GadgetGuy gets many media invites but the opportunity to see inside Alegre – a real Aussie smartphone refurbishment factory – was one we had to accept.

You see we all hear horror stories of shoddily refurbished phones flooding the market and sold via grey/parallel importers. But when Boost Mobile began using Alegre and offering a range of guaranteed refurbs, it piqued our interest, and we needed to put this under the microscope.

Alegre is one of a small number of Australian companies that have been in the refurb business for some time – since 2012. A bunch of ex-telco and phone company employees that could see the refurb ‘writing-on-the-wall’ even back then founded it.

It is among Australia’s fastest-growing companies reaching 22nd place on the 2018 Australian Financial Review Top 100 – the second time on the list. It had an average year-on-year growth of 90.8% (2017-2018)

Since then, US-based Assurant (insurance and leasing) has taken a 20% holding, mainly to provide some access to its vast stock of pre-owned iPhones that come off lease in the US.

Disclaimer – we have baggage

GadgetGuy is/was not keen on refurbished phones – so much, so we wrote a guide to answer “Q: Should you buy a refurbished or second-hand phone? A: The short answer is no. The long answer is maybe, under some circumstances.”

Inside Alegre

Gadget Guy interviewed Alegre Commercial Director Russell Lornie at its Frenchs Forrest HQ. The interview is paraphrased to avoid copious use of ‘he said’.

So, armed with the presumption that refurbs were not all that wise, we were pleasantly surprised at Alegre’s operations and ethics. We thank Russell for a completely open and honest discussion and full behind the scenes access to the facility.

Issue #1 – refurb pedigree

Our biggest concern is that phones sold in Australia have Australian firmware to work with all Telco carrier bands – namely

  • Australian firmware to enable proper billing and tower-to-tower hand-off
  • Modems that support at least LTE Bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 28, 40 and 42 to cover all Australian 4G bands. Of these bands 1, 3 and 28 (4GX, in-building coverage and small cell areas) are vital and the others may location-based, e.g. Canberra needs 40 to get Optus. Vodafone uses band 5 in many areas.
  • Can make a 000 call without a SIM (international models can only call 911)

What this all boils down to is where do the phones come from?

Alegre sources phones from Australian

  • Telco carrier trade-in programs offering fixed prices for certain brands
  • Major smartphone makers demonstration and corporate programs
  • Corporate trade-in programs for government departments, utilities, Top-500 companies, banks, schools, insurance companies, leasing etc
  • Retail trade-in programs through major phone and electronics retailers

Its hallmark is the secure wiping of data from a phone and providing a certificate to give peace of mind. Or as Russell says, “Proving the pedigree from paddock to the plate.”

These sources supply about 90%+ of its needs, and the remaining (iPhones only) are imported from Assurant in the US where the LTE modem bands cover Australia and the device can be flashed with Australian firmware.

Alegre re-sells (it has the appropriate second-hand licences) about 100,000+ refurbished smartphones a year and could sell far more if it could obtain a reliable supply.

Refurbishment

Each smartphone’s unique IMEI is entered into custom software and checked against the AMTA IMEI lost and stolen registry – individuals can also check an IMEI if you are buying a second-hand phone. They are also checked for iCloud or device pin/security locks that need to be removed. Each phone is labelled and bagged to begin its journey.

IMEI

If a phone has a broken screen or visible damage, it is quarantined for later attention and testing. Accessories such as chargers and earbuds are usually discarded.