Chinese smartphone makers are launching a wide range of affordable handsets in Korea under tie-ups with local telecoms.
SK Telecom, Korea's largest mobile provider, has already started selling TCL's Sol Prime, and KT plans to begin sales next month of a cheap ZTE phone. Last month, LG Uplus started to offer Huawei's P9 and P9 Plus, which are equipped with premium camera functions.
ZTE's new phone will be the company's first to be sold here under a tie-up with a Korean telecom. The Chinese smartphone maker has yet to come up with a name, but it will apparently have a five-inch screen and cost W300,000-500,000 (US$1=W1,176).
TLC Alcatel's Sol Prime, priced at W433,000, is a follow-up to the Sol that was a minor success in Korea last year. Customers signing up for a W50,000 monthly flat rate can buy the Sol Prime for less than W200,000.
Huawei's P9, priced at some W600,000 and sold by LG Uplus, was developed with German camera maker Leica and features color and black-and-white cameras on its rear side.
So far the success of cheap Chinese phones here has been mixed. Pundits say success depends on whether they can shake of the trashy image of Chinese products, regardless of how much value for money they offer.
For instance, TG & Co. and SK Telecom joined hands to sell the Luna smartphone here last September and racked up sales of 200,000. The Luna is actually made in China by Taiwan's Foxconn, but it was released here under a solid Korean aegis.
Huawei's Be Y smartphone, by contrast, which was launched here under a tie-up with KT at the same time, has sold only 50,000 so far. Average sales in the first month after release boil down to 2,500 for the Luna and just 300 to 400 for the Be Y.
The difference is that the Be Y wore its Chinese origin on its sleeve. While SK Telecom advertised the handset as the brainchild of a Korean company, the Be Y was just a Huawei P9 Light being sold under a different label.
Sales of Huawei's affordable H also totaled only around 20,000 units since its release here last September. The only one that is doing well is the ultra-cheap Y6, priced at just W130,000 and unveiled in December, around 130,000 of which have been sold so far.
Kim Young-jun at Sungkyunkwan University said, "Korean consumers still have a negative bias against Chinese products, so it's difficult to just import them and sell them here. We're going to see more tie-ups between Korean and Chinese companies in order to overcome this obstacle."