- 3 Nov 09, 09:13 GMT
Remember the price war that was supposed to break out once O2 lost its exclusive contract to sell the iPhone in Britain?
Well, the price plans that Orange has published for the phone show little sign of an eagerness for hand-to-hand combat.
Apart from an entry-level £30 tariff which promises twice as many minutes as O2's deal, the two firms' offers look virtually identical.
Look at what's likely to be among the most popular tariffs, a 24-month contract for a 16GB iPhone 3GS at £34.26 a month, where you pay £87 for the device.
That's identical in every respect to the O2 deal, except for the cost of the device - which is £87.11.
As we suspected, the high price that Apple extracts from operators leaves them little margin to undercut their rivals - about 11p in fact.
But what does stand out when you examine Orange's price card more closely is what it says about the unlimited data that has been an essential part of the iPhone's appeal.
An asterisk next to the "unlimited" leads to a note saying "Fair Usage policy of 750MB/ month applies." Cue plenty of grumbling from potential customers, particularly on Twitter.
The cap appeared to apply to data downloaded via wi-fi as well as via the 3g network, so some concluded that Orange was planning to curb their customers' use of their own home networks.
I called Orange to check this out - and found the company slightly confused about its own fair usage policy. More than four hours later, the press office finally returned with chapter and verse.
There was a 750MB cap for 3g mobile data, and a separate 750MB for data downloaded with their wi-fi partner BT Openzone - you are free to do what you want on your own network.
So how does this compare with O2? That company came back with its own statement, confirming that its "unlimited" data policy did in fact have its limits.
"We reserve the right... to contact customers about their usage if we believe it adversely affects the service of our other customers, eg if a customer uses their SIM in another device for which it is not intended."
So O2 looks to be a little less restrictive than Orange.
But will many really run up against Orange's limit? At first 750MB may seem an awful lot of data to use on a phone - I reckon I get through about 200MB in a heavy month.
But what we've seen so far is that once you offer people "unlimited" data, they rush to use it, and software developers provide them with new data-rich applications.
Streaming audio and video are increasingly popular on the iPhone, and they can chew up your data allowance at an alarming rate.
Last night someone pointed me towards this clause in Orange's Terms and Conditions:
"Not to be used for other activities (eg using your handset as a modem, non-Orange internet based streaming services, voice or video over the internet, instant messaging, peer to peer file sharing, non-Orange internet based video). Should such use be detected notice may be given and Network protection controls applied to all services which Orange does not believe constitutes mobile browsing."
It sounds as though services like Spotify, AudioBoo, Ustream and even Facebook messaging - increasingly popular with O2 iPhone customers - will be out of bounds for Orange users.
The operator is caught between a rock and a hard place. With little room for manoeuvre on prices, it will be hoping that better network coverage will be one factor winning over iPhone customers from O2.
But if too many power users start streaming TV and playing online games on their phones, the Orange network may buckle under the strain - hence the need for a fair usage limit.
Just hours after publishing its price list, Orange appeared to be having second thoughts about that 750MB cap, admitting that plenty of e-mails had been coming in and that it had noticed the rising tide of Twitter comments.
A spokesman told me the cap would be "reviewed" to make sure that it was at the right level.
The problem for the operators is that users no longer see the iPhone and similar devices as phones but as small computers. And who wants to be told 25 days into each month that they must now stop playing around with their computer and just use it to make calls?
Update, 17:20: Orange has been in touch to clarify their iPhone terms and conditions. Here's the company's statement:
"We do recognise that iPhone customers will use popular streaming services such as YouTube, Spotify etc. As a result we do not intend to apply network protection controls to anyone, as long as they are within their usage allowance. The T&Cs are in place to reserve the right to restrict access should they continue to exceed our Fair Usage policy, and our other Mobile data users suffer a reduced data experience as a result."
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