You can't get an international warranty for your mobile phone.
Think about that for a minute. The electronic gadget that you are certain to take with you when you go abroad doesn't have a worldwide guarantee. And that cool new cellphone you buy when you're on vacation won't be covered if it breaks as soon as you get home. That's the situation in much of the world for phones from Nokia, Motorola, Sony-Ericsson, and other vendors.
Your cellphone might be the single tool you rely on most when you're traveling. Wouldn't it be great to have a chance of getting it fixed under guarantee in a foreign country? But you probably can't.*
Isn't this just normal business policy? No, it isn't. Look at laptop PCs, for example, which are often sold with an international warranty. If not, the manufacturer will sell you one – that's not an option with mobile phones. Samsung, which sells both, includes an international warranty with its notebook PCs, but not with its mobile phones.
One Australian man who picked up a Motorola phone on vacation couldn't get it repaired at home until Motorola was embarrassed by a story in a national newspaper.
Maybe you could pay for a repair in an emergency then? Yeah, maybe. To take one example, customers complain that Nokia US actually refuses to service Nokia phone models that aren't sold in the US, no matter how much money they wave at them.
Why won't the mobile phone vendor give you an international guarantee?
Motorola doesn't want you to buy that phone
By limiting the guarantee to a country or region, phone makers achieve two things. Firstly, of course, they avoid support costs for models that aren't sold in a particular country.
More important, they discourage gray market imports. These are phones legitimately bought in one country and then sent to another country – usually somewhere were they are not yet on sale.
Grey market phones are common on eBay, and at some of the more dubious stores. But if you bring a cool new phone home from your trip to Hong Kong, then you too have joined the shadowy ranks of the gray market importers.
The internet has made it difficult for manufacturers to segregate markets as they did in the dark unwired, pre-WTO days. Many of the amazing phones that Nokia markets around the world are not officially available in the US. That doesn't stop US mobile phone buyers from wanting them, of course. It probably makes us want them more, in fact. Marketing hype doesn't respect geographical boundaries.
There's a wrong-headed notion that customers who buy gray market tech products are just bargain-hunters, digging for the lowest price. In fact, a study by the industry-sponsored Alliance for Gray Market and Counterfeit Abatement found that a majority of buyers actually paid at least the same for gray market products as they did for legitimate imports. Today's gray market buyers are looking for features, not low prices.
So sometimes, mobile makers don't want you to buy their most exciting products. How can we explain this strange behavior? It's all about control. (And you're the one being controlled, in case you hadn't guessed).
Carriers control the marketplace
There are many reasons why mobile phone makers like to discourage gray market phones and create artificial barriers between regional markets, but the true villains in this tale are big mobile carriers.
Companies like Cingular, Sprint and T-Mobile obviously prefer that you buy your phone from them, with a nice long contract. They don't like you buying your phone somewhere else and coming shopping for the best contract deal you can find.
In backward markets like the US, where big mobile carriers have a lot of clout, phone makers are pressured into adjusting their product range to suit the carriers' interests. If not, they could get shut out of the market – 60 per cent of US cellphone sales are through the carriers' direct channels, according to researchers at In-Stat, and most of the independent sellers earn their profits from carriers' activation commissions, not from the phones themselves.
Here's just one example of the power US carriers have: Wonder why Wi-fi equipped phones aren't selling so well in the US? Wireless LAN on phones is something that makes the old network operators really scared, because it earns them no money. Nokia even removed Wi-fi from its cool E61 business phone when it made a 'lite' version for the US, the E62 (some folks describe it as the 'crippled' version).
If you're in the US and you want an E61 (or many other fine phones sold in other countries), you have to buy a gray market import, and you know what that means? No Warranty.
How to understand your mobile warranty
If you look at a typical product guarantee agreement, it may appear that you can get warranty service anywhere in the world. There's a hidden catch with many warranties. Your agreement is with a local subsidiary of a multi-national company. So you must return the product to that local subsidiary's service centers. Of course, that local subsidiary doesn't have service centers in other countries. In other words, Nokia USA is not the same company as Nokia Finland, and your agreement with one is not an agreement with the other.
But wait! Have you spotted the obvious loophole here? International mail. Couldn't you just mail your phone to a service center in the country where it was purchased.
Well, sorry, mobile phone makers have though of that. You can't mail the phone to a service center. You, the original purchaser, must carry it in personally. (Actually, another person might be allowed to take the phone in for you; service staff will usually turn a blind eye to this – just don't try mailing it, you'll probably never see your phone again). You should be aware also that Motorola service centers are particularly strict about wanting to see documentation like a warranty card or purchase receipt.
*Europe is more consumer-friendly
Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones do have a kind of limited international warranty in Europe. If you purchased your phone in Europe you can get your phone serviced under warranty in any European country where the same model is sold by its maker. To be more precise, 'Europe' here means the European Economic Area (EEA), plus Switzerland and Turkey. Motorola phones don't seem to have this special European warranty protection, unfortunately.