Apple is close to signing iPhone deals with a pair of major Asian mobile carriers, according to reports out of Korea late last week.
NTT DoCoMo Inc. — Japan’s leading mobile servicer provider — and Korea Telecom Freetel were linked to Apple in a Friday story by the Telecoms Korea wire service (subscription required) , said Fortune.com Tuesday.
Read more about the iPhone at Macworld.com.
DoCoMo had reportedly talked with Apple about signing up as an iPhone seller as long ago as December 2007, when analysts, including Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray & Co., bet that the rumors were on target. “We would say Japan is 90% likely [to have the iPhone] by the end of 2008,” Munster said at the time.
Officially, Apple has only said it would introduce the iPhone to Asia this year, but it has not specified countries or launch dates. Unofficially, it’s clear from recent carrier announcements that at least two Asian markets — Singapore and the Philippines — will be open to the iPhone before the end of the year.
DoCoMo boasts about 53 million mobile subscribers, of which 44.4 million use its 3G-based network; Korea Telecom Freetel has approximately 12 million subscribers.
The Japanese carrier’s heavy reliance on 3G may play an important part in proving the reports true, since many analysts expect Apple to introduce one or more 3G-based iPhones next month, at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). CEO Steve Jobs will kick off WWDC the morning of June 9 with a keynote address, and is expected to use the stage to introduce the new smart phones, say analysts.