Canada will soon join a very exclusive club: countries where Apple's iPhone isn't exclusive.
Bell and Telus announced this week they will begin selling the popular smart phone next month - a move made possible after the two carriers spent $1-billion building a next-generation wireless network capable of handling the iPhone.
"This is easily the single biggest mobile phone-related announcement this year in Canada," said IDC Canada analyst Kevin Restivo. "It's going to have ripple effects for providers and manufacturers."
Until now, Rogers has been the exclusive iPhone dealer in Canada. Indeed, many countries still have only one carrier offering Apple's smart phone. In the United States, AT&T is the only carrier offering the device.
The iPhone's exclusivity is in contrast to some other smart phone lines, such as Research in Motion's Blackberry, which is available through many carriers in Canada and around the world.
However some analysts say more and more carriers globally will soon follow in Telus and Bell's footsteps.
"It's inevitable," said independent technology analyst Carmi Levy. "From Apple's perspective, if you are selling the hottest phone on the planet, the last thing you want to do is perpetually limit customers' access to it, because the buzz eventually wears off."
Mr. Levy said Apple is likely reluctant to have the iPhone sold by carriers offering less-than-stellar networks, for fear that it could tarnish the iPhone brand.
The announcement from Bell and Telus adds more marketplace drama to what was already shaping up to be one of the busiest quarters in recent memory for smartphones. Most of the major smart phone manufacturers are expected to announce new models, upgrades or deals with retailers in time for the holiday shopping season.
In addition, Microsoft is launching an online marketplace to showcase applications for phones running its mobile operating system - a service similar to Apple and RIM's application stores. Microsoft is also launching a new version of its mobile OS, and at least two phones running on that new system are due out before the end of the year.
News that Bell and Telus will soon carry the iPhone puts a lot more pressure on other manufacturers such as Palm, whose flagship Pre smartphone is currently a Bell exclusive, to expand to more carriers, Mr. Restivo said.
Rogers has until now drawn the lion's share of attention in the Canadian smart phone market, in large part because of its iPhone deal (the company also offers smartphones running on Google's Android platform).
"Rogers has really been stealing their thunder," Mr. Levy said. "Now Bell and Telus get to hit back."
According to the Rogers website, the newer version of the iPhone - the $199 3GS - has sold out in many locations. Rogers offers an 8-gigabyte iPhone 3G, an older model, for $99 and a 16-gigabyte version for $149. However those prices are only available with the purchase of a three-year contract. The company's voice and data plans include a 250-weekday-minute, 1-gigabyte package for $65 a month, and a 400-minute, 2-gigabyte plan for $80 a month.
Bell and Telus have yet to announce detailed pricing plans for their iPhone offerings. Mr. Levy said the carriers will likely introduce the phones at prices in line with what's currently on offer from Rogers. However, he added that there will be downward pressure on prices in the longer term because of the extra competition, and there's also an immediate added benefit for those consumers who will now not have to switch carriers to get Apple's device.
"This will enhance the wireless landscape in Canada," he said. "It's a good news story for consumers."
Mr. Restivo said he doesn't expect Bell and Telus to introduce the iPhone at prices that differ dramatically from Rogers. However he added that the companies will likely want to launch with some kind of deal.
"Bell and Telus want to make this a hit," he said.