Apple has announced that Orange, a brand of France Telecom, will be the exclusive carrier and distributor for iPhones sold in France. This came as little surprise, since France Telecom CEO Didier Lombard had said as much, unofficially, at a conference in September - a move that, according to industry sources, greatly upset Steve Jobs. With the official announcement, however, comes news of the price (399 euros, or roughly $565 - including 19.6% V.A.T. - for the 8 GB iPhone) and the release date (29-Nov-07).
The 399 euro price requires a "subscription to one of the dedicated rate plans," though it was unclear from Orange's Web site which of their existing plans, if any, will qualify. The iPhones sold via Orange for 399 euros will be locked to that carrier. However, French law contains several provisions that may make the situation more interesting for Apple and Orange. As I understand it - and I hasten to point out that I'm no expert - one rule is that any phone sold with a carrier lock must also be made available in an unlocked version (even if at a higher price). Another rule stipulates that a carrier must unlock a cell phone at the owner's request - for a fee if within the first six months of a contract, and for free thereafter. So it appears as though legally unlocked iPhones will become available in late November - as long as you're willing to pay a premium (and, if applicable, import your phone from France). In fact, an Orange spokesperson confirmed to the International Herald Tribune that Orange would be selling an unlocked iPhone at an unspecified higher price.
I'll be watching the news on this topic carefully, as I continue to hope that Père Noël sees fit to put an iPhone in my stocking on Christmas (or even a bit early), preferably without committing me to monthly fees that will break the bank!