Of course, you can't actually BUY an iPhone in Ireland, yet, and even if you get one jailbroken from elsewhere, you'll have difficulty convincing any provider to give you a cheap GPRS/EDGE dataplan. Irish providers went solidly with 3G.
So, what's a mobile Internet aficionado to do? Well, you could always go for a smartphone with 3G and a browser, but really, have you ever used one of those? And have you used an iPod Touch? Well, exactly. The iPod Touch is a joy to browse on; most smartphones are bloody awful, even if you do have Opera. Okay, so an alternative smartphone is probably out.
Well, the iPod Touch has wireless! All you need is something which can provide a mobile data connection wirelessly. There are a collection of expensive, non-battery-operated wireless HSDPA routers. Those are, again, probably out; do you really want to drag them around with you? Then, if you have a Windows Mobile smartphone, you can hack it to provide data over its wireless. The problem here is that Windows smartphones tend to be rather bulky, expensive and short on battery life, as smartphones go (which is quite far).
So, you're screwed, right? Well, not quite. Today, I learned that there now exists an application for Nokia's S60 platform which allows you to share an Internet connection over the phone's wireless. It's called JoikuSpot. They pitch it at all sorts of applications, but realistically, the only thing it's going to be used for is the iPod Touch; if you're using a laptop there are saner options.
Now, every silver lining has its clouds. JoikuSpot doesn't actually act as a base-station; it uses an ad-hoc network. In practice, this shouldn't really be a problem. A bigger limitation is that it only actually shares HTTP and HTTPS, currently. The company claims that the full version of the product will do proper NAT, but it won't be out until the second half of the year. Given the nature of the platforms, I wouldn't be totally astonished if the 'NAT' turns out to be SOCKS5, but that should be functionally equivalent for most people. So, you can still browse the web, but you can't do a lot of other stuff. It may or may not be possible to tunnel through the HTTPS.
Yet another flaw, this one maybe worse still, is that the network produced is completely unencrypted; anyone can connect, and for that matter anyone can trivially look at what you are doing. Been on a long-distance train lately? Each carriage has five or so people with laptops.
If you get over these flaws, would this be a reasonable replacement for an iPhone? Why not just wait 'til the iPhone turns up on these shores? Well, lets see.
I'm going to assume that the Irish iPhone follows UK pricing. Given Apple's eccentric pricing strategy, this is a bit of a jump, but it's the best we currently have to go on.
From O2, an 8gb iPhone currently costs 359 euro. The basic tariff is 47 euro a month, and gives you 600 minutes, 500 texts, and unlimited (subject to fair use) data. Minimum contract of 18 months.
In Ireland, an 8gb iPod Touch costs 279 euro. A Nokia E65, from Three (allegedly supported by JoikuSpot), costs 149 euro on the most basic plan (less or free on higher-end ones), which costs 20 euro a month and gives you 100 minutes. You can get an unlimited (subject to fair use) data add-on for 20 euro a month (or smaller data add-ons for less). Minimum contract 12 months, it seems. Also, I believe, same-cost roaming in a few Three areas.
So that's a total of 428 euro capital cost (69 euro more expensive) and 7 euro lower subscription cost per month. Of course, if you want the minutes, the O2 UK plan is still better, but many users will really just want light phone use and free data.
It has upsides and downsides, then. On the upside, it's faster, a bit cheaper per month (possibly a lot; mobile stuff tends to be more expensive here and the iPhone may turn out to be no exception), and you don't have to use your browser/mp3 player as a phone. On the downside, it's HTTP/HTTPS-only (interesting to see if that tunneling works) and battery life may not be stellar.
I'm actually thinking of getting a suitable phone; I have an iPod Touch and my current phone is on its last legs anyway. I think I'll wait for a few reviews first, though...
Bonus improbable statement found while searching to see if anyone was doing tunneling:
Note the date.