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Russian operators begin to phase out iPhone

Apple's iPhone has been dropped by MTS and Megafon in Russia

Two of Russia’s largest mobile operators have ceased selling iPhone devices in the country due to the extensive marketing and financial support demanded by Apple. First and second placed MTS and Megafon have already stopped advertising the device on their online shopping portals.

Both carriers had signed distribution agreements with Apple for a five year period but declined to renew them when the contracts expired recently. It is understood that the marketing support and subsidies required by Apple were unattractive to the operators.

But third placed rival VimpelCom has confirmed to Telecoms.com that contrary to media reports, it will continue to sell Apple’s handsets. Reports surfaced earlier this week that it too would stop selling the handset, but the firm has denied this is the case. The operator could not confirm however whether those initial reports were false or whether it had a change of heart regarding its policy but it is believed that the company signed an iPhone distributor agreement at the same time as MTS and MegaFon and would also be due to renew its deal around now.

It’s not the firsts time Apple has caught flack for its high demands in distribution partnerships. Telecoms.com exclusively revealed in November last year that Apple is not allowing mobile operators to offer the iPhone 5 as an LTE device unless they pass the Californian vendor’s own, independent tests for LTE network performance.

The move split mobile operators, with some such as UK operator EE’s CEO Olaf Swantee, believing that it is good for the industry and consumers, while others, such as Telenor Norway CEO Berit Svendsen, expressed their frustration at the policy.

In January this year, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that 24 carriers across various countries had received the go-ahead to offer LTE services for the iPhone 5 and added that 24 more were in the pipeline.

Although Russia’s operators have over 200 million subscribers between them, the country’s leading carriers were not included in Cook’s expanded list. Neither was available to comment at the time of writing.

In December 2012, Tajikistani operator Babilon-Mobile told Telecoms.com that despite its best efforts to get in touch with Apple the iPhone 5 would not support LTE on its network.

“Unfortunately we still didn’t get any response from Apple on our requests to enable LTE support,” Babilon-Mobile’s head of the automation Jafar Asimov told Telecoms.com.

“As far as I know, Apple is not speeding up cooperation on LTE with the largest Russian operators, such as MTS, Megafon and Beeline”, Asimov said. “It’s a strange policy. Instead of enabling LTE support for all carriers, which would bring benefit not only to operators, but also to Apple customers as well, Apple is limiting its customers [ability] to use the functionality of the phones fully. So, customers are paying for a feature that they can’t use.”

Telecoms.com has requested comment from Apple but had not received a response at time of publication.

In order to keep selling the iPhone in the country, Apple has changed its policy of only using carriers as distributors and is now going to retailers direct.


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