Want an iPhone 3G but hate AT&T (T)? Or want to plug in another carrier’s SIM card to use your iPhone with abroad? That’s now easy to do with Apple’s newest phone: The iPhone 3G unlock is now available, and Gizmodo has instructions.
Is this going to cause all the commotion that the first-generation unlocked iPhone created? Probably not.
If you recall, about a year ago, some Apple (AAPL) analysts started freaking out about unlocked iPhones that people were buying to hack and use on foreign mobile phone carriers. For example, China Mobile said there were 400,000 unlocked iPhones on its network at the end of 2007 — about 10% of all iPhones sold at that point.
Why all the fuss? The theory was that because Apple didn’t have deals with these carriers, they were missing out on potential revenue sharing kickbacks. (In reality, this was never a real problem for Apple, which never lost anything material. Even Apple executives described it as a good problem to have.)
Those concerns died when Apple released the new iPhone 3G, which wasn’t available unlocked… Until today.
So will people start freaking out again? Probably not. Why?
- Apple doesn’t have revenue sharing deals with most of its new carrier partners. Instead, the carriers now subsidise the cost of the phone, and keep the monthly service revenue. So there’s no revenue sharing money for Apple to “lose.”
- The iPhone is available in dozens more countries than a year ago. So it’s easier to buy an iPhone legitimately around the world — there’s fewer reasons to buy an unlocked one from the U.S. in the first place.
- It’s harder to buy an iPhone in the U.S. now. You can’t just show up and buy a gadget to unlock — you are required to sign up for a 2-year contract before you can get your mitts on the hardware. AT&T will eventually sell a no-contract edition of the iPhone for $400 more, but that hasn’t happened yet.
- An unlocked iPhone 3G is pretty useless in the U.S. You’re still stuck paying for an AT&T contract, and T-Mobile’s 3G network uses a different frequency here, which the iPhone can’t access. And an iPhone can’t use Verizon (VZ) or Sprint (S), unlocked or not.
So at this point, it seems the only people who will use unlocked iPhones are those who live where iPhones aren’t on sale yet — a large but shrinking population — or people who want to hack them to run on different carriers. We assume this is a small minority of all iPhone buyers.