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Friday, June 27, 2008, 03:35 pm PT (06:35 pm ET)

O2 to open early, may unlock iPhone 3G after one year

British carrier O2 plans a prompt morning launch for the iPhone 3G, AppleInsider has learned, and hints that it may unlock the iPhone for use on any carrier for Pay As You Go customers.

Appearing to confirm some recent rumors senior O2 retail sources in the Midlands region of the UK claim that all company stores will officially open at 7:05AM local time, well ahead of normal schedules. The real-world opening is expected to be 7:02AM (a take on the company name) in keeping with a young tradition started when the original iPhone launched at 6:02PM for its November launch.

The shift from evening to morning reflects rumors of an early American launch that is believed by some to be necessary to handle the long wait times for in-store activating plans, which are believed to take roughly 10 minutes or more per customer.

O2 is also said by the new sources to begin stocking up on iPhone 3G units the week before the launch rather than the just-in-time deliveries that were made in some areas with launches of the original Apple cellphone. Demo units may be in use shortly afterwards, according to the reports.

For some customers, though, the most important news may come a year later. Separate O2 staff are suggesting that the wireless carrier's usual policy of offering an unlock code for Pay As You Go phones after 12 months will remain true for iPhone 3G.

While the request for an unlock code costs £15, the gesture would at least theoretically allow iPhone customers in Britain to use their handsets on competing networks such as 3 or Vodafone or to swap SIM cards temporarily for local phone service while on vacation.

It's unknown as to whether or not this policy will hold. For the original iPhone, Apple is known to have taken extra steps in hardware to prevent unlocking , but now is relying primarily on the service signup requirement to guarantee use with official providers.

It would also represent one of the first instances where unlocked iPhones would be sanctioned as a matter of policy rather than law; unlocked iPhone 3G units will be sold in France, for example, but primarily because providers aren't allowed to offer an exclusive device without it also being available as a stand-alone unlocked version.