Monday, 23 June 2008 09:17

Unlocked iPhone 3G heading to Australia from Hong Kong

An unauthorised Apple iPhone reseller has promised to deliver unlocked iPhone 3G handsets from a Hong Kong supplier selling for $775 and $875 in the week following the release of the long awaited Apple product in Australia on July 11. The reseller, based in Melbourne, claims to have already sold several hundred original iPhones to Australian customers.

As we reported last week, grey market iPhone web retailer Linelink is quoting prices of $A775 and $875 for the 8G and 16G versions of the unlocked iPhone 3G.

Linelink owner James Robins told iTWire "we're not an Apple Australia reseller" and said the iPhone 3Gs will be sourced from the same Hong Kong based supplier as the "several hundred" first-generation models he has already sold.

The first shipment is expected to arrive in Melbourne in the week following the iPhone 3G's release on July 11.

Robins says he is "very confident" that the new iPhone will be unlocked quickly after its release. If it turns out that the first shipment(s) aren't unlocked, Linelink will provide a free unlocking service for its customers when the secret has been found.

Users who are contemplating getting a grey market iPhone 3G may have to be prepared to wait quite some time before an unlock becomes available. Until then, an iPhone 3G bought without a plan will be little more than a glorified iPod. The first unlock for the original iPhone took about two months to become freely available to new owners.

How many people have said they want to buy an iPhone 3G from Linelink? Read on for the answer.

"About 150" people have already registered their interest in an iPhone 3G with Linelink, Robins said, adding that the number is currently growing at between 20 and 30 per day.

When Robins bought himself an iPhone, he realised that the interest shown by other people meant there was a business opportunity waiting to be exploited, and he added imported iPhones to the company's product list, alongside a range of new and refurbished IT and consumer electronics products.

A substantial proportion of the first-generation iPhones sold in the US are thought to have made their way overseas, where they have been unofficially unlocked. One market analyst has suggested as many as half a million of them are in Russia alone. That figure was supposedly based on data from operators of the mobile networks in Russia.

In order to comply with French laws, the first-generation iPhone can be purchased in that country in an officially unlocked form. A €100 ($A163) premium on top of the €649 ($A1061) no-contract price, compared with as little as €399 ($A652) with a contract.

Why doesn't Apple take action against outlets such as Linelink? There are two main theories. One is that they can't be bothered as the numbers are relatively small and doesn't hurt official sales.

Generally speaking, people seem more inclined to go for a new phone at a subsidised price even if it means going onto a new contract if the alternative is to pay hundreds of dollars more for a handset that's not locked to a particular network.

What else might be stopping Apple from calling in the lawyers? See page 3 .

The other possible reason is that there is no legal basis for such action. The phones are (apparently) genuine Apple products, so there's no forgery or misuse of trademarks. And there's no misrepresentation, as the businesses don't claim to be part of Apple's official channels.

If the sale of parallel imports was illegal, some prominent Australian retailers would be in trouble.

Apple has threatened legal action against sellers of unlocked iPhones in Singapore and Denmark .

In Australia, Apple has said the iPhone 3G will be available from Optus and Vodafone, though so far neither carrier has announced prices or plan details.

While Telstra has made no announcement, there have been reports that it will be start selling the iPhone a week or two after its rivals. Telstra's flagship T.Life store is directly across the street from the Apple Store in Sydney, which opened last week.

Whether the supposed delay is down to Telstra being unable to move as quickly as Optus or Vodafone, or if it is a mild rebuke on Apple's part is an open question. When the iPhone was first announced, a senior Telstra executive suggested that Apple should stick to its knitting and leave mobile phones to the established manufacturers.

There have been suggestions that Apple will not be selling the iPhone in Australia via the Apple Store in order to keep clear of legal prohibitions on 'third line forcing' (making the sale of an item conditional on the buyer purchasing other goods or services from another supplier). This would not rule out Apple resellers selling the iPhone as agents for the mobile carriers. Indeed, Next Byte, a large Apple reseller, was acquired last year by mobile phone retailer Fone Zone.


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.



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