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Mon, Jul 09, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Europe abuzz on timing of iPhone debut and cost

AFP , PARIS

Barely out of the shops in the US, Apple's eagerly anticipated iPhone is the subject of increasing speculation about how and at what price it will be rolled out in Europe later this year.

Despite a hefty price tag of either US$499 or US$599 depending on the amount of the memory, analysts say Apple has sold between 310,000 and 700,000 of the gadgets since its US launch.

Now the question is which countries, and which operators, will be first to benefit.

The Financial Times reported on Thursday that Apple would limit the launch of iPhones in Europe this year to France, Germany and Britain. The rest of the continent would follow suit with Asia next year.

It also reported that O2, the British unit of Spanish telecommunications group Telefonica, was set to be the first European mobile phone operator to reach a deal with Apple over the device.

A day earlier, the German daily Rheinische Post reported that T-Mobile, Deutsche Telekom's mobile arm, had beaten Vodafone in the battle to win marketing rights for iPhone in Germany.

Neither report has been confirmed. A spokesman for O2 dismissed them as "speculation,"saying it had "not signed a deal with Apple." France Telecom, another potential candidate, has also remained silent.

There is also speculation about the price of the new iPhone. Internet rumors suggest it will cost far more than in the US.

Another question is whether the iPhone will be equipped to use the 3G network that European operators have spent so much money on -- in the US, it only uses the slower 2.5G network.

Despite these concerns, the author of the first European study on the impact of iPhone on the continent, Stephane Dubreuil of Sia Conseil consultancy, said operators were engaging in a real battle" over the device.

The product "has such an attraction that it will enable them to win new clients over their competitors," he said, adding: "This is typically a product that firms prefer to see among their own, not among the competition."

Apple has never hidden the fact that it would choose market-leading operators, but only on the condition they accept its demands -- which may demand sacrifices from the firms involved.

Dubreuil said the "real revolution" of iPhone is the appearance for the first time of a phone which "short-circuits the operator and establishes direct contact with the client."

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