South Korea could be getting Apple’s smartphone as early as next week



Image: iPhonAsia.com

According to wire service reports, government regulators finally cleared the way Wednesday for the launch of Apple’s iPhone in South Korea.

The Korean Daily News reported Wednesday that KT Corp. KTC — the country’s second-largest carrier — plans to start taking Internet orders for the iPhone on Thursday and begin sales on Nov. 28.

South Korea’s largest carrier, SK Telecom SKM , is said to to be in talks with Apple AAPL about selling the phone to their customers.

With 47 million mobile phone users and two of the world’s largest cell phone manufacturers — Samsung and LG — South Korea boasts a vibrant wireless culture. Its capital, Seoul, is chock-a-block with Internet cafés, wireless hotspots and gaming areas (called “pc baangs”) on nearly every corner.

Despite all that, South Korea is not the world’s leader in terms of cell phone ownership — not by a long shot. According to the most recent survey at NationMaster.com, that distinction belongs to the United Arab Emirates, whose citizens carry, on average, a stunning 1.71 mobile phones apiece. By that measure, South Korea’s .887 cell phones per capita puts them in 63th place worldwide. [More recently, the AP put South Korea’s per capita mobile ownership at 93%.]

Qatar and Israel, two countries on Apple’s “coming soon” list, are Nos. 6 and 7 in Nation Master’s rankings, with 1.39 and 1.38 cell phones per capita respectively.

UPDATE: Dan Butterfield, who covers the Pacific Rim wireless market at iPhonAsia.com, suggests that the event next week might less than a full-fledged launch. Posting from China, he writes:

“There have been at least two previous reports of Apple’s imminent iPhone launch in South Korea in partnership with KT. Perhaps the third time is the charm? According to JoonAng Daily, KT plans to host an iPhone launch event on Nov. 28. The actual launch is rumored to be sometime in early December.” (link)

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]