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Online retailer offers Sim-free iPhone 3Gs

They don't come cheap, though

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Play.com is punting unlocked iPhones for folk who don't fancy being tethered to O2. The downside: freedom from carriers doesn't come cheap.

The 8GB iPhone 3G, for example, costs £550. Play wants £600 for the 16GB version, though it currently has no models of that capacity in stock, according to its website.

Play claims the untethered handset is "a genuine Sim-free mobile phone and therefore unlocked to all UK networks. It is not unlocked from a UK or European network and is available due to EU legislation ensuring the sale of Sim-free mobile phones".

Apple, O2 and Carphone Warehouse currently offer pay-as-you-go 8GB iPhone 3Gs for a less wallet-busting £342, though these handsets can only be used on O2's network.

Unless, of course, you use a tool like Yellowsn0w and other tools from hackers the iPhone Dev Team to open and unlock the handset yourself.

You can have it even more cheaply if you're willing to buy into a monthly O2 subscription.

Play.com's move will surely spur speculation that Apple's working to reduce iPhone stocks ahead of the anticipated introduction of a third-generation model in June or July - a year after the debut of the 3G.

However, we'd expect it to punt cheaper handsets through its main channels if that were the case. More likely, Play is simply acquiring iPhones from a continental Europe country where Apple is obliged to offer unlocked handsets. ®

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