LTE iPhone coming soon? Korean carriers are talking about it

The next iPhone is expected to arrive in about a month. One of the biggest questions is whether Apple(s AAPL) will add LTE networking capability to it. In another signal that the answer might be yes, the Korea Times is reporting Wednesday that executives from Korea’s largest carrier are in Cupertino, Calif. to strike such a deal.

Both SK Telecom(s skm), the country’s largest carrier, and KT(s kt) currently sell the iPhone in South Korea. And both are lobbying Apple for an LTE iPhone, according to the report, which quotes an unnamed senior KT official saying, “KT is in negotiation with Apple to persuade the latter to support KT’s 1.8-gigahertz frequency in Korea for the upcoming iPhone.”

The main reason they want an LTE iPhone? Because LTE is really big in Korea. The report says there are 10 million subscribers, and they want to add more to their newer networks instead of keeping customers around on their older cell networks, which are less efficient for delivering data. Writes the Korea Times:

The negotiations come as the nation’s three carriers are heavily promoting LTE-enabled smartphones and tablets as the 4G telecommunication technology is seeing an impressive uptake, here.

That means Apple is the key either to revitalizing the local LTE market or to slow momentum. “If Apple’s upcoming iPhone again fails to support LTE bandwidths, then this would be a very disappointing scenario as LTE is everywhere in Korea,’’ said a high-ranking SK Telecom executive.

But, as the story notes, not all LTE networks use the same frequency. Korean carriers use a different band than, say, AT&T(s T), which is different than Verizon’s(s VZW), and so on.

There are plenty of good reasons to believe the next iPhone could be LTE-capable. Carriers around the world are asking for it; it’s available from most major carriers in the U.S., Apple’s largest single market; and Apple is already using it: the new iPad released in March had a 4G cellular option. And, as my colleague Kevin Fitchard has noted, if Apple doesn’t bring the iPhone up to 4G standards, that would severely impact its carrier partners as they’d be forced, for at least another year, to keep investing in older networks.