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Softbank to give 8GB iPhones away for free

Apple's iPhone partner in Japan is cutting prices for its monthly data plans, and will offer new subscribers a free 8GB iPhone 3G or a 16GB iPhone for $118.

Softbank is launching a promotion that involves giving away an 8GB iPhone 3G with a new contract. Apple

Softbank Mobile, the iPhone carrier in Japan, plans to introduce a new program Friday that will give some iPhones away for free with a new two-year contract.

The 8GB iPhone will be free to new subscribers who sign up for a plan starting on Friday, likely to disappoint those who paid the equivalent of $235 (22,782 yen) in the recent past, according to CrunchGear. Softbank is also reducing the price of the 16GB version from $350 to $118 as part of the new "iPhone for everybody Campaign."

Softbank also cut the cost of its maximum data plan rates as part of the new announcement, from $62 a month to $45.60 a month. Voice calls and texts are free among Softbank customers, but if your friend or colleague is an NTT DoCoMo customer, charges can start to accumulate quickly at 20 cents for a 30-second call. AT&T's most expensive iPhone voice and data plan checks in at $129 for unlimited usage.

Japan always seemed like it would be a tough market for Apple to crack. Unlike in the U.S., where data-capable touch-screen phones are a relatively new idea, Japanese mobile phone users have been playing around with advanced devices for years. In September, The Wall Street Journal reported that Japanese iPhone sales were slower than expected, and there's no sign that anything has picked up since then.

There's no clear indication that Softbank is cutting prices in response to demand, but Apple COO Tim Cook noted during last month's earnings conference call that the company considers the price of the iPhone "clearly elastic," meaning that every time it has dropped the price, demand has increased. Softbank might have the same idea in mind.