Smugglers in China Used Drones to Carry 15,000 iPhones Across the Border Each Night

A sophisticated smuggling operation has been caught shipping iPhones between Hong Kong and mainland China. The group used a drone and cable to move up to 15,000 iPhones each night across the border.
Jessica Miley

26 people have been arrested by Chinese officials, accused of smuggling iPhones between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland city of Shenzhen. The smugglers reportedly used a drone and a cable strung between two high rises to move more than 15,000 iPhones across the border each night. 

Chen Liang, deputy chief of the Wenjindu branch of Shenzhen’s anti-smuggling bureau, said the gang then worked from midnight to 5 AM each morning in an effort to avoid detection.

iPhone smuggling has been happening between the two cities for many years, but authorities say it is the first time that they have seen evidence of drone usage.

Drones used to fly cable across

“It’s the first case found in China that drones were being used in cross-border smuggling crimes,” customs officials said. The operation used drones to carry a 200-meter long cable between high-rise flats on each side of the border. 

The cable was then attached to two giant motorized conveyance wheels in the flats. The contraband was tied to the cable which was then pulled from either side taking the smuggled goods across the border. 

Sophisticated operation making 90K USD per month

Each package contained approximately ten iPhones. “Inside the two flats, soundproofing materials have been installed to muffle the noise of the roving motorised wheels during delivery,” Chen described.

“Each day, 10,000 to 15,000 mobile phones were smuggled across the border,” he continued. “As they operated 15 days a month, its monthly income reached over 10 million yuan.” 

Taxes help black market thrive

iPhones are manufactured in mainland China but because of taxes and charges, purchasing an iPhone is reserved for the elite. An iPhone that costs $1000 in the U.S. may sell for $3000 in China. 

This huge price hike has created a thriving black market. Smugglers go to extraordinary lengths to get luxury goods into China. 

Luxury goods in high demand

Last year a woman was caught at the border with more than a hundred iPhones stuck to her body as she tried to cross the border. In another instance, a smuggler filled coffee tins and toothpaste containers with luxury watches in an attempt to move them across the border. 


So far this is the first instance of using drones to get much sought after luxury items across the border but anti-smuggling police on both sides of the border should expect to have more instances like this in the future. The authorities on both the Hong Kong and Shenzhen side have invested in drones to try and combat future smuggling attempts. 

Smugglers may be inspired by some daring smuggling operations to get contraband goods into high-security prisons. In the UK a quadcopter was used to drop off items to inmates while in the US, in Ohio, a drone dropping its payload was enough to almost cause a riot between prisoners.


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