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The Trade in Fake Mobile Phones

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 22 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Fakes Counterfeits Mobile Phones China

Mobile phones are big business. In turn, that means fake mobile phones are bound to appear. As soon as there’s money to be made the counterfeiters will enter. The fake mobile phones have become popular in large part because they offer a cheap way to buy the latest models – or something that resembles that latest model.


The source of most of the fake mobile phones on the market is Asia, and most specifically China. There’s even a specific name for them there; they’re called shanzai, which translates as copied goods. As of 2008 these faked phones were responsible for 20 per cent of mobile phone sales within China. The manufacturers have the ability to respond quickly when a new phone hits the market and have a copy on the streets within weeks.

The real impetus for the fake mobile phone market came in 2005. This was when the Taiwanese company Mediatek came up with a circuit board that allowed multiple chips to be cheaply integrated. This made it simple to come up with phones that simulated the qualities of the proprietary software

How Good Are They?

The fake mobile phones hitting the market keep improving. These days they can fool most people, and they can do many of the things the real phones can do. The problem is that they can’t do them anywhere near as well or as reliably.

Visually they can definitely pass for the real thing. It can take close inspection to find the differences. Fake iPhones, for example, will have exactly the same lines and screen and even the familiar Apple logo. However, they might be called a HiPhone instead. That can be easy to miss.

Buy a fake phone and it will come with a charger and instruction manual, all carefully packaged, just like the real thing. There won’t be any warranty, though, and the software won’t work as smoothly as the proper phone, and often won’t even do all the things the real phone will do.

More importantly there are no safety standards applied to fake phones. The batteries aren’t as good and more likely to explode, which can cause injury.

How Large A Problem?

Fake mobiles phones have become an increasing problem for the large phone manufacturers. Not only do they eat into the profits of the legitimate companies, the fakes also have a detrimental effect on their reputation. The fakes are readily available in many parts of the globe, with Indian and Europe proving to be large, eager markets.

The big players, such as Nokia, are putting pressure on the Chinese government, backed up by trade organisations and governments, to try and curb or even eliminate the trade in fake mobile phones. So far they’ve had very little success. For the counterfeiters it’s an exceptionally lucrative business. They use cheap parts, have nothing invested in research and development, and pay their employees very low wages. Short of strong legal measures within China, the fakers will continue. They can move their bases easily and set up again.

The other piece of the puzzle that could help cut down on the trade is better border controls that could stop the smuggling of fake mobile phones. This is very much a game of cat and mouse. As soon as customs shut down one channel the smugglers find another. To be realistic, shutting down the smuggling entirely is impossible. Unless the Chinese government truly cracks down on those making the fakes, the trade in counterfeit mobile phones will continue and flourish.

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