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Smugglers vow to win iPhone fight
By Shen Jingting (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-09 08:13

More than 500 Apple iPhones were sold in Beijing on the first official sales day, according to industry insiders.

Up until Oct 1, mainland iPhone fans were unable to buy the authentic Apple mobile phone and had to rely on sellers in Beijing's Zhongguancun electronic market.

But despite the "official" product arriving on the mainland, unofficial sellers are cheerfully boasting that their smuggled iPhones still have price and technical advantages.

"Customers want free use, but China Unicom demands a rather strict entry for mainland iPhone fans," Long Shao, a sales assistant in one electronic store which branded itself as "Apple authorized resellers" in Beijing's Zhongguancun.

"You should buy a fixed talk fee package with China Unicom first, before taking your iphone home."

According to arrangement, purchasers must sign a two-year contract with China Unicom, which offers a choice of eight different service packages ranging from 126 yuan ($18.5) to 886 yuan per month.

The cheapest model, 8-Giga version iPhone 3G, costs 5,999 yuan.

The overall price of the 32-Giga version iPhone 3Gs stands at 7,999 yuan, much higher than the same product selling at Zhongguancun.

In Zhongguancun, an 8-Giga version of iPhone 3G imported from American costs only 3,500 yuan, and iPhone 3Gs asks for a price around 4,900 yuan.

And for the first batch of products, either iPhone 3G or iPhone 3Gs, the fastest, most powerful iPhone yet, includes a WiFi function.

"I did not expect it (China Unicom) to ask for such a higher fee," said Zhang Haiyao, a postgraduate student at University of International Business and Economics.

"Most iPhone users are young people, for me, I am unlikely to spend over 126 yuan a month on mobile phone."

He said he preferred to buy a smuggled iPhone in Zhongguancun though China Unicom's iPhone has a quality assurance.

Zhang's classmate Du Bin agreed.

"People usually use it as a business and entertainment helper, if it doesn't have a WiFi service, it really sucks," he said.

Du said he enjoyed surfing the Internet in Beijing's McDonald, or Starbucks where places provide wireless network free of charge.

In Dinghao Building, a large electronic shopping mall in Beijing's Zhongguancun, unofficial iPhone vendor Lu Xiusheng said he could still sell dozens of devices per day, and was optimistic about his future business.

China Unicom has signed a three-year deal with Apple Inc in August promising to bring world's most popular handset to Chinese mainland.

The iPhone journey to the mainland has traveled along a strange path considering the product is made in Shenzhen, in Guangdong province.

It was not being legally sold in Beijing because of squabbles between Apple and local telecom operators over revenue sharing, technical issues and competing business models.

There are possibly more than 2 million iPhone owners in China, according to Duncan Clark, chairman of the respected Asia-based BDA telecom consultancy.

"Many Chinese consumers buy smuggled phones or arrange to import them from outside the mainland, especially Hong Kong," he said.

(China Daily 10/09/2009 page26)