The only country with a different carrier/mobile structure than the US that I know about is India.
There are no subsidies, and people usually buy unlocked phones not at the carrier%u2019s store, but at special stores that only sell mobiles, often of multiple brands. They also sell SIMs, or you can buy a SIM card at a corner store. This SIM can be refreshed OTA or by going to any general/grocery/specialized store. Some people opt for phones with dual-SIM, so they can have two numbers, often from two carriers, for, say, business and personal use.
Consequently, the price of a phone call on mobile is one of the, if not the, cheapest in the world. There is cut-throat competition among carriers. However, 3G is just now spreading nationwide, 4G is getting started in major metros, and there%u2019s no LTE. This is one reason why the actual smartphones have a slow uptake; with most phones you can SMS/MMS/browse Internet and make voice calls.
The other reason is price. Most phones cost $100 or less. While Samsung and Nokia make handsets at all price levels, Apple makes only one premium smart phone a year. Even its midrange phone, the 5C, is quite expensive.
To tackle the price issue, Apple has started a trade-in/installment program. The price/value of an older iPhone - although some resellers accept phones of other companies too, can be applied towards the purchase of a new one. In addition, if you make a downpayment, say $99/$199, you can pay the rest of the phone off in equal monthly installments for 12/18 months - interest free.
Apple has made this aggressive push in India only this year, and is getting great results. I%u2019m sure in the near future, Apple - as well as others, will start this trade-in/installment program in the US. All you%u2019ll have to do is go to an Apple Store, in person or on the web, where they%u2019ll run a credit check, take the downpayment, and set up a monthly installment plan for you.
The blessings of carriers will still be needed, since there is a near-duopoly in the US. It appears they%u2019ll have to, just like T-Mo has done, offer post-paid plans at a rate that doesn%u2019t include the extra price of subsidy or a contract.
But they may throw tantrums, and resort to practices like overcharging for and throttling data speeds. It would be useless to get a set capable of handling LTE speeds of 150 Mbps, when they are throttled down to 60 or 30. if this does happen, I hope that big handset makers like Apple, Samsung and MS purchase and provide their own cellular voice/data service at true cost.
I see Apple being at the forefront in this, as it provides content and services for break-even cost (iTunes) or free (iWork), and makes profits on hardware. It will be great for customers if it provides wireless service at cost, and also great for the company - for it will sell a boatload of iPhones.