S.Korea gives nod for Apple's iPhone; sales to begin soon

SEOUL, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Apple's AAPL.O iPhone is set to make its South Korean debut in a few weeks after the local regulator cleared the final hurdle for sales of the blockbuster phone in a market home to 47 million mobile phone users.

iPhone's entry could weigh on local market leaders, Samsung Electronics 005930.KS, and LG Electronics 066570.KS, which are also the world's second and third-biggest mobile phone makers.

Korea Communications Commission said in a statement on Wednesday it would grant Apple’s South Korean unit a licence that allows collecting information on locations and provide services such as map, phone locating and related marketing.

KT Corp 030200.KS, the country's No. 2 mobile carrier which has been negotiating with Apple to introduce iPhone, said sales could start soon but did not provide a date for the launch.

Korean newspapers said iPhone’s sales could start as early as late next week.

With established strength in premium and feature phones, Samsung and LG have also recently boosted their smartphone line-ups to compete with Apple and Blackberry maker Research In Motion RIM.TORIMM.O.

In April, South Korea also lifted a rule that forced mobile phones sold locally to use a home-grown platform, opening the market to more foreign models.

Prior to the rule change, foreign handset makers avoided the market largely due to re-engineering difficulties. Motorola MOT.N, Nokia NOK1V.HE and Sony Ericsson 6758.TERICb.ST have faced stiff competition from Samsung and LG.

SK Telecom 017670.KS, South Korea's top mobile service operator, said it was still considering selling iPhone and negotiation was under way, but no decision had been made.

By 0528 GMT, KT shares fell 0.8 percent, compared with a 0.9 percent gain in the broader Seoul market .KS11. (Reporting by Rhee So-eui; Editing by Anshuman Daga)