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SKT to break KT’s iPhone monopoly

SK Telecom will begin selling Apple Inc.’s iPhone on March 16, it announced Sunday, ending the exclusive distribution here by its rival KT Corp.

The country’s largest mobile carrier said it will take pre-orders starting Wednesday at its T World branches and online.

“We at SK Telecom are glad that we can introduce the iPhone 4 through Korea’s best network,” said Seo Jin-woo, chief of SK’s platform business division. “Customers will be able to enjoy more plentiful benefits through iPhone-customized plans and higher quality service (than KT’s).”

SK, which controls around half of the country’s wireless market, has been striving to stay ahead of the smartphone competition since KT launched the hugely popular iPhone in Nov. 2009.

SK has been providing Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy S and other gadgets powered by Google Inc.’s Android platform.

KT has registered more than 2 million iPhone users as of January with 1.03 million units of the iPhone 4 and 977,000 units of the iPhone 3GS, the firm said.

SK’s launch comes as part of a string of Apple’s early breakups with exclusive distributors in an effort to defend its share in major markets. 
Models look at Apple Inc.’s iPhone 4 at SK Telecom’s T World store in Seoul on Sunday. (SK Telecom)
Models look at Apple Inc.’s iPhone 4 at SK Telecom’s T World store in Seoul on Sunday. (SK Telecom)

Last year, the California-based tech giant terminated a five-year contract with long-time partner AT&T Inc. to release iPhones through Verizon Wireless in the U.S.

It also broke a two-year exclusive agreement with the U.K.’s O2 in late 2009 and began working with T-Mobile and Orange.

“Over the past year we have moved a number of markets from exclusive to non-exclusive,” Apple’s chief operating officer Tim Cook told investors last year. “In each case as we have done that we have seen our unit growth accelerate and our market share improve.”

In Korea, network coverage and customer service will determine the winner of the smartphone race, industry watchers said, given that both SK and KT are back to square one with the same market-blowers like the iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy series.

The two telecom operators are working to launch the fourth-generation network to provide faster and easier data service this year.

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)
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