Airtel says it will bring iPhone 3GS to India

On Friday, Bharti Airtel announced in a concisely worded press release that it had struck a deal with Apple to bring the latest version of Apple's smartphone to India “in the coming months.”

A newly updated section of the Airtel Website provides answers to some questions, making it clear that the company will continue to sell the 8GB version of the iPhone 3G in the country alongside the new 8GB and 16GB 16GB and 32GB variants of the iPhone 3GS, which will be available only at the network’s own stores.

The iPhone 3GS will remain locked to Airtel’s network in India and will be contract-free, enabling customers to use any new or existing Airtel SIM with the device, but there is no exchange offer for existing iPhone 3G users. Airtel has not yet announced the pricing for the device, nor whether it will offer any iPhone-specific service plans. Customers are free to use any applicable plan that Airtel currently offers.

As the only other Indian carrier that has the iPhone—albeit only the older 3G model—Vodafone is expected to announce its own plans to bring the 3GS to the country soon, but there has been no word from them yet.

It’s worth noting that neither Airtel nor Vodafone have a 3G network in India yet. The auction of the 3G spectrum has been delayed several times over the past couple of years; it’s now scheduled for April and both Airtel and Vodafone have already applied. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has said that the winners of the auction will be allowed to offer 3G services commercially in the country from September onwards.

Originally introduced by Apple in June 2009, the iPhone 3GS was scheduled for an Indian launch (along with 31 other countries) in August last year, but it failed to make an appearance on Indian shores as scheduled. Seven months later we finally have the first official murmurings of the device coming to India.

Most of the criticisms of the iPhone 3G in India—locked to a carrier, extremely high price, not officially supported by Apple, and lack of a 3G network—will probably continue to plague the iPhone 3GS. And given the widespread assumption that a new iPhone is just a few months away, the 3GS’s eventual appearance in India may be too little, too late.

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