SingTel to bring in the iPhone to Singapore?

Rumors of SingTel clinching the exclusive rights to distribute the iPhone in the country are flying, but the operator remains tight-lipped for now.

The iPhone may finally make its way to Singapore's shores, but local operator, SingTel remains tight-lipped.

According to a Channel NewsAsia report online, SingTel may have won the rights to distributing Apple's iPhone in Singapore, and may launch it officially in September.

The report quotes sources as saying SingTel has "more or less sealed the deal", and that retailers expect the device to be priced at around S$690 (US$496) when it launches.

Both SingTel and Apple declined to comment when contacted.

SingTel's Group CEO Chua Sock Khoong previously confirmed SingTel was in talks with Apple, and expressed confidence in winning exclusive rights to distributing the iPhone.

Since the iPhone's launch last year, an estimated 10,000 sets have been bought and had their software cracked to be used in Singapore, according to reports online.

The iPhone has also drawn criticism for its lack of 3G functionality. Users in the United States on AT&T's EDGE network--regarded colloquially as "2.5G", as EDGE delivers faster speeds than GPRS but is slower than 3G--have complained about slow surfing speeds; should the device launch in Singapore without 3G, users will have to use the even slower GPRS network for mobile surfing.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak too, reportedly expressed disappointment at the device's lack of 3G functionality.

As such, it has been speculated that the iPhone model arriving in Singapore has to be 3G-enabled for it to gain traction. But an analyst doesn't see it as a necessary cog in the wheel.

Aloysius Choong, IDC research manager for personal systems, told ZDNet Asia in an interview that user studies have shown consumers are more interested in attributes such as design and branding.

"The consumer emphasis on having 3G isn't very high...it is probably more to the operator's benefit than the consumers," said Choong, elaborating that the local operator interest would lie in data revenues.

Should the non-3G enabled model arrive, it may affect the subsidy plan on the handsets offered by the operators, Choong added.

Moreover, SingTel's ultimate mobile interest is in driving use of its HSDPA networks, he said.

"You could argue that [the iPhone] may help that cause by 'conditioning' users to use the Internet on their mobiles," Choong noted.