Apple’s iPhone 5 has launched in South Korea, the home of its chief rival Samsung, bringing the total number of countries that it is available in to 48, as its fastest global rollout continues.

It’s too early for sales figures, but the Chosun Ilbo reports that operators SK Telecom and KT held “massive launch events”, following impressive pre-launch demand. SK racked up 50,000 customer requests within two hours of opening up its reservation services, while KT scored 250,000 pre-orders before today’s launch.

The device will be LTE-compatible in Korea, as is standard (SK offers HD voice over LTE), and it will be interesting to see how it is received. It will go up against popular Korean phones like the Samsung’s Galaxy S III and the LG Optimus G in a country where local brands and Android-based phones dominate. Samsung led the first half of the year, account for a 66 percent of Korea’s smartphones.

Lines of would-be customer braved the sub-zero conditions and snow to queue up for the Apple device, as the image below from The Yonhap shows:

iphone 5 korea The iPhone 5 launches in Korea, Samsungs home turf, as Apples fastest global rollout continues

The festivities began at a launch party on Thursday evening at Seoul hot spot Kunsthalle Platoon, where top Korean boyband SHINee were the star guests (yes, for once it wasn’t PSY):

Apple announced the Korea launch on Monday, and it will be followed by a wave of more than 50 other country releases, which notably includes China – where operator China Unicom has already seen 200,000 reservations. That schedule will mean the device is on sale in more than 100 markets worldwide just three months after it first launched.

That’s Apple fastest rollout to date, and it follows the aggressive launch that Samsung adopted for its Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone. Initially available in 28 markets when it launched in May, the Korean firm’s flagship handset was available in 145 countries worldwide by July.

Last month saw Samsung confirm that the Samsung Galaxy S III had passed 30 million channel sales (sales to retailers and operators, not end customers), and Samsung had previously readjusted its 2012 sales target following the iPhone 5 launch.

Despite a lack of confirmed consumer sales data, Strategy Analytics estimates that the Samsung Galaxy S III outsold the iPhone 4S during the third quarter of 2012. It remains to be seen how long it can hold off the iPhone 5 for. Apple sold 5 million devices over the first weekend of the iPhone 5 launch in September.

Here’s the full release calendar for the iPhone 5 this month:

Next week — Friday December 14 — the iPhone will go on sale in Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Ecuador, Grenada, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Jordan, Kuwait, Macedonia Malaysia, Moldova, Montenegro, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Taiwan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

On December 21, the smartphone will then reach the Caribbean and Africa, as it goes on sale in Barbados, Botswana, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Egypt, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St.Vincent & the Grenadines, Tunisia, Uganda and Vietnam.

Samsung added the iPhone 5 to the list of devices in its US lawsuit against Apple in October, and it remains to be seen if it will take local action in Korea. It pursued legal action against the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 in its home land, earlier this year, despite previously indicating that it wouldn’t.

Image via JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images