updated 09:05 am EST, Wed December 10, 2008
Korea to Lift WIPI
The South Korean government today said it would remove a legal requirement that has restricted the use of foreign phones in the country. Called the Wireless Internet Platform for Interoperability (WIPI), the standard for data access was meant to create a common, simple platform for mobile software and websites but is now being lifted after the Korea Communications Commission determined that the rule artificially limited competition and boosted prices. A full 90 percent of cellphones in South Korea are made by either LG or Samsung and so effectively lets either company dictate features and pricing.
Removing the restrictions is considered crucial to the expansion of the smartphone market in the territory and is believed prompted by equal pressure to bring both Apple's iPhone and Research in Motion's BlackBerry series into the country. Under WIPI limits, both handset ranges are banned from use as they don't conform to the standard and would require the creation of intermediary software to ensure that they meet the guidelines. Both would require third-party code and would particularly raise objections from Apple, which has often resisted pressure to introduce custom code for the iPhone's release in different countries.
It should also remove roaming restrictions that limited some phones, including many BlackBerries, to regular use. Some devices have received special exemptions due to necessity.
The removal of WIPI is scheduled to take effect in April and effectively clears a path to the introduction of at least the iPhone in the country. Local carrier KTF has publicly expressed interest in carrying the iPhone as soon as the restrictions were removed but has had little control over when this could take place. The new timing makes it unclear whether South Korea would receive the iPhone 3G or else a sequel device.