SEOUL, Dec. 7 (Yonhap) -- Apple Inc.'s iPhone 5 made its belated debut in South Korea on Friday with avid fans welcoming the latest iPhone amid the U.S. smartphone maker's ongoing patent battle with homegrown player Samsung Electronics Co.
SK Telcom Co. and KT Corp., the country's two biggest mobile carriers, kicked off the release of the first iPhone that runs on the fourth-generation long-term evolution (LTE) network after beginning pre-orders a week earlier.
While Apple rolled out the latest iPhone on its home turf in end-September, its Korea release was delayed due to company policy and procedural errors in registering the device with the local communications watchdog.
At midnight, SK Telecom invited 300 people who placed pre-orders for the iPhone 5 to activate the gadget before dawn and join a launch party stocked with goodies and live music by popular artists.
KT, which was the country's first carrier to adopt the iPhone in the country in 2009, held a celebration at its flagship store in downtown Seoul.
Subscribers queue in front of KT's flagship store in central Seoul for the iPhone 5 launch. (Photo courtesy of company)
Despite the below-zero temperatures and light snow, subscribers eagerly queued for the event, chatting with other iPhone fans while drinking coffee and munching on sandwiches provided by the No. 2 mobile carrier.
"I should have gone to work, but I talked to my company and got permission to come to the event," said 40-year-old Lee Joon-young, an avid Apple user who confessed he was the first to get Apple's iPad tablet.
"I've only used the iPhone and I'm really looking forward to using the lighter weight and taller display," said Park Hyun-jin, 25, who arrived at the venue at 5 a.m.
KT said earlier that pre-orders for the iPhone 5 in the first two hours topped the record the iPhone 4S logged on its first day of pre-orders in November 2011.
Meanwhile, the iPhone 5 launch comes amid escalating competition between Samsung and Apple, the world's two biggest smartphone makers, to gain supremacy in the lucrative global smartphone market.
The two companies have been squaring off in courtrooms across four continents, accusing each other of infringing on design and technology patents.
Following a U.S. jury verdict in late August that ruled in favor of Apple, Samsung and Apple have added some of their latest products, such as the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S3, to the legal dispute.
Meanwhile, most consumers said the ongoing legal spat did not affect their decision to purchase the latest iPhone.
"It doesn't really matter to the people who use the device. (The patent suit) did not impact my purchase plan or image of Apple," said 26-year-old office worker Lee Jae-han.
Some, however, said the incident tainted Apple's corporate image.
"Apple went overboard this time. I felt they didn't have to go that far," said student Moon Yei-in, 22.
In the market, the iPhone 5 will be contending with some of Samsung's latest LTE devices, such as the Galaxy S3 smartphone and the Galaxy Note 2 phablet. It also faces growing competition from local smartphone makers LG Electronics Inc. and Pantech Corp. that have moved faster to release LTE devices.
Shares of the two mobile carriers closed higher as investors pinned hopes on the iPhone 5 launch. SK Telecom added 0.98 percent to 154,500 won (US$142.8) and KT rose 0.8 percent to 37,650 won.
"The arrival of the iPhone 5 will give both KT and SKT a distinct advantage over the third major mobile operator in Korea, LG Uplus, whose LTE service has successfully lured customers from KT and SKT," Moody's Investors Service analyst Serena Won wrote in a note.
As of October, iPhone users claimed roughly 11 percent of the country's 31.4 million smartphone population, according to the note.