Russian operators sign iPhone agreements, despite illegal imports

Megafon has become the second Russian mobile operator to sign a distribution agreement for Apple's 3G iPhone handset. Vimpelcom, the No. 2 operator in Russia, signed up to the iPhone last month, but only after 'persuading' Apple to drop its onerous 10 percent revenue share business model.

However, Russia is already one of the iPhone's biggest markets because of illegal imports. A telecoms analyst at UniCredit Aton estimated there already are more than 500,000 iPhones in the country with monthly "grey" imports running in excess of 20,000.

The device has become something of a cult item among the political elite with handsets changing hands for above US$1,000 -- a US$600 premium over the suggested retail price.

MTS, the country's largest operator, is also rumoured to be negotiating a deal for the iPhone, meaning yet another of Apple's "mandatory" contract clauses of carrier exclusivity has pretty much gone out the window.

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