Latecomer firms and pursuit of a dual frontier: the case of Korean handset manufacturers

Park, Dong Un (2016) Latecomer firms and pursuit of a dual frontier: the case of Korean handset manufacturers. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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The subject of this thesis is a group of emergent leading firms in developing countries
pursuing a ‘dual frontier’, achieving technology supremacy and establishing market
autonomy, and entering a newly emerging market in the context of the latter half of the
20th century. Whilst the previous literature on catching-up and transition generally
centres on the area of technological development of latecomer firms, this thesis extends
the scope of analysis to a broader issue of technological development and marketing
strategies of latecomer firms in transition. The thesis builds upon two different streams
of literature: first the catching-up process in latecomer firms for the theoretical and
empirical rationales, and second the boundaries of a firm and inter-firm coordination in
technological frontier firms for the theoretical guidance to a systematic analysis.

Using industry case studies of the Korean mobile handset manufacturers Samsung and
LG Electronics, the thesis first shows that there could be windows of opportunity
available for international technology transfer to emergent leading firms in the emerging
stage of a new industry from competition to achieve a dominant compatibility standard
among technology leaders. However, the research stresses that the characteristic of these
technologies is cutting-edge but technologically incomplete and commercially unproven,
which highlights the importance of previous experience and capacity for successful

Moreover, the thesis shows that Korean firms pursuing a dual frontier overcame their
uneven development between technological and marketing capabilities through
intensive inter-firm collaborations with intermediary users, that is Mobile Network
Operators (MNOs). In the thesis, it is stressed that Korean firms competed against
technology leaders like Nokia in export markets by complementing weak marketing
capabilities based on continuous collaborations with MNOs, evolving from von
Hippelian to Teecean inter-firm relationships.

Lastly, the thesis introduces to the literature on industry organisation a new form of an
outsourcing organisation, termed a ‘contract developer’ (CD), which has been identified
as a group of firms that is unilaterally specialised in, and that carries out development
outsourcing projects for, mobile handset Own Brand Manufacturers (OBMs). The thesis
reveals that CDs emerged from the industry shake-out and the co-specialised structure
between mobile handset OBMs and MNOs in the industry and served as one of main
mechanisms that supported the successful globalisation of the Korean firms.

Therefore, the thesis argues that the key strategy that Korean emergent leading firms
adopted to compete at the world frontier can be described as a ‘quasi’ extension of firm
boundaries in terms of development resources (the CDs) and in terms of downstream
capabilities (the MNOs).

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Business, Management and Economics > SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HE Transportation and communications > HE9713 Cellular telephone services industry. Wireless telephone industry
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 27 Oct 2016 10:28
Last Modified: 27 Oct 2016 10:28

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