Apple's iPhone locking policy

Posted on by Mike Evans

I'VE ALWAYS hated the locking of mobile phones to one carrier. Sure, in many countries, particularly the UK, locked phones supplied under a contract can be extremely cheap. And unlocking of the average phone is simple and costs peanuts; so there are some arguments in favour of locking.

But with the iPhone we have the worst of all worlds in many countries, including the USA and UK. The locked phone is supplied at a discount, as you would expect when signing a 12, 18 or even 24-month contract. Unlike other phones, though, the iPhone cannot be unlocked--unless it is jailbroken, which is not for everyone. More annoyingly, Apple have one chosen partner in every country. While I have been very happy with my O2 contract in Britain and with Vodafone in Greece, I would have liked a choice of carrier. Many would-be iPhone users are put off because they want to stay with their current supplier.Main_safari20081204

With the new iPhone expected mid-year (and the new 3.0 software certain for June) I've got to thinking about the iniquities of the exclusive deals that Apple have made throughout the world. Apple can claim with some justification that they have chosen partners that can provide reliable and universal 3G coverage, but I suspect the main reason for the system is the financial benefit that Apple gets from signing these exclusive deals. In my view it was wrong for a consumer-oriented company such as Apple to go down this route.

In several European countries, France and Greece to my knowledge, locking of phones is either illegal or not normal. So, for instance, I get an unlocked iPhone from Vodafone (official Apple partner) in Greece and I can use this anywhere in the world with a local SIM card. I routinely use my O2 SIM in this phone when I am in the UK. Meanwhile, I have a completely unused (but locked) iPhone which was supplied under the O2 contract. I paid £150 for this phone and this was a complete waste of money.

The fact that I have to have two separate contracts is also a scandal, but this time the finger points at the cellular phone networks rather than at Apple. Roaming charges are exorbitant and, in my case for instance, I could not rely entirely on roaming because I spend large chunks of the year abroad. Hence, I need two separate contracts. I pay a total of £80 combined ($116, €90) a month for my UK and Greek contracts which give me unlimited (fair usage) data downloads and an adequate number of voice minutes and SMS messages.  This is probably not expensive, but it would be nice to have only one number and fair roaming charges on one contract.

I foresee a time when the whole of Europe will be regarded as one area for cellular network purposes. It is geographically smaller than the United States, for instance, yet roaming charges are a fact of life for many Europeans. Those living close to borders--sometimes borders that run through the middle of a town--have to be very careful they don't inadvertently rack up data roaming charges of up to €10 per megabyte or a staggering €10,000 a gigabyte. Thankfully, the EU is doing something about this and caps will be placed on roaming charges. Not before time. 

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