by the KCC begun nearly a year ago to improve competition in a relatively insular market. With just three major carriers, as well as phone manufacturing dominated by LG, Samsung, and to a lesser degree Pantech, customers have had relatively little alternative if a phone wasn't fully sanctioned by a given carrier.
A switch could be key to allowing Apple retail stores. With the iPhone a core of Apple's business strategy, it would face difficulty having to get clear authorization to sell phones, particularly as it would be selling iPhones from both KT and SK Telecom. It would now have an easier time setting up business and could offer iPhones unlocked.
Going without its own stores has created disputes over return policies.