Late last year, Russia's largest wireless carrier Mobile TeleSystems (NYSE: MBT ) decided to pass on Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) latest and greatest (at the time) iPhone 5. That was a first for MTS after becoming an official iPhone carrier back in 2008, and the decision to drop the iPhone was related to Apple's stringent contractual requirements as well as lofty subsidy costs. Shortly thereafter, the next two largest carriers, VimpelCom (NASDAQ: VIP ) and Megafon followed suit, removing the iPhone from their respective lineups as well.
While Russia has never been a key market to Apple relative to the U.S. and China, losing the biggest carriers is certainly a bad thing. Guess who's had a change of heart.
Reuters reports that MTS and Vimpelcom are back on the iPhone wagon, and will begin selling the newest models this week. Vimpelcom has inked a new contract directly with Apple, while MTS is going to purchase from third-party distributors in order to avoid Apple's strict contract terms.
MTS also compiles quarterly reports on the Russian smartphone market, offering a detailed look at mobile trends. The carrier estimates that during the first half of the year, Apple's market share expanded modestly to 8.7%, while Google Android unsurprisingly skyrocketed to 70.1%. Nokia is making gains with both Microsoft Windows Phone and its Asha lineup.
Russia remains a relatively smaller opportunity for Apple in terms of smartphones volumes, with 3.9 million units sold in the second quarter, up 57% year over year.
After years of rapid expansion with carrier partnerships, Apple's pace of forming new relationships has slowed dramatically. This trend could now be changing, though. Apple just grabbed NTT DoCoMo, Japan's top carrier, last month for the first time ever. Its widely expected China Mobile deal should also be on the horizon.
Things on the iPhone carrier front are starting to shape up.