(Adds details, comments from AIS)
By Khettiya Jittapong
BANGKOK, Nov 13 (Reuters) - Thailand’s third-largest mobile phone firm, True Move, said on Thursday it had signed a deal with Apple Inc (AAPL.O) to sell the 3G iPhone in Thailand.
The deal could make True Move, a subsidiary of True Corp (TRUE.BK), the first operator to sell the new phone in the fast-growing Thai market. Bigger rival Advanced Info Service ADVA.BK says it is still talking with Apple about iPhone.
“True Move has signed an agreement with Apple to bring the iPhone 3G to Thailand in the coming months,” True Move said in a statement. It gave no precise date.
A senior official at True Corp, which owns 75.26 percent of True Move, said True Move would work with Apple on the launch of the sleek smartphone, which offers faster Internet access and improved email features.
Thailand is still in the testing stage for 3G networks, but 3G iPhone users can surf the Internet via existing EDGE or GPRS networks, a 2.5 generation mobile technology.
Apple rolled out the iPhone in more than 20 countries in July and has set a target of selling 10 million iPhones this year.
Thailand’s largest mobile phone operator, Advanced Info Service (AIS) ADVA.BK, said the Apple deal with True Move was not exclusive.
“Apple is talking with every operator, including us and DTAC. When will we sell iPhone? It depends on when we can reach a deal with Apple on terms and conditions,” Somchai Lertsuttiwong, AIS’s executive vice president for marketing, told Reuters.
In fact, the new 3G iPhone can already be had in Bangkok’s MBK centre, a treasure trove of pirated luxury goods. It is estimated that Thailand already has more than 100,000 iPhone users, if you include an earlier version that does not have 3G.
A 3G iPhone smuggled from the United States costs around 29,500 baht ($842). One from Hong Kong costs about 35,000 baht since it offers an easier way to insert the SIM card.
AIS has 26.8 million subscribers, around 50 percent of the Thai cellular phone market, while True Move has more than 13 million. Second-ranked Total Access Communication (DTAC) (DTAC.BK) TACC.SI has more than 18 million users.
AIS, an affiliate of Singapore Telecommunications (STEL.SI), said it expected the Thai mobile phone market to grow 15-20 percent this year, which would mean about 93-96 percent of the population could have a SIM card.
But actual mobile users are estimated at about 65-70 percent because many users own more than one SIM card, it said. ($1 = 35.05 Baht) (Editing by Alan Raybould)