Online retailer sidesteps carriers’ Android lockdown


Online mobile phone retailer Mobicity has started taking pre-orders from Australians for the hottest next-generation smartphones unveiled over the past several months, promising the devices will ship months before they’re slated to go on sale through the normal channels of mobile telcos Down Under.

In recent weeks the company — which imports the phones from overseas, typically through direct relationships with manufacturers or distributors — has listed hyped handsets such as the second version of Samsung’s Galaxy S, Motorola’s ATRIX 4G, and Sony Ericsson’s Xperia ARC as being available for pre-order, with the devices slated to ship in March to April, depending on which one customers order.

All of the devices are listed as selling unlocked for any network and come with a 12 month warranty. Prices range from $749 to $899.

The availability pre-dates the known launch dates that the handset manufacturers have disclosed publicly. For example, Samsung said in mid-February that it was planning to bring the Galaxy S II to Australian shores on every carrier “probably no later than June”, and Sony has only confirmed a similar second quarter launch date for the Xperia Arc.

Motorola has not yet confirmed whether its ATRIX 4G handset will come to Australia.

Local customers of online retailers yesterday disclosed generally positive experiences when buying handsets online. University of Melbourne IT manager Peter Tonoli said over the year he had bought several unlocked phones online — a Nokia N95 and a Nokia 2220, describing the process as “really easy”.

The executive bought the handsets from local online retailer Exeltek and thought the fact that the devices came completely unlocked was “too good to be true”. Many high-end mobile phones sold in Australia are locked to a certain carrier’s network for a certain time, with the carriers sometimes charging unlocking fees if a customer wanted to take their handset to another carrier.

When Samsung first launched its initial Galaxy S model in Australia, for example, the handset was only on sale through Optus, although availability eventually widened to the other telcos. Telstra has already secured exclusivity on new handsets such as the Xperia Neo and HTC Desire S, for example, and Vodafone announced last week that it had won rights to the HTC Desire Z.

Despite such deals, however, customers continue to source the same phones online. Last year Mobicity listed the HTC Desire HD, which is sold in Australia exclusively through Vodafone, as its top seller, closely followed by the original Desire, sold solely through Telstra.

Local consultant Ric Hayman skipped Telstra completely when the hyped HTC Desire handset went on sale locally in Australia last year, noting he had ordered an unlocked Desire online from the UK, and then swapped out his SIM card from his old Nokia and inserted it in the new HTC model. It was “remarkably easy — dare I say, easier than transferring a mobile number from Telstra to Voda,” he said. “It got here in a few days.”

Others had also had positive experiences buying online — even for phones which weren’t widely available in Australia at all. Australian open source developer Jeff Waugh sourced his Palm Pre handset from eBay. The device was a UK model which was unlocked and sold from Thailand — with Waugh noting no special problems during the process. “I just bought a phone on eBay. Aside from eBay’s user interface, it was about as hard as you’d expect,” he said.

The news comes as debate continues to exist about the future of Australia’s retail sector, with the pervasiveness of the internet challenging traditional bricks and mortar business models. The Federal Government held an Online Retail Forum last month to focus on the issue.

Image credit: Motorola


  1. Any anecdotes about buying phones from overseas vendors and then putting them on the Next G network? Do they get the full Next G speeds?

    • You shouldn’t have any problems Tom — as long as the phone is unlocked and supports the 850MHz spectrum Telstra uses on Next G. Most do these days, but not all.

      • Most don’t support 850. You’ll need to be careful about that. Anything sourced from Europe likely won’t. AT&T handsets from the States usually will. The most common combination on phones from Europe is 900/2100, which is good for Optus/Voda customers, not so great for Telstra NextG.

        It’s not difficult to check this stuff, has a great database with all the info you need.

      • Turns out my Nexus One is the 900/1700/2100 variant. :-( Apparently there’s another variant (which I never knew until now) that IS on the 850 (and 1900/2100), so I guess I got unlucky there.

    • I use a Samsung Galaxy S Captivate (bought off eBay from the US), as far as I can tell download speeds are as much as the phone and network are capable of. Surprisingly, the downstream results on Speedtest lowered a bit when AT&T’s HSUPA cripple was removed.

  2. Tom, if the phone supports the bands next g uses then you’ll get the ‘full’ speeds

  3. I’ve got two stories coming up for you Renai.

    Get the first one ready for about 10 months from now – “Mobicity Not Honouring Warranty Claims”.

    The second one for about 2 months later – “Mobicity Ceases Operation”.

    I’d love to be proven wrong, because this sounds like a sweet deal – but too many of these boutique operations fold up.

    There is an inherent safety in going with the established players that little shows like this can’t hope to match. Again, love to be proven wrong on this one.

    I wish them luck.

      • I’ll also add, I’ve heard of people using sites like handtec which is a UK based retailer the only issue people have had with them is having to pay the $$ to send the device back to the UK.

        • I got the HTC Desire from Handtec, but you only need to send it back if you want things fixed under warranty, yes? I suspect the postage and handling will be cheaper than a local (full-price) fix …
          As soon as it’s out of warranty, we all pay the same for fixes (or more commonly just buy a new phone :) )

      • Yeah – don’t get me wrong on this.

        I’m just saying that I’ve seen a lot of little niche players like this – (low running costs, high margins) – fall very quickly when a few unforseen things happen, and they have to quickly dip into savings.

        Caveat emptor is I guess what I’m saying.

    • Actually they’re not a sponsor of the site — Mobicity advertises through Google Adwords, which shows up on Delimiter — but they don’t sponsor us directly. It’s news because these handsets are much in-demand in Australia atm :)

  4. I have brought in an Atrix from GSMNATION, US site, works well on the Next G, great phone too. Better still Testra were good enough to help me through setting up the APN without any problems. Very quick!

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