UPDATED: There is some fine print on this; turns out you only get a totally free iPhone if you were on the BlackBerry "unlimited global" package (the most expensive one). Everyone else will need to pay an "add on" fee of between Dh500-1450). You also need to sign up to a 12-month contract, and according to Etisalat call centre staff, the offer only begins in October, once the deadline has been reached (and, we assume, will be withdrawn if BlackBerry and the UAE government reach an agreement).
The UAE's two telecom companies took out full page adverts in today's newspapers, letting customers know what will happen to their BlackBerry packages come October 11, when the
du, the smaller of the two operators, stuck mainly to the advice they
(in short: chill, we'll look after you, details to come). But Etisalat, which has about 70 per cent of the mobile market (and an almost equal share of the country's 500,000 BlackBerries) was more specific:
If you were a BlackBerry subscriber on July 31, Etisalat will offer you a pretty good deal to help come to terms with your loss: keep paying the same monthly fee, and they will give you a new, high-end smartphone alongside a data and SMS package. The packages are much better deals than you would get as a regular customer.
The free phone is a choice of an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S, Samsung Wave, Nokia E72 or a Nokia N97 (yo Nokia fans, is that an N97 Mini in the picture?). The iPhone appears to be a 3G / 3GS, not the new iPhone 4.
If you're the kind of person who rolls with a BlackBerry in one pocket and an iPhone in the other, or just have a spare smartphone lying around, you can choose not to take the free handset, and in return get a monthly bundle of free minutes (between 150 and 550, depending on the package).
There are still plenty of questions about this deal, and the details are still not available. But you can assume that this sets the benchmark for what du will need to offer. And it is also fair to see this as an escalation of how serious the TRA was in announcing the BlackBerry ban. While it has been widely interpreted as a negotiating tactic, the fact that (government-owned) Etisalat is going to start handing out free iPhones to hundreds of thousands of BlackBerry customers shows that there is some real momentum behind the government push to kick BlackBerry out of the country.