Friday, November 9, 2007

The French and their iPhone....

Apple iPhone fans could get French bargain

By Claudine Beaumont

Gadget fans eagerly awaiting this evening's UK launch of the Apple iPhone could save their money and buy an unlocked handset in France instead, thanks to a loophole in French telecommunications law.

The iPhone, which costs £269, goes on sale in Britain at 6.02pm tonight, and iPhone owners will have to sign up to an 18-month contract with O2, Apple's exclusive iPhone carrier in the UK. Apple has signed exclusive network deals with mobile phone operators in several countries, including AT&T in the US, T-Mobile in Germany, and Orange in France.

But under French law, all mobile phones have to be offered unlocked, so that customers can use them on any network they wish. It means that in theory, British consumers could travel to France, buy an unlocked iPhone and then use it with their regular network in the UK, without having to sign up to an O2 tariff, which start from £35 per month.

However, it's highly unlikely that Apple will make it that easy for customers to get hold of unlocked iPhones and it is thought that Apple and Orange are working closely together to find a solution before the iPhone goes on sale in French stores on November 29.

Queues outside the Apple shop

Ben Woods, an analyst with CSS Insight, expects Apple to make it as difficult as possible for "iPhone tourists" to pick up an unlocked handset. "There are three things Apple could do to resolve this problem. The first is to make the price of an unlocked French device very high, at least two or three times the price of an Orange-locked handset, although that may not be allowed under French law because it could be seen as undermining the idea of customer choice and the reason phones have to be sold unlocked. But you can guarantee that if they make it very expensive, people will think twice.

"The second is to ensure the devices only support the French language, so unless you are bilingual, you will find it impossible to use. "The third option depends on the nature of the legislation. It is not clear whether French law demands that phones are unlocked to work on any network in the world or just networks in France. If it's just French networks, then Apple could ensure that unlocked iPhones will only work in France."

A number of customers couldn't wait until the iPhone's UK release and instead imported the handset from the US. It meant that in order to use the phone, they had to register with AT&T and pay expensive roaming rates when using the handset in the UK.

To get around this problem, many users hacked their phones to unlock them and allow them to run on any network, but Apple has warned customers that such action invalidates the warranty, and that future iPhone software updates may conflict with hacks, leaving the device unusable. Apple and O2 are expecting bumper sales of the iPhone this Christmas.

The device combines and iPod music player with a web browser and a phone, and was recently named Invention of the Year by Time.


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