Vodafone UK Announces iPhone Launch Date

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Do you remember the notion we used to have that multiple carriers selling the iPhone in the same territory seemed like a golden ticket to more options, lower prices and altogether more competitive deals for customers?

Well, forget it. Ain’t gonna happen. Not if the UK’s mobile market is anything to go by.

Vodafone UK has today announced the launch date of the iPhone on their network (it’s January 14, by the way) but once you’ve picked your way through their online pricing minefield, it’s hardly anything to write home about.

According to the Financial Times, Guy Laurence of Vodafone UK said the carrier has been busy preparing their network for the iPhone for the last twelve months;

We started preparing our network over a year ago so that iPhone customers will really feel the advantage of being with Vodafone. We will offer an outstanding iPhone experience wherever our customers live, work and travel, delivering speed and reliability – something our customers have told us they really value.

Yeah. We also value more competitive deals, Mr Laurence.

I did a very brief comparison of the three cheapest contract deals (not pay-as-you-go) offered by the three biggest operators in the UK: O2, Orange and Vodafone. Here’s what I found.

The cheapest contracts are all pretty lengthy –two years, in fact. That doesn’t sound unusual for those of you in America, I know, but here in the UK mobile contracts are often no longer than twelve months. Being locked-in for two long years is a ponderous proposition for many Brits who might be graduating (tentatively) to the exciting world of modern smartphones from their old Nokia 3310’s!

In addition, none of the carriers offers a competitive price for the latest model, the iPhone 3GS. The most affordable iPhones happen to be the elderly 2008 model. The stingy 8 gigabyte 2008 model, at that. So if you opt for a two year contract you’re getting a model that, in about six months (barely one quarter into the lifetime of your new contract) is going to be two models behind the latest and greatest from Apple. I’m just sayin’, is all.

Here’s how it breaks down, assuming the recession has hit you as hard as it hit everyone else and you’re looking to buy the most affordable iPhone package with one of the major UK network operators;

O2
For £34.26 ($55.22) a month you’ll get 600 free minutes of talk time and 500 free text messages. Data is unlimited. Assuming you never use more than the free talktime/SMS, this will cost you £822 ($1,324) over the course of the contract.

Orange
£29.36 ($47.32) each and every month gets you a measly 150 minutes of talktime and 250 text messages. The lifetime cost – £704.64, or 1,131.37 of your shiny American dollars.

Vodafone
For a few pennies more than O2, you can get last year’s low-end iPhone for £35 ($56.20) each month. For your money you’ll get 600 free minutes and unlimited text messages. The lifetime cost – £840, or $1,348.70.

Please don’t forget – and I can’t stress this enough – this is an unusually-long contract for the UK, and yet it’s last year’s phone.  Add to that the fact that, of course, no one ever stays within the allotted talktime and SMS quotas – everyone has a bill that costs the monthly fee plus additional talk time and messages. Frankly, it all adds up to quite an expensive deal, given the age and limited storage capacity of the model on offer.

I should add, too, that “unlimited” doesn’t actually mean “unlimited”. It means you’re allowed to consume as much data as the network provider deems “appropriate” for normal use. This tends to hover between 500 MB and 1 GB per month, which isn’t too bad unless you use your phone for watching YouTube videos eight hours a day. (Still, I take offense at the way network operators so casually use the word “unlimited” when it means nothing of the sort.) The trouble is that, if our providers start behaving like AT&T, their idea of “acceptable data usage” is going to change, and not in our favor.

The 3GS, on the other hand, is astonishingly more expensive than the 3G with little appreciable difference between the providers in terms of handset costs and tariffs. I wonder if this is because of the already-steep up-front costs they’ve shouldered in order to offer Apple’s handsets in the first place. If that’s the case, perhaps I should be more disappointed in with Apple’s aggressive pricing policies that those of my nationwide cellular network operators. In any case, at this point in time, I see no compelling reason to move away from O2 at the end of my current contract.

Was I expecting too much in terms of competitive pricing? Are these prices fair, given the investments which must be made by operators to offer the iPhone ‘experience’? Or is this a shining example of unfettered network operator greed? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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