* Vimpelcom signs direct sales contract with Apple
* MTS to purchase iPhones from distributors
* Carriers had sought softer contract terms
MOSCOW, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Russian mobile phone operators MTS and Vimpelcom said they would start selling Apple Inc’s new iPhone models on Oct. 25, with Vimpelcom the country’s only carrier to sign a direct sales contract with the U.S. company so far.
MTS and Vimpelcom as well as their peer Megafon - which account for 82 percent of all Russian mobile subscribers between them - earlier this year failed to renew their contracts on direct sales of iPhones in Russia as Apple would not soften its contract terms.
The operators were deterred by the fact that Russia does not allow subsidies for handsets, making the phones too expensive for the average customer, while market sources say the U.S. firm required the carriers to guarantee certain sales volumes and marketing support.
Of the three carriers, only Vimpelcom has so far signed a direct contract with Apple to sell the 5s and 5c iPhone models. The company did not disclose the terms of the deal, which was announced on Tuesday.
Unlike Vimpelcom, MTS will purchase the smartphones from distributors, MTS said in a statement, although it did not rule out the possibility of signing a direct contract in the future. Its previous contract with Apple ended in September 2012.
One of the market sources said that signing contracts with distributors rather than Apple itself allowed MTS to be flexible in terms of sales volumes and avoid the U.S. firm’s control over its marketing spend on the iPhones promotion.
Megafon declined an immediate comment when asked if it planned to sell the new iPhones. Megafon said previously that it had not sold iPhones since 2009.
According to MTS, Apple had a 8.7 percent share of the Russian smartphone market in terms of units sold in the first half of 2013. It also sells in Russia through its online store and other electronics retailers.