With less than three weeks to go before Steve Jobs’ June 9 keynote address, Apple may be close to a deal that would add two of Asia’s hottest cellphone carriers to its growing list of international partners.
The Telecoms Korea news service reported late last week that Apple AAPL is planning a special joint release of the next-generation iPhone with two carriers whose names are synonymous with 3G: Japan’s NTT DoCoMo and Korea Telecom Freetel. (link, paid subscription).
NTT DoCoMo (DCM), with more than 50 million subscribers, is Japan’s predominant mobile phone carrier. It pioneered so-called third-generation cell phone technology with the 2001 launch of FOMA (Freedom of Mobile Multimedia Access), the world’s first W-CDMA 3G service.
KTF, in which NTT owns a minority stake, adopted DoCoMo’s 3G technology in 2004. It has 12 million subscribers in South Korea and operations in several other Asian countries, including India, Indonesia and China.
For a U.S. firm to bring advanced mobile technology to Japan and Korea has a coals-to-Newcastle feel. These are two of the most cell-phone savvy countries in the world, where features like multimedia messaging and “wave to pay” services are standard fare.
If Apple can conclude the deal before June 9, that would leave China as the last big Asian market without an authorized iPhone carrier.