Will France’s Unlocked iPhone Be Truly Unlocked?

Apple will sell unlocked iPhones in France next May to comply with a French law that prohibits a mobile phone from being tied to an exclusive wireless carrier for longer than six months. What will this mean for iPhone’s future?

Unlocked iPhones — that is, iPhones that have been hacked to work on any wireless carrier — are currently unauthorized by Apple because of its contracts with exclusive service providers, like AT&T in the US.

So what happens when France is the only country with unlocked iPhones? Gordon Kelly of Trusted Reviews says, “Maybe Apple feels a hacker free-for-all will follow (it will), or maybe just mass grey imports (that too) but either way – for once – it has conceded that the inevitable is inevitable.”

While it’s true that the people of France will have their hands on an item in such high demand that it could be sold en masse to us eager folk in the US, I question whether Apple would be daring enough to release a phone that could easily get to the US and compete with its exclusive wireless provider.

A truly unlocked iPhone would flood the US. Then who would be tempted to pay their service provider a termination fee just to get an iPhone? Not too many people, I’m guessing. This would, without a doubt, hurt AT&T.

Would Apple, in effect, be breaching its contracts with its exclusive iPhone providers if it sold a 100% unlocked iPhone in France? I think so.

An unlocked iPhone available worldwide would pit Apple against the carriers it signed contracts with by making the iPhone available on any network. Considering all the time Apple has spent wrangling with wireless providers from country-to-country to make deals with exclusive carriers, I don’t think Apple would be so stupid as to offer a truly unlocked iPhone that will work all over the world.

That’s why I think, somehow, Apple will configure its unlocked iPhones to function only in France. Sure, unlocked iPhones may soon go to other shores (Finland and Belgium have anti-exclusivity laws similar to France’s), but I’m predicting that they will be confined to work only in the country where they are released.

I could be wrong about this, but considering Apple is known to keep tight control of its product line, I think truly unlocked iPhones would be a rather drastic move for right now.

In the future, Apple will probably release an unlocked iPhone in the US to expand its market reach (maybe after AT&T’s 5-year exclusive hold on the iPhone?). But I wouldn’t count on hearing the news next May.

6 thoughts on “Will France’s Unlocked iPhone Be Truly Unlocked?”

  1. Writing from Paris – I think you are misinterpreting French law. It requires all phones sold in this country locked by an operator to its network to be unlockable for a fee for the first 6 months of individual ownership, and unlocked on request for free after 6 months. So you can go right now into any Orange shop in France and buy an iPhone for 649€ without a plan, then pay 100€ to get it unlocked (or wait 6 months and get this done free), and it will work fully with other SIM cards including in other countries. However there is a catch – you need a French iTunes account to unlock the phone (the IMEI number of the unlocked phone is listed by Orange France in an Apple database), limiting the scheme to those that have a French credit card or can convince a French friend to do the deed for them.

  2. Guess who’s cool now?

    – posted from my iPhone

    On a relevant note, Apple, unlike other companies, seem to respect and acknowledge the power of the internet and the ever-aware global community. They knew exactly how to market and release the iPhone in the first place, as well as keep the number shipped a secret and the hype constant. I’m sure they’d be prudent enough to realize that unlocked phones would eventually leak over here.

  3. I think that it is more likely that Apple will disable certain features when the iPhone is not on the Orange network.

    Disabling Edge when not connected to the Orange network but allowing phone calls would satisfy the “unlocked” requirement and protect the exclusivity of the Orange agreement.


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