South Korean companies to take Pantech brand global

Two South Korean mobile phone makers are planning an overseas expansion of their respective businesses this year with a push into the European and North American markets. In a move that’s sure to confuse some customers, both companies are going to use the same brand: Pantech.

Pantech Co. Ltd. and Pantech & Curitel Inc. are two independent companies that are linked by a common shareholder and a shared vision of selling their mobile phones internationally.

Pantech’s move towards selling Pantech-brand phones overseas is already underway and sales are rising fast.

Aggressive promotion saw sales of Pantech’s Pantech-brand handset hit 279 billion won (US$280 million) in 2004, up sharply from 18.5 billion won in 2003. About half of those sales were in Eastern Europe, with just under a third in Latin America and the remainder in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Pantech does not sell handsets in South Korea

Pantech’s move into Western Europe will begin in May when it plans to establish a regional head office in Frankfurt, the company said at the Cebit show in Hanover on Saturday. From that office, the company will coordinate its expansion into several markets including the U.K., Germany, France, Italy and Spain, it said. Pantech & Curitel Inc. plans to start its international expansion later this year. The company sells handsets in South Korea under the Curitel brand, but plans to sell them under the Pantech brand everywhere else.

The international expansion moves by the two Pantech group companies are driven by a belief that the group has a limited window of opportunity before cheaper competitors chip away at its contract manufacturing business, Song said.

Both Pantech and Pantech & Curitel have contract manufacturing businesses that face rising competition from companies in other countries, like Taiwan and China. “I think we have an advantage in terms of quality and technology but it cannot last forever. …We need a strong brand of our own,” Song said.

Song hopes Pantech & Curitel can sell between two and three million Pantech-brand handsets in North America this year, starting from the second half of this year, Song said.