How much would you pay for an unlocked iPhone?

T-Mobile's decision to offer an unlocked iPhone in Germany will delight some, but they'll pay more over the long run for the ability to use it on another network.

Would you pay more money just so you could have an unlocked iPhone?

T-Mobile is going to charge the equivalent of $1,478 for an unlocked iPhone in Germany, after deciding Wednesday to comply with a preliminary injunction issued by a court at the request of Vodafone, a rival carrier. The carrier will continue to challenge the court's decision, but it seems that locking phones to a specific carrier is against German law.

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According to T-Mobile's Web site, "numerous functions remain exclusively available to T-Mobile customers with a Complete rate plan." The only feature that the company singles out as missing, however, is the visual voicemail. T-Mobile also says it has a more complete EDGE network than its rivals, but those looking to switch to Vodafone or other carriers may not care so long as they get data access in their city or town.

It will be interesting to see how much value people place on an unlocked iPhone. According to Reuters, a locked iPhone in Germany will cost you $2,330 over the life of a two-year contract: $1,740 for the service plan and $590 for the iPhone. T-Mobile said it will still offer that deal for iPhones locked to its network, and that the special iPhone rate plans are 40 percent cheaper than the "comparative use" of another data-enabled phone through T-Mobile.

To many, cell-phone unlocking is a matter of personal freedom, in that they bought a device and want to use it with whatever service provider they choose. After all, we aren't hooked to Comcast or AT&T's broadband networks for 24 months after we buy a new PC or Mac. But there's probably quite a few potential customers who don't care and just want to jump on the iPhone train for the cheapest possible fare.

One thing is probably certain: half the mobile phone resellers on the planet just booked flights to Germany. Unlocking iPhones wasn't too difficult a process before, but it did involve modifying software and was subject to retaliation from Apple in the form of software updates, such as the infamous OS X 1.1.1 update . A clean, straight-from-the-factory unlocked iPhone could command a higher price than one that had been jail broken and unlocked using the current methods.

Still, will it command upwards of $1,500 in order to make resale worth the effort? I have no idea, but there's no way in hell I'd pay even close to that much for a phone without 3G data networking or GPS just so I could run it outside of a particular carrier's network. And then I'd still have to pay some carrier how ever much a month, at least $50, to make it work. Even assuming that somebody offers me that cheap a data plan, I'd wind up paying $2,678 over two years, as compared with the $2,330 I'd pay over the life of T-Mobile's two-year contract.

That, of course, is probably not a coincidence. T-Mobile might have to offer an unlocked iPhone, but there's apparently no requirement as to how much they have to charge for it. And if Apple struck the same kind of revenue-sharing deal with Deutsche Telecom, T-Mobile's parent, as it did with AT&T, the companies have to come up with some way to make sure Apple gets its cut.

Apple and Orange (ha!) will also have to offer an unlocked iPhone for the French market to comply with that country's telecom laws. The phone will go on sale next week, and will command a "premium" price, according to the International Herald Tribune.. Now maybe we have some idea of just how much a premium, but will people be willing to pay?

About the author

    Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.

     

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