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iPhones to Canada. Subsidies from AT&T in the U.S.?

iphone canadaSurf Apple’s Canadian website and conspicuously missing is any link for the iPhone.  The same void can be found in Apple’s four retail outposts north of the border too.   If you’re a Canadian, it’s not that you can’t get (or use) the phone, but absent a carrier agreement, there’s been no service provider to “officially” unlock it.  Now that’s soon to change.

Canadian wireless provider Rogers Wireless confirmed today they’ve reached a deal.  In an official statement they said they are, “thrilled to announce that we have a deal with Apple to bring the iPhone to Canada later this year.”

That Rogers won the deal is little surprise.  They’re the only cellular carrier in Canada with a GSM network capable of supporting the platform (either with EDGE or in a future 3G model).  In fact, the lack of competition for Canadian airwaves, and the resultant high prices that flourished for data services, has widely been blamed as the reason for the phone’s slow migration.   It was only this past February that Rogers began offering a reasonably priced unlimited data plan on their network.

No date for the Canadian rollout has been given but at the latest, the phone will almost surely be available in time for the opening of Apple’s first western Canada outpost. That Vancouver based retail store (which will complement three stores in Toronto and one in Quebec), is expected to open in August.   Insiders say, tentatively, August 19th, to be more precise.

US iPhone Subsidies?
In other iPhone news, Fortune is reporting AT&T is preparing to offer heavy subsidies, savings somewhere in the ballpark of $200, when Apple roles out the next generation iPhone later this summer. In the highly speculative report, the writer says the price cuts would only be offered for phones sold through AT&T.  Phones sold through Apple stores would retail in the expected range of $399 to $499, depending on configuration.

It remains unclear whether a new iPhone will be a replacement for the prior generation, or whether it will become a new addition to a growing iPhone family.  If, as widely speculated, the 3G phone is a replacement and not a sibling, the described subsidy structure could hint at the prospect of a modified arrangement with AT&T. 

Under such an arrangement, AT&T might retain exclusivity as a carrier partner, and have pricing advantages to lure customers.  Those willing to pay the premium for an unlocked phone, however, would be able to use a traditional SIM card (or authorized unlocking utility program) to unlock and use the phone.  Unlike today, use of an unlocked phone wouldn’t require a questionable hack, or the prospect of software upgrades reverting the phone to unusable. 

In concept, the idea of price advantage but not “absolute nobody-else-can-use-it exclusivity” would be similar to Apple’s agreements with Orange in France. There, French law, prohibits the exclusive bundling of a phone with a service provider.  Customers buying the phone can pay a 100 Euro premium to unlock the phone during the first six months of ownership, and thereafter it must be unlocked for free.

Neither Apple nor AT&T have made any statements confirming, or denying, the accuracy of the Fortune report.  At this point, the news remains unsubstantiated and speculative. It’s theory that may or may not prove worth the paper it was written on.


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