It's a far cry from the exclusive deal with O2 when the iPhone first landed in the UK. Quite unlike the USA, where AT&T has a monopoly (and we all know about monopolies), the UK appears to be the land of the free. Last week we heard that Vodafone, O2, Orange and T-Mobile will be stocking the new phone; now along comes Three to add to the fun. A dollop of competition like this must be good for the consumer, with all carriers offering subtly different long-term contracts and 30-day contracts for people who don't want to be tied in to one carrier for a long period. Phone prices haven't been announced yet, but expect discounts for 18-month and two-year contracts with full price being charged for the 30-day arrangements.
Locking to one carrier, long a thorny problem and one of my particular hobby horses, is now under threat and, I suspect, will be history before much longer. After all, a long contract for a discounted phone is a fair swap and locking shouldn't be necessary. O2 pioneered unlocking for customers who had come to the end of their contract, but now seem to be offering it more generally. An assistant at my local O2 store said that they would be happy to unlock a new iPhone 4 but their current unlocking kit would work only on the 3GS. They were fairly sure the new kit would be along soon after the launch.
In reality, I suspect, the carriers have recognised that they no longer need locking. The completely unlocked iPad is showing the way, with carriers happy to issue micro-SIM cards on a 30-day-cancellation arrangement. Before long, I believe, we'll see the same freedom with the iPhone and other phones. Up to two months ago, before the iPad, carriers were charging £25 for the issue of a 3G SIM card or, in some cases, a compulsory £50 to include a modem dongle. All that seems to have joined the dodo in extinction.
International travellers will soon have the freedom to buy pay-as-you-go data SIMs in most countries. This works now with the iPad and will soon become reality for iPhone users. All except the USA, the land of no choice and locked-down devices. Next week I go to Washington and will attempt to activate my AT&T iPad SIM for one month and one month only. More on that later.