Just days let to get the lowest prices of the year on Macs & iPads: Apple Price Guides updated Dec 22nd (exclusive coupons)

Apple said to have signed landmark 3G iPhone deal for Italy

Apple Inc.'s next-generation iPhone will arrive in Italy in a matter of weeks under a landmark deal that will see handset sold through Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) without a contract and carrier lock, according to Repubblica.

The authoritative Italian newspaper reports (by way of Macitynet) that a formal agreement on the matter was signed last week when Franco Bernabè, chief executive officer of TIM's parent company Telecom Italia, met with Steve Jobs at Apple's Cupertino-based headquarters.

Under the terms of the deal, TIM will reportedly receive a several month exclusive on sales of a 3G iPhone through its retail shops, which will be staffed with specialists who are trained to support iPhone customers and get the touch-screen handsets up and running on the carrier's 3G network.

Given that Italians are the number one consumer of pre-paid wireless contracts worldwide each year, Apple is also reported to have agreed to terms by which the new iPhone will be sold at a higher price than in other European countries, but without a carrier lock and two-year service agreement.

The move would represent a radical departure from the revenue-share based service model that has led to successful launches of the iPhone in the US and a handful of European countries, but would offer Italians the added freedom of being able to purchase the phone from TIM and use it with existing contracts on rival carriers' networks.

Consumers who opt to use TIM's network would be able to pick from predefined service plans tailored to the iPhone, or purchase minutes and data bundles as they go, Repubblica said.

The Italian carrier reportedly declined to comment on the report at this time, saying they'll have something to say "later on."

TIM's subscriber base of roughly 36.6 million is similar in size to that of T-Mobile Germany, with whom Apple launched the iPhone last November. However, it's estimated that more than 50 percent of Italy's wireless subscribers are already TIM customers.

TIM also operates the second largest wireless network in Brazil, in addition to a much smaller network in Turkey.

Italy's Il Sole 24 Ore.com is also running a a similar story on the deal between Apple and TIM.