Their curved finish, default apps, fingerprint sensors and cameras look impressive. But looks can be deceptive.
If you are planning to buy a smartphone this festival season, be wary of unauthorised vendors, more so if the device is offered at a tempting small fraction of the price.
India Today TV’s Special Investigation Team has unearthed a sprawling market of counterfeit mobile devices — large quantities of which are now faked in Delhi.
Remember, China’s manufacturing hub of Shenzhen, which is infamous worldwide for its knock-off products.
But the SIT probe found that India’s “jugaad” mechanics may now be giving the Chinese copycats a tough competition.
At Delhi’s Nehru Place, one of South Asia’s largest markets of electronic goods, computer hardware and software, small-time technicians now assemble iPhones from smuggled parts at breakneck speed, the probe discovered.
Sagar, a manager and technician at Laptop Store in Nehru Place, promised to deliver 50 pieces of the iPhone’s 6s model for Rs 11,000 a device, almost one-third of the original price.
“Has this been assembled here?” the SIT reporter probed.
“Yes, it’s assembled here,” confirmed Sagar, offering the fake merchandise in bulk.
“So how much will an assembled iPhone cost?” asked the journalist.
“You’ll get it for Rs 11,000. No negotiation,” the store manager replied.
Sagar also gave the SIT team a demonstration of his counterfeiting skills as he pried opened a handset bearing the Apple logo.
Sagar owns a mini-factory in Nehru Place, where he assembles fake iPhones using smuggled parts
The Nehru Place technician then explained how the smuggled parts are put together.
“Can you make out that this phone is assembled? No one can,” Sagar said, showing the chip, the loudspeaker and ports he had assembled inside the phone’s body. “It takes 5-10 minutes for one device.”
One technician, he revealed, can make 30-40 iPhone handsets a day.
Of the size of a big hall, Sagar’s store is a mini-factory of fake iPhones, with three people fabricating dozens of pirated devices manually — and without any state-of-the-art equipment.
“Give me the order and I will produce 50 pieces in a day,” he said. “Take this iPhone 6 to any (Apple) centre. Just ask for battery replacement. No one would be able to tell it’s fake.”
Sagar insisted that all stores at Nehru Place are stocking his pirated devices.
According to the Authentication Solution Providers’ Association, counterfeit products in the country cause Rs 1 lakh crore of annual losses across various sectors.
Trade in pirated goods has risen steadily in the last few years, with volumes in fake products now standing at 3.3 percent of the total global business, the ASPA says.
As early as 2015, Nehru Place was on the United States Trade Representative’s list of notorious markets.
But India Today TV’s SIT found some tech impostors at Nehru Place have now graduated from being sellers to manufacturers of counterfeits.
Fake smartphones, the probe found, are sold brazenly across New Delhi.
Rahul and Vicky, merchants at Jai Bhole Store in Old Delhi’s Lajpat Rai Market, have clones of global brands displayed on their shelves.
In their jargon, the devices are called the “first/high copy” of the real products.
Rahul offered imitations of Samsung’s S9 and S9 Plus and the iPhone’s XS Max and 8 Plus models.
“No one would come to know that they are fake,” Rahul guaranteed. “Only someone dangerously tech-savvy would be able to detect that the phone is a replica.”
Vicky, a shopkeeper at infamous Gaffar Market, sells fake iPhone for Rs 8,500, in bulk
Retailers at Lajpat Rai market were found hawking fake smartphones sourced domestically and abroad.
When Apple unveiled its latest iPhone 11 in California, priced at Rs 64,900-Rs 141,900, the tech giant wouldn’t have imagined its cheap imitations would sweep markets as far as Delhi in less than a month.
India Today TV’s investigation found unauthorised vendors selling the fake iPhone 11s for Rs 15,000 in retail and Rs 8,500 in bulk in the city’s Ghaffar Market.
“You’ll get Apple (iPhone) 11. It will cost Rs 8,500 in bulk,” offered Vicky, a vendor of fake smartphones at Ghaffar. “We are also selling it for Rs 12,000-15,000 in retail.”
The fake smartphone industry is a low-margin, high-volume business, explained Pankaj Mahindroo, president the Indian Cellular Association. He maintained that the consumers, in most cases, go for bogus devices knowingly.
“We estimate that about two-three per cent of the phones are of this type. Of course, when you are talking about 300 million phones, it makes up a large number of 6-9 million phones,” he said. “My request and advice to consumers is that if you are aspiring to buy iPhones or a high-end Samsung phone, the industry is delivering great value. So, stick to genuine products and warranty.”