Apple’s iPhone on the way

Rogers Communications Inc. is finally bringing the iPhone to Canada, but questions around the company’s data plan and how it will support the heavily hyped Apple Inc. gadget continue to loom, analysts say.

As the only Canadian carrier using the GSM network, Rogers has always been the inevitable choice for the Cupertino, Calif.-based computer maker. Last October, a leaked Rogers advertisement surfaced which indicated that Canadians would see the iPhone on store shelves before the end of 2007. Now, several months later, Rogers has set the wheels in motion for the handheld’s launch.

“We’re thrilled to announce that we have a deal with Apple to bring the iPhone to Canada later this year,” Ted Rogers, CEO at the telecom giant said in a statement. “We can’t tell you any more about it right now, but stay tuned.”

The lack of any specific details now has many industry analysts speculating on how Rogers plans to handle the launch and why the popular devices has taken so long to get here. The belief held by most wireless watchers attributed the iPhone’s delay to Rogers’ incredibly high data rates. The iPhone hit Europe last November with services plans starting at roughly $70 per month. According to Rogers’ current data fees, a similar offering would cost its customers at least double that price.

The fact that, Rob Bruce, president of Rogers’ wireless division, told analysts in February that, “We’re not fans of unlimited plans,” provided strong support for this high data plan theory. But according to Michelle Warren, senior research analyst at London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group, the iPhone news might indicate Rogers is moving away from this stance.

“Bell’s got the unlimited usage for the HTC touch phone, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Rogers and Apple have come up with some sort of iPhone-specific plan,” she said. “Apple was pretty hesitant about releasing the iPhone without an unlimited data plan, so they must have struck a delicate balance. If there’s some sort of unlimited or really attractive data plan, that would entice users to consider it as well.”

Amit Kaminer, an analyst with The Seaboard Group, agreed, saying he expects Rogers’ data plans to be drastically different for the Apple device.

“We’re going to see Rogers changing their data plans,” he said. “You’re not going to see an unlimited plan, but instead, bigger buckets. Maybe a five gigabyte data plan, which is kind of like an unlimited plan for the average user.”

Most analysts project the iPhone to start rolling out sometime this summer, coinciding with Apple’s expected release of an updated, third-generation model that runs on 3G networks.

“The 3G version of the iPhone will most likely be coming in June,” Michael Rozender, an Oakville, Ont.-based consultant who specializes in wireless technology, said. “Rogers is actually rolling out its full G3 capable network as well, so it would be an attractive fit to launch with the new G3 iPhones.”

The launch may ruffle some feathers at Waterloo, Ont.-based Research in Motion Ltd., which has been working on its own 3G modeled BlackBerry device. And while RIM and Apple have traditionally not gone after the same market, some analysts say, the updated iPhones may find their way into the corporate world soon enough.

“Both companies have realized that the same device can service both markets,” Kaminer said. “RIM has introduced more applications and consumer oriented features, while Apple will be introducing the next generation 3G iPhone and we’re going to have Exchange server support.”

“Like it or not, the iPhone is going to migrate its way to the enterprise,” Warren said. “The trend we’re seeing in business is users bringing devices into the networks and then IT having to scramble in order to make them work.”

Rozender said adding support for Exchange and Outlook server capabilities – expected in the next generation iPhone models – will help alleviate some of the concerns from IT managers, as well as more third-party business apps.

“Now that the Apple SDK is out there with developers, we’re hoping to see some innovative and interesting applications for the iPhone,” he said. “RIM has done a bang-up job in getting business applications developed and run on the BlackBerry platform.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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