Don’t buy a grey market phone (guide)

With the low prices for 5G phones, it is vital to know that if you buy a grey market phone, it will likely not work on the Australian 5G network. It may not even work on the 4G network. The same applies to overseas purchases as well.

What is the grey market?

It is anything other than approved retailers like JB Hi-Fi, Good Guys, Harvey Norman, Bing Lee, Officeworks, Betta, Retravision, Myer, David Jones, Coles, Target, Woolworths, Big W, and the Telcos Telstra, Optus and Vodaphone. Some brands have genuine online stores or Amazon or eBay stores, which are safe.

Grey market is almost any merchant marketplace from Kogan (includes Dick Smith, Matt Blatt, Mighty Ape), Amazon, eBay as well as lots of smaller stores like

(marketplace sellers)
Australian WarehouseBecexTech Australia
Buy Mobile
(may sell genuine end-of-model runouts)
(marketplace sellers)
Etoren DealJC Browns MarketMobile Australia
MobileCity/ MobileCiti/MobicitiMy Mobiles
OZ DIgitalPlaythekProdStop AUT-Dimension
Tech CartTechBuyTobyDeals AU100sa more (many are a guise for the same companies)

If you find a grey marketer, please let us know to add it to the list.

Don’t take the word of grey-marketers that their phones are Australian certified and never believe that an ‘International model’ will work here.

That does not mean that some of the above may have some genuine Australian brands/models, but how do you know until you buy and try to get a refund? Good luck there!

Problems with grey market phones

Telco bands

In the old 3G UTMS days grey market was not an issue as this was a global network. But as 3G is phasing out soon, you won’t be able to fall back from 4/5G to that to make a voice call. It also has the widest voice coverage.

4G is an issue as some bands are uniquely Australian and not supported by grey market phones. In particular, lower bands 28 (700Mhz), 5 (850Mhz), and 8 (900Mhz) are best for in-building and distance coverage. If you can only get bands 3 (1800Mhz), 1 (2100Mhz), 7 (2600Mhz) and 40 (2300Mhz), these are only good for the city and suburbs – short distance line of sight to the tower. If you use Optus, its Band 42 (3500Mhz) becomes more important as a 4G+ data band.

5G is critical as the IMEI of all genuine Australian phones is registered with the Telcos. Simply put, you can only activate Australian 5G handsets in Australia first, and then they can roam overseas. That means grey market 5G may turn out to be nothing more than an expensive 3G phone.

Some brands, like Samsung, also region lock genuine Australian phones. They are trying to protect our interests from unscrupulous grey market importers as phones from other countries are often stolen, refurbs, second-hand, demos, seconds, or even counterfeit.

Mandatory Australian Telco bands (Whirlpool list)

  • 3G Telstra (5), Optus (1, 8) and Vodafone (8)
  • 4G Telstra (1, 3, 7, 8, 28), Optus (1, 3, 7, 28, 40, 42) and Vodafone (1, 3, 5, 7)
  • 5G Sub-6Ghz n78
  • 5G Low band, n5 (Telstra), n28 (Vodafone), n40 (Optus)
  • mmWave (not in wide use) n257, n258 and possibly n261

Android OS upgrades and security patches – none

You may not get Android operating system upgrades or regular security patches. That means they are more vulnerable to malware and other issues.

Warranty – none

Grey market phones do not have an Australian Consumer Law warranty where the retailer and the manufacturer must provide the warranty.

The majority make it very hard to claim a warranty saying that it is a user error or damage is not covered. You often have to post the item back to the company, usually at an international address. That can take weeks and forget any hope of a refund – all sales are final.

How to identify a grey market phone

The majority of these

  • have a non-genuine international round/flat pin charger or a non-genuine generic Australia charger or adapter
  • are shrink-wrapped – no box (so you cannot check the original carton for the region or LTE bands printed on it)
  • do not support all 4G (or 5G) bands used here
  • do not support Telstra/Optus or Vodafone VoLTE (Voice-over-LTE), meaning all 4/5G voice calls drop back to 3G
  • won’t make a 000-emergency call without a SIM
  • may not hand off properly from one tower to another (billing issues and dropouts)
  • won’t accept over-the-air firmware updates – ever!

So, you end up with 3G for most use.

Fake phones

Benchmarking platform AnTuTu has revealed that from March 2020 to February 2021, about 5% of 3.15milliion phones tested on the platform were fake. Samsung led the way with 34% (of the 5%), Apple 13%, OPPO (5%) and vivo (3%). The false 5G branding “for the psychological effect on users” was more disturbing.

And the big one – RCM C-Tick

If you go to Settings, About Phone, Regulatory Information (or similar), you must see the RCM C-Tick mark. It must also be on the charger and the box.

Cybershack’s view – don’t do it

We all love a bargain, and we have been guilty of eyeing off these apparent grey market bargains without knowing the downsides. This guide is not to scare you but to help you spot a grey market or even a counterfeit phone.

Cybershack Grey Market news

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