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iPhone to Go Legit in Russia via 2 Carriers

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Sep 2, 2008 2:40 PM PT

The gray market for unlocked iPhones in Russia will soon be turning white and black to match the latest colors available for the iPhone 3G -- MegaFon, the third largest cellular service carrier in Russia will be officially selling Apple's popular iPhone.

iPhone to Go Legit in Russia via 2 Carriers

Like previous heads-up announcements by other carriers that have signed with Apple, MegaFon's statement is brief: "MegaFon today announced it has signed an agreement with Apple to bring the iPhone to Russia later this year," reads its English translation.

The company has more than 30 million wireless customers, and it has been aggressively building out its 3G services network.

Second Carrier

VimpelCom -- the second largest cellular service provider in Russia, with more than 42 million subscribers -- announced last week that it would sell the Apple iPhone in Russia.

Neither company has announced delivery dates or rate plans.

As with many countries, the iPhone has made its way to Russia via international sales and unlocking programs that let the handset work with unofficial carriers. So the gray-market iPhone hasn't been tied to any service contracts, which is typical in the U.S. and in other countries.

The official iPhone will likely be offered at a premium price without a service contract, as well as at a discounted price with a service contract, in order to satisfy Russian consumers that prefer to buy their handsets separately from their services.

Unlocked gray-market iPhones in Russia have sold for about US$1,000 -- though many iPhones have undoubtedly been purchased by travelers or friends in other other countries for hundreds less than the gray-market units.

Growing Wireless Market

The Russian wireless communications market has "exploded" during the last decade, Jeff Kagan, a telecommunications and wireless analyst, told MacNewsWorld.

"Traditional phone service was always terrible. In that environment, cell phone service is always very popular," he explained.

The largest Russian mobile services carrier, MTS, which has more than 87 million subscribers, is also widely expected to sell Apple's iPhone -- which should give consumers a trio of service carrier choices.

In the United States, iPhone customers can use only one official carrier -- AT&T. The 8 GB iPhone 3G costs $199, while the 16-GB model goes for $299. Rate plans start at approximately $70 a month.

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