Sony Mobile Communications is in talks with Middle Eastern mobile operators to offer its latest smartphone at a discount.
The news comes after a disappointing second quarter for the Japanese firm’s mobile unit, which has dropped out of a ranking of the world’s top-10 mobile manufacturers.
Sony plans to launch its Xperia Ion handset in the Middle East and Africa at the end of this month or early September, with a list price of Dh2,299.
However, it has agreed with the Saudi Telecom Company to offer the handset for 299 riyals (Dh293) to those signing up to STC’s top tariff plan. The deal is expected to be launched at the end of this month.
Rüdiger Odenbach, vice president at Sony Mobile Communications in the Middle East and Africa, said talks were underway with other operators concerning similar deals.
“We are in constant discussions with the operators. In the UAE it’s du and Etisalat,” he said.
A deal to offer the Xperia Ion at a subsidised rate through Zain Jordan is “almost finalised”, according to Sony.
Offering free or subsidised mobile handsets is not the norm in the Middle East.
In the United States, two-thirds of phone and contract sales are controlled by telecoms carriers. Handsets are often subsidised to entice consumers to take out 12 or 18-month contracts, often tying them in to higher-priced tariff plans.
In the Arabian Gulf, telecoms companies handle just 2 per cent of mobile-phone sales, according to Microsoft, and the subsidising of handsets is not widespread.
“This business model is not that well known in this part of the world,” said Mr Odenbach. “Some key devices are subsidised, but this is not where the main business is coming from.”
Etisalat in the UAE offers a few handsets for free or at subsidised rates, including the iPhone 4S, HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy SIII.
Samsung told The National in June that the practice of subsidising mobile handsets - as Sony is doing - marks a growing business model in the Gulf region.
"I see the operators as the drivers for the mobile-phone business in the future," said Ashraf Fawakherji, the general manager of the telecoms group at Samsung Gulf Electronics. "They will be influencing the market much [more]."
The Xperia Ion has a 4.6-inch touchscreen, a 12 megapixel camera, and runs on Google’s Android operating system. It comes pre-installed with D1G, an Arabic social network, under a deal with Sony.
The launch of Sony’s new handset comes after the manufacturer dropped out of a ranking by Gartner of the world’s top-10 handset makers.
In the first quarter of this year, Sony Mobile Communications sold 7.9 million units, placing it ninth out of the world’s top manufacturers.
However, figures from Gartner published this week show that Sony had been pushed out of the top-ten device manufacturers.
Across all handset manufacturers, worldwide sales of mobile phones reached 419 million units in the second quarter of 2012, a 2.3 per cent decline from the second quarter of 2011, Gartner said.
However, sales of smartphones are growing as a proportion of the total market. “Smartphone sales accounted for 36.7 per cent of total mobile phone sales and grew 42.7 per cent in the second quarter of 2012,” Gartner said.