NEW DELHI (AFP) — Apple's iconic iPhone was slated to make its debut Friday in India, home to the world's fastest-growing mobile market, officials said.
The 3G or third generation phone will sell for more than triple its US price tag in India, which has emerged as a key battleground for makers of high-end mobile handsets thanks to the nation's increasingly affluent middle-class
"We believe this iPhone fever we've seen globally will catch on in India," said Sanjay Kapoor, mobile services president for Bharti Airtel, the country's largest mobile operator.
The launch is part of a 70-country rollout of the high-speed phone, which includes a built-in iPod and a desktop-class web browser.
Bharti Airtel and rival Vodafone Essar will sell the phone for 31,000 rupees (712 dollars) for the eight-gigabyte memory model, and 36,100 for the 16 GB version.
The Indian price is far higher than the 199 dollars paid by US customers to the telecom giant AT&T for the phone.
AT&T heavily subsidises the phone in the United States and makes money by tying the customer to annual subscriptions, whereas Indian mobile providers have no such service lock-ins.
But Airtel said it was confident the phone would find buyers in the country despite the higher price and the fact that India has yet to launch 3G networks needed to support faster browsing and downloads.
India announced earlier this month it plans a global auction for airwaves to offer high-speed 3G mobile phone services, a move seen reaping the government up to 10 billion dollars.
Airtel is targeting the "high-end achiever segment" and the big-spending "funster youth segment," Kapoor told reporters, calling young people the "evangelists" of high-tech gadgets.
Kapoor noted that other 3G smartphones were already on sale in India and that lack of the next-generation frequency had not deterred demand.
"There will always be aspirational customers who will want" the latest phone, he said.
More than 200,000 customers pre-registered for the iPhone, he said.
Much of the Indian mobile market's earlier growth in India was fuelled by the sale of low- and medium-end handsets. India added nine million wireless subscribers in June to bring the total number of mobile users to 287 million.
Vodafone Essar, owned by Britain's Vodafone Group Plc, announced the India launch on its website. No figures were immediately available from Vodafone on pre-booking numbers.
The iPhone, which had its initial launch in the Unites States in July, was due to go on sale Friday at one minute after midnight in India.
In Japan, Australia and other parts of the world, Apple fans have queued for hours -- and sometimes days --- to get their hands on the new iPhone.
The iPhone will be going head-to-head in India with handsets from Nokia, estimated to hold more than 80 percent of India's so-called smartphone market, and HTC Corp for the high-end consumer segment.
Nokia announced pre-bookings for its multimedia N96 -- the Finnish company's unofficial answer to the iPhone -- earlier this week in India in an apparent bid to upstage the Apple offering.
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