At last: Apple and Russian carriers seal iPhone 3GS deals

OK, so here’s the riddle – the iPhone 3G has been available for sale in Russia since October 2008 – now months since the all-new iPhone 3GS went on sale everywhere else, Apple and Russian carriers have finally sealed deals to offer the iPhone 3GS, starting this March.

Big sales aren’t expected – there’s a rich grey market in the country, problems ensuring internet access in some areas, and the GDP means per-capita income makes iPhone a status action. Despite this the country’s top three mobile carriers have reached a deal to offer the Apple mobile.

VimpelCom and Mobile TeleSystems both said they would start selling the iPhone 3GS soon. VimpelCom said sales would start “within a month at the latest.”

Sources told the Moscow Times that sales will begin at the end of March, with prices held uniformly between operators under a deal with Apple. VimpelCom’s online store already offers the 16GB model for 29,990 rubles ($1,000) and the 32GB version for 34,990.

Launch was delayed because carriers demanded to renegotiate the terms of their original iPhone deals, the Moscow TImes explained. As I reported last year, these deals tied carriers up to set sales targets and demanded they invest in large numbers of iPhones. However, sales were slimmer than expected and Apple refused to make more flexible deals with carriers.

The original deal would have seen one operator forced to purchase 1.3 million iPhones between 2008 to 2011; VimpelCom would have purchased 1.5 million phones by October 2010; and MegaFon would have taken 1 million in the same period.

“But operators got off to a rough start with the first iPhones. VimpelCom said that from October through December 2008 it purchased just 12 percent of its planned volumes, while in the first quarter of 2009 it did not buy a single iPhone,” says Moscow Times.

Russia’s three major mobile carriers reached a deal with Apple last year that demanded they sell 3.5 million iPhones over two to three years…but only 250,000 units shifted in the six months following the product’s introduction into Russia.

Expectation was high for the Russian market. The trade in grey market iPhones was extremely brisk there, with an estimated 400,000 jailbroken ‘phones already in circulation before Apple’s “official” launch. This apparently sated some demand among Russia’s small but rich middle classes.

Sales were also impacted by Apple’s decision not to allow carriers to advertise the devices on TV, And the usual additional complexity business faces when trading inside the riddle of the Russian enigma.

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