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Follow that iPhone

iphone russiaFollow that phone…  is the iPhone heading to Russia? Deal or no deal?

Reuters UK has reported it may be there in October.    An unnamed source cited in an article from the news bureau says an agreement  has been reached between Apple and Mobile TeleSystems (MTS),  Russia’s largest mobile network operator.

No details have emerged and neither side has issued a statement confirming the report.

At this point, with only an an anonymous source, it remains very possible the story could turn out to be incorrect. Three mobile providers, MTS, Vimpelcom and MegaFon have all been vying for iPhone rights in Russia. As was the case with Japanese carrier rights before the phone’s launch, reports and rumor around the web and blogosphere (including the Reuters report) have, at different times, put Apple in discussions with all three.

In Japan, prior to the iPhone 3G’s global launch, NTT DoCoMo was rumored to be the front runner. When all the rumors were set aside and actual news confirmed, however, Softbank got the prize.

MTS is Russia’s largest carrier. According to their website, they have more than 83m subscribers. The company has also been spending to upgrade its services. They began rolling out their 3G network services in May and have said they will extend the service to more than ten cities this year and another 40 by the end of 2009.  More than $1.6b is planned in network infrastructure investment.

Size and infrastructure have to give MTS the advantage but that’s no gaurantee. In Japan, size didn’t matter. Apple found smaller Softbank a more agreeable partner than larger rival carriers. (And for Softbank, the rights are proving a boon. Japanese journal Tech-On reported in July Softbank accounted for more than half of new mobile subscriptions for the country.  The number was 215,400 out of 391,500.).

In Russia, Reuters report notwithstanding, until Apple speaks, it’s a wait and see. At this point, it’s worth noting, Russia is not even on the "Coming Soon" page of Apple’s iPhone’s Around the World webpage.

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