The South Korean South Korean government said it will remove a regulatory hurdle to the sale of advanced cell phones by outside manufacturers. In 2005 the Korea Communications Commission ruled that cell phones connecting to the Internet in Korea must use domestic software, called Wireless Internet Platform for Interoperability (MIPI), that was supposed to make it easier for local programmers and cellular service companies to offer Web-based services. Since foreign cell phone makers didn’t find it worth their while to modify their phones just for Korea, the ruling helped Samsung and LG account for 80% of handset sales in the country. Korea has about 35 million cell cell phone users and sales of 5.1 million phones in Q308.
The WIPI rule will be rescinded as of April, opening up the previously protected Korean to foreign competition. The ruling is the result of a more open regulatory environment following presidential elections earlier this year. But it is also a reward for RIM’s persistence in applying four times since 2006 to gain entrance to the Korean market without using WIPI software; complaint from legions of Road Warriors stepping off planes at the Seoul airport probably didn’t hurt, either.
It may also be karmic justice now that Samsung has passed Motorola to be the second largest cell phone seller in the U.S., Mot now has a chance in Samsung’s own backyard. And Nokia—number one in handset sales internationally, with Samsung being number two—can suddenly compete in Korea, where it has a huge factory but no sales.
Expect the famously hip Korean teenagers to snap up Apple iPhones as quickly as they hit the stores. And expect their workaholic parents to be sneaking peaks at their shiny new Blackberries while the rest of the family watches TV.