UK ‘one of the biggest exporters of grey market stock’


Wholesale trading platform gsmExchange says 9,000 British firms sell phones in unauthorised markets

The UK is one of the world’s biggest exporters of grey market handsets.

This is according to mobile wholesale trading platform gsmExchange, which claims 9,000 of its 60,000 members are based in this country.

The grey market is a legal trade whereby handsets intended for a specific market through official channels, such as distribution and through network operators and major retailers, are traded outside the official territory.

Essam Bishara, CEO of gsmExchange, claimed that last year up to 465 million of 1.55 billion devices sold globally were grey market sales. He said more than £826,000 worth of stock is offered or sought on gsmExchange’s online portal platform every hour.

Customers in the UK include operators and distributors whose identity is confidential to gsmExchange.

The UK is gsmExchange’s third largest market after Europe (29 per cent) and the Middle East (17 per cent).

Dilyan Boshev (pictured), gsmExchange business development manager, says the UK is an “export market” which is attractive to global resellers because premium devices are often launched here ahead of emerging markets.

Dubai and parts of Asia and Africa are popular destinations for UK stock.

Boshev says many UK businesses have now set up trading offices in the Middle East but he refused to give details.

He claims box breaking also continues to offer “lucrative” opportunities for grey traders in the UK market.

“The UK is the only market with a structured format ranging from simple box breakers to major distributors,” Boshev said. “All the businesses are now very savvy with international trading and many have been doing it for a very long time.

“The UK market is historically known on an international level for operator stock. It is an export market, they buy here and then they export it.

“Operator stock and return stock is very popular in emerging markets such as countries in the Middle East.”

Manufacturers, such as Samsung and RIM, have tried to eliminate the problem of grey exports. They can now track devices from location to location every time one is switched on and locate which market it was originally meant for. Apple is understood to use a similar tracking technology on its iPhone and iPad products.

But gsmExchange says this has had little to no effect on grey exports, with devices from Apple, Samsung and RIM remaining the most popular.

A BlackBerry spokesperson said: “BlackBerry products are distributed in over 175 countries and RIM works closely with its authorised carriers and distribution partners.

“RIM strongly encourages customers to purchase products through its authorised carrier and indirect distribution channels.”

A Nokia spokesperson said: “While there are differences in local currency movement, tax and duty, there will always be people who exploit popular products for gain.”

Top grey market traded devices

1. Apple iPhone 4 16GB
2. Apple iPhone 4 32GB
3. BlackBerry Bold 9780
4. Samsung Galaxy S II
5. Samsung Galaxy S
6. BlackBerry Curve 8520
7. BlackBerry Torch 9800

Leading grey trade markets*

•Europe 29%
•Middle East 17%
•UK 15%
•North America 15%
•Far East 12%
•Eastern Europe 9%
•Other 3%
* Figures from gsmExchange