3G iPhone release 'imminent'

Posted by Hitarth Jani | 10:44 PM | 0 comments »

Speculation is mounting over an impending release of a new iPhone supporting 3G networks, suggesting the much-ballyhooed device could reach Australia as early as the middle of this year.

With local mobile carriers rushing to convert their subscribers from 2G to faster broadband-like 3G services, the lack of a 3G-enabled model is viewed by analysts as the key impediment to releasing the device locally.

Analyst firm IDC said Australians wanted more than a large screen and great web browser and the appeal of an iPhone without 3G connectivity would be limited to die-hard Apple fans and the fashion conscious.

"It would appear highly unlikely that a 2G iPhone [would] be released in Australia, with Telstra focusing all efforts to migrate subscribers onto Next G and Optus and Vodafone both building national 3G networks this year. The 2G market in Australia is shrinking fast," IDC telecommunications analyst Mark Novosel said.

"In 2009 the number of 3G subscribers in Australia will outstrip 2G subscribers. By the end of 2009 56.6 per cent of all mobile subscribers in Australia will be on one of four 3G networks."

Apple has said the iPhone will be launched in Australia this year, but has yet to pin down an exact date.

In a research note sent to investors late last week, Bank of America financial analyst Scott Craig said channel investigations showed a 3G iPhone would be produced in small numbers in May followed by a larger production run in June.

The note came after Dow Jones Newswires reported that Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry, the largest contract manufacturer of electronics in the world, had won an exclusive contract to make a new version of the iPhone. It cited "a person familiar with the situation".

As well, a Hon Hai official told the news service that the company was in talks with Apple for the supply of a "more advanced version" of the current iPhone.

Similarly, Taiwan's Commercial Times reported, without citing sources, that Hon Hai had been competing with other manufacturers for the 3G iPhone contract.

This week, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said he expected Apple would introduce a 3G iPhone within the next 3 to 6 months.

The upcoming annual Apple developers conference, scheduled to begin in San Francisco on June 9, could be an opportune time for Apple CEO Steve Jobs to unveil the device.

Jobs said battery life issues prevented the company from releasing a 3G model from the outset but he has indicated he would like to build in 3G support when the time is right.

In November last year, Randall Stephenson, the chief executive of AT&T, Apple's exclusive iPhone carrier partner in the US, confirmed a 3G iPhone would land some time this year.

IDC has forecast that Australian iPhone shipments would commence in the third quarter of this calendar year, but predicted the device would comprise only 3.5 per cent of the Australian mobile phone market.

Apple stores across the US are experiencing iPhone shortages, and some have interpreted that to mean Apple is running down its existing stock to prepare for the launch of a new model.

Jaffray said of all possible explanations there was an "80 per cent chance that a new version of the iPhone is coming earlier than anticipated".

But some say the shortage is simply due to stellar demand for the device, particularly from countries where the iPhone has yet to launch. Many, Australians included, have imported the device and, using various unauthorised yet easy to perform hacks, unlocked it for use on their local networks.

Telstra was widely rumoured to be Apple's iPhone carrier partner in Australia until January when Optus emerged as the dark horse.

Thailand's largest mobile operator, Advanced Info Service (AIS), said it was negotiating a deal with Apple to bring the iPhone to Asia.

The telco's chief marketing officer, Sanchai Thiewprasertkul , told the Bangkok Post that AIS was collaborating with Singapore Telecom (SingTel) and Optus to launch the iPhone throughout the region.

Optus is a wholly owned subsidiary of SingTel, and SingTel owns 21.4 per cent of AIS.

Yet even before the local iPhone launch is announced, Telstra's Sensis is already gearing up to create mobile applications specifically for the device. It has advertised for a business analyst to create iPhone search applications.

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