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Tuesday, April 29, 2008, 05:00 am PT (08:00 am ET)

It's official: Rogers to bring iPhone to Canada later this year

Canadian wireless carrier Rogers Wireless said Tuesday it has reached an agreement with Apple to begin offering the iPhone later this year, putting an end to months of speculation on the subject.

"We're thrilled to announce that we have a deal with Apple to bring the iPhone to Canada later this year," the carrier said in a statement. "We can't tell you any more about it right now, but stay tuned."

It's long been presumed that Rogers would serve as the wireless provider who would usher the touch-screen handset into Canada, given that it's the only carrier in the region with a GSM networked suited for use with the device.

In January of 2007, just weeks after Apple demonstrated the first iPhone at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco, the carrier issued an email statement to its customers saying it was in ongoing negotiations with the handset maker and would be the only Canadian provider to offer the device.

"I’m not saying whether we have agreements or anything [with Apple], but given the iPhone was launched on GSM, we’re in good position to reinforce that we’re the first and have the best-feature devices," Rogers chief operating officer Nadir Mohamed would later say.

The carrier continued to backtrack on its claims in the month's that would follow, calling reports of the iPhone's arrival in Canada through Rogers as speculation on the part of the media. The contradiction sent shivers of doubt through hopefuls in the region, who began to wonder just when, and if, the much-hyped "jesus phone" would make its way up north.

Though the reasoning behind Rogers' apparent about-face were never made public, speculation amongst analyst and industry followers were that data rates in Canada were too steep for Apple's liking, Rogers still had some time on existing contracts with other handset makers, and that it was in the process of upgrading to a next-generation 3G network.

"The barrier to the iPhone in Canada is not Apple," said Michael Geist, Canada research chair of Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa. "Rather, it is the lack of wireless competition that [...] leads to pricing that places Canadians at a significant disadvantage compared with other developed countries."

In February, the Canadian carrier for the first time began introducing affordable unlimited data plans, in what was seen as a sign that one more barrier to an official iPhone launch in Canada had been knocked down.

In addition to Canada, Apple has said that this year will also mark the launch of iPhone in several additional European countries, as well as portions of Asia. The touch-screen handset is currently available in the US, UK, Germany, France, Ireland and Austria.