10 November is the day that sees O2’s two-year exclusivity deal with Apple come to an end. Rival network Orange is starting to sell iPhones from tomorrow and O2 obviously sees no reason to force customers to use their handset only on its own network any more.
On a dedicated Unlock My iPhone page O2 explains that pay monthly customers can unlock their handset at any point in their contract. They will, of course, have to honour the rest of the contract commitment. This can either be by paying it off monthly or by paying the entire remaining sum in one go.
Pay-as-you-go customers need to have had their phone for at least one year and will have to pay a £15 charge. The process will be free for Pay Monthly customers. Either way, there will be a delay of up to 14 days for the network to unlock the handset.
It seems a little odd that O2 is penalising Pay-as-you-go customers in this way. After all, they have already paid a much higher price for their handset in the first place. The move increases the resale value of a customer’s handset if they’re think of moving to another device. It also allows those near the end of their contract to move to another, cheaper, network if they’re happy to pay the existing one.
The move may well be a precursor to similar arrangements in other countries where carriers have exclusive deals with Apple. The USA, for example, still has AT&T as its sole iPhone carrier, an arrangement likely to continue until the third anniversary of the deal in June 2010. It’s unlikely that AT&T will allow unlocking before then.