South Korea on Wednesday opened up the floodgates for Apple to sell its iPhone within its borders, which could threaten to derail its domestic cell phone market.
Until now, Apple iPhone sales were illegal in South Korea, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of residents -- 93 percent of a 48.6 million -- subscribe to mobile phone services. Korean law also has placed severe restrictions on location-based applications, such as Google Maps, used by the Apple iPhone and Research In Motion's BlackBerry, further preventing those devices from being sold in the country.
Analysts say that until recently, the Korean ban on the iPhone and the RIM BlackBerry spurred the growth of Korea's own cell phone industry. Two of the world's largest cell phone makers -- Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics -- are the second and third largest cell phone manufacturers in the world, after Nokia, offering smartphones with touch screens similar to the iPhone. However, sales have been stunted by high prices and lack of Korean language applications, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The Korean Communications Commission made the exception to its law, paving the way for Apple to initiate iPhone sales. The communications commission had already voted in December to allow the RIM BlackBerry to be sold within the country's borders.
The start date for iPhone's emergence in the South Korean market still remains to be determined.
Industry analysts contend that lifting the iPhone ban will increase competition among cell phone vendors and spur technological innovation, as well as make widely used smartphone applications available to Korean citizens, further connecting them to the globalized world.
So far, KT, Korea's second largest mobile provider, is vying for the exclusive rights to sell iPhone and hopes to have the device on the market before the end of the year.
Korea's largest carrier, SK Telecom, which is the exclusive carrier for the BlackBerry, said that it planned to wait and see how other carriers handle the iPhone, according to The Wall Street Journal. Apple's emergence in the South Korean cell phone market comes a month after the Apple iPhone entered the Chinese market, on the condition that Apple disable the iPhone's Internet services.