In a move that will likely spread, Apple has begun to offer unlocked 3G iPhones in Hong Kong that can be used, the company Web site states, with any (GSM) wireless carrier.
Offered at $695 ($5,400 HK dollars) for an 8-GB model and $798 for a 16-GB model, the unlocked phones were expected sooner or later -- mostly later -- as most cell phone service providers are moving away from mandatory service contracts and locked phones. In the United States, for instance, an 8-GB iPhone is priced at $199 and a 16-GB model is $299 from AT&T with a two-year contact.
Apple's Hong Kong site states: "iPhone 3G purchased at the Apple Online Store can be activated with any wireless carrier. Simply insert the SIM from your current phone into iPhone 3G and connect to iTunes 8 to complete activation."
Customers can buy directly from the Apple Online Store and receive a phone with free shipping, according to the Web site.
In addition to the worldwide move toward unlocking, Apple may be looking to expand into more Chinese markets, too, by unlocking the iPhones for other wireless standards beyond GSM. China's big wireless infrastructure is built on its homegrown TD-SCDMA 3G standard, and GSM may be rendered obsolete by TD-SCDMA.
Recent media reports in China have speculated that the iPhone there won't have CDMA, GSM, 3G, or Wi-Fi.
Unlocked iPhones have been for sale on eBay for months. Typical prices Monday range from $599 to $1,015 for a 16-GB version and $459 to $550 for an 8-GB model.