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Orange's Apple deal to bear unlocked iPhones

French law bites Mac maker, again

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Orange will indeed offer Apple's iPhone on France, but the most interesting aspect of the two firms' partnership will be the availability, for the first time, of officially unlocked handsets.

French law prevents carriers from tying handsets exclusively to their networks - consumers have to be able to move to a different network provider and take their phones with them. The upshot is that Orange will sell a locked iPhone for €399 alongside an unlocked model for a price that's yet to be specified by either party.

Apple's tie-up with Orange was revealed back in August, but while the iPhone maker's partnerships with O2 in the UK and T-Mobile in Germany were announced to the public the following month, as expected, the Orange arrangement has taken longer to finalise than was anticipated.

Orange, these days part of France Telecom, was adamant that the time had been spent haggling over the commercial details of the arrangement and had nothing to do with unlocking the iPhone.

However, the arrangement is a tricky one for Apple. What can it do to stop, say, British or German punters popping to Paris to pick up a SIM-free iPhone? Since its deals with O2 and T-Mobile are believed to be founded on taking a cut of the money the networks make from iPhone users, that's not an outcome Apple will be happy with.

That said, we don't know how much more Apple and Orange will charge for the unlocked iPhone or how readily available it will be. It's not hard to imagine Apple obeying the letter or the law but not its spirit by charging, say, twice as much for the unlocked iPhone as the tethered one.

The price of the unlocked iPhone, along with the cost of the contract attached to the locked version, will be announced in November, Orange said.

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