By Kim Yoo-chul
SK Telecom and Apple are expected to unveil an LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) phone in the coming months.
The news came a few days after its biggest rival Samsung Electronics introduced its LTE-A phone last Thursday. LTE-A is an upgraded version of LTE (long-term evolution), which is a standard for wireless communication of high-speed data for handsets.
"SK Telecom is approaching Apple to put our LTE-A technology on the upcoming iPhone 5S. We are in the middle of negotiations," said an SK Telecom executive, requesting anonymity.
The Samsung Electronics' Galaxy S4 LTE-A is the first device to take advantage of SK Telecom's new technology for faster data transmission speeds.
The SK Group affiliate said it plans to have as many as seven LTE-A devices available by the end of the year. LTE-A enables customers to use the next iPhone to download data at a speed of 150Mbps, twice as fast as its predecessor.
Because Korea has recently seen a huge demand for devices supporting high-speed networks, Apple intends to use Korea as the litmus test to gauge the marketability of LTE-A technology before making inroads into China, according to industry sources.
LTE-A has been the main focus of competition in the local tech industry in recent months with major carriers looking into the technology with KT and LG Uplus all set to launch an LTE-A service.
"There's no reason for Apple not to use the LTE-A technology," said the SK executive.
No big technological barriers are expected as U.S.-based telecom giant Qualcomm has already enabled the Samsung LTE-A smartphone with its Snapdragon 800 processor.
Since last year, Apple has been selling the iPhone 5 that backs up the so-called "multi-carrier telecom technology." The technology offers the same telecom service by combining two different radio channels into one.
But, LTE-A has a feature of LTE carrier aggregation (CA) allowing mobile operators to combine radio channels within and across bands to increase network speeds.
While current LTE mobile devices support several LTE radio channels, they can only download on one channel at a time. CA allows simultaneous download on two or more LTE radio channels.
"Thanks to the Qualcomm technology, Apple can release i-devices globally without the time gap. This is a win-win strategy. With the help of Apple, SK Telecom can take a lead in the race for LTE-A devices and Apple can seek breakthroughs in its stalling phone business," said a source at the telecom company, asking not to be named.