European carriers mum on iPhone pricing

The iPhone 3G starts at $199 in the U.S., but what it will cost in European and African countries still remains a mystery. Except for O2, operators are keeping quiet about details.

However, Vodafone, TeliaSonera, Swisscom, Orange, O2, T-Mobile and Telecom Italia will all start selling the new version of the iPhone on July 11.

In the U.K., operator O2 will give an 8GB iPhone for free to customers who sign up for an 18-month plan. That plan comes in two hefty monthly tariffs: £45 (US$90) and £75 a month.

If you prefer a lower tariff, O2 offers £30 and £35-a-month plans, but the iPhone will cost £99. Still, that’s a lot cheaper than the £269 O2 was charging as few as three months ago for the 8 GB model. And it’s approximately close to what the iPhone costs in the U.S.

The main differences between all of tariffs are the number of voice minutes and text messages; all tariffs include unlimited Web browsing over the 3G network and free Wi-Fi, thanks to agreements O2 has with Wi-Fi providers.

Ben Wood, analyst at CCS Insight, is convinced that the £35-a-month plan will become the most popular one. It’s the sweet spot in the U.K. market, and most customers will figure out that the £99 cost of the phone will be paid off before the contract is over, according to Wood.

If you were an earlier adopter of the iPhone, O2 will show you no love.

O2 will upgrade to the new model for free for customers already on the £45 and £75-a-month plans. But those on £30 and £35 tariffs will still have to pay £99.

Essentially, there’s no difference between being a new iPhone customer and an existing one with O2 as far as price. However, existing iPhone subscribers will be able to get their upgrade on July 11 when the product launches, O2 said.

Vodafone and Telecom Italia will offer both prepay and contract price plans, according to statements. O2 has also added a prepay option, but is not providing more detail.

Vodafone will include what it calls “value” data bundles when it starts selling the phone in Australia, Italy, New Zealand and Portugal on July 11. Full details will be made available soon, as well as information about other countries, including Czech Republic, Egypt, Greece, India, South Africa and Turkey.

Swisscom, T-Mobile and TeliaSonera will wait for the launch to provide more details, according to statements.

T-Mobile will first introduce the 3G iPhone in Germany, Austria and Netherlands on July 11, with others to follow, according to a statement.

Orange—which will start selling the 3G iPhone in Austria, Portugal and Switzerland on July 11 and in France on July 17—is also keeping quiet. More details will follow in the coming weeks, according to Béatrice Mandine, head of press relations at Orange.

Orange customers in the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Jordan, Luxembourg, Belgium, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Orange’s African markets will be able to purchase iPhone later this year.

There has been a lot speculation about the business arrangement between operators selling the 3G iPhone and Apple, and that Apple may no longer get a cut of subscription revenue. (That’s the case in the U.S., where Apple and partner AT&T have dropped their revenue-sharing arrangement, according to AT&T.) Since Apple and the operators aren’t saying anything, no one can be sure about the details, but there has been a change.

“I think all of the operators are getting terms that are more conducive to volume sales,” said Wood. Apple has had to accept more traditional ways of selling phones, including allowing subsidies, according to Wood.

All operators have very high hopes for the launch. “It [the iPhone 3G] will become very popular in Sweden. You can see there is a huge interest in it for example on blogs,” said Ola Kallemur, chief of public relations at TeliaSonera.

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