The director in charge of the iPhone for O2 has warned that employers may not let their workers use Apple's hotly anticipated handset as a business device.
Speaking to ZDNet.co.uk ahead of Friday's UK launch of the iPhone, Steve Alder said that workers looking to use an iPhone within a corporate environment might come up against resistance from their internal procurement teams, because the device is available only on consumer tariffs.
O2 has what Alder described as a "multi-year" exclusivity deal with Apple for UK users, although the operator refuses to divulge the exact length of the deal or the percentage of revenue going to Apple.
"We do want to keep it clear that this is a consumer launch on a consumer tariff," said Alder. "Our advice is: if you're in business, it's probably best to check the policy within your company, because it may not be possible to transfer your number from your business contract to the iPhone."
However, Alder said that, if a business customer requested it, O2 would transfer the number. "There are people in business attracted by the iPhone," he added.
Asked for his opinion on the announcement that Google and dozens of other companies would be working towards a rival cellular platform, Android, Alder said he would welcome any initiative to improve customers' mobile web-surfing experience. "If Google can do for mobiles what it has done for the internet, that has to be a good thing," he said.
The iPhone has been criticised for the fact that it runs on a mobile data technology called Edge, rather than the faster 3G standard. Alder claimed on Friday that the vast majority of O2's customers were still using GPRS — a slower alternative — and that "3G offers lots of benefits for the future, but not the mass market at the moment". O2, like all the other UK operators, has spent billions of pounds on its 3G network over the last half a decade.
O2's Edge network will only cover 30 to 40 percent of the UK population by the end of this year so, when the iPhone is used in other areas, coverage will fall back to GPRS. An alternative for users is Wi-Fi: O2 has a deal with hotspot aggregator The Cloud for connectivity. Alder claimed that Wi-Fi coverage is now ubiquitous enough to provide connectivity to users unable to get a satisfactory experience on the cellular network.
"We want to be very open with people. If they ring up our customer service team they can enquire, for their local area, what the Edge coverage is," said Alder. "But 30 percent of homes have Wi-Fi. Work has Wi-Fi. Two out of three so-called 'internet experiences' are going to be over Wi-Fi, because people know where those hotspots are."
Alder added that he was happy with Apple's decision to lock phones onto one network in each country. Apple issues regular firmware updates to the handsets to gradually roll out new functionality and patch previous attempts to decouple the handset from its designated network. The first iPhones in the UK will carry version 1.1.2 of the device's firmware, which will nullify the so-called "jailbreak" method that has been used by individuals wanting to use US iPhones outside the US.
"Apple is clearly on top of those issues," said O2's Alder. "But we would ask: why do people want to unlock their iPhones? We are offering a very good package with unlimited data and visual voicemail. If you choose to unlock it, you are not going to get those benefits."
Although the iPhone is targeted at consumers, it is expected that many of the devices will find their way into businesses as workers bring their personal handsets to work. The security implications of this are yet to be felt, although some have claimed that Google's Android may provide greater security.