Asia calls for hacked handsets


THE NEW iPhone looks set to be a huge hit in Asia countries where it goes on sale today, but the sleek smartphone is already in high demand in black markets from Shanghai to Bangkok.

In Thailand, where Apple's iPhone is not officially for sale, dealers boast they only need a few weeks to smuggle in the trendy phones and "unlock" them for use on local mobile networks.

"I'm taking orders this weekend and you'll get it by the end of July. We can sign a contract guaranteeing you will get it," Toew, a phone dealer who is offering eight-gigabyte 3G iPhones for 29,000 baht (€546) on the internet, said.

At Bangkok's MBK centre, shops are advertising hacked iPhones with signs that read: "Good price, we unlock very fast."

Trading iPhones online has become more popular in recent months, with prices for the current iPhone soaring 25-30 per cent due to tight supply and rumours that it cannot be hacked, despite claims by online shops.

An old iPhone with an eight-gigabyte memory costs 22,000-24,500 baht, up from 16,500-18,500 baht. A model with twice the memory fetches 25,000-28,000 baht, up around 5,000 baht from a few months ago.

"I'm an iPhone addict now. I'm going to sell the old one and buy the 3G phone. No matter what the price is, I'll get one," said Tana Tanaraugsachock, a 41-year old financial executive, who bought her first iPhone during a trip to the United States.

A poll by a Thai website showed more than 77 per cent of 2,000 respondents want to buy the new phone, which Apple says has faster web links than the old version and supports gaming software.

"It's fashion and technology that attract mobile users to the iPhone. They are using more data services to surf the internet," said Prattana Leelapanang, an executive at Thailand's leading mobile operator, Advanced Info Service (AIS). It estimates there are 140,000 users of the old iPhone in Thailand, where a 3G network is only in the testing stage for now.

Apple is rolling out the new iPhone in over 20 countries, but AIS has not yet reached a deal for Thailand, Mr Prattana said.

In Hong Kong, Hutchison Telecommunications has been flooded with online applications from eager buyers, but retailers in the rest of China - where the iPhone is not officially offered - are also gearing up to sell hacked phones.

On Shanghai's posh Huaihai Road, a merchant at a mall said an unlocked iPhone is priced at 3,000 yuan (€277), while a Chinese copy would cost 1,000 yuan.