The whole thing works only because prices for mobile connection in US are exorbitant to begin with. My monthly mobile phone bill was under $10/month for years. Now I've gotten smartphone and with "unlimited" Internet (which is severely limited if I go beyong 1GB/month, of course) I pay $25/month (for voice and data: $10 for voice and $15 for "unlimited" data).
It's not possible to hide phone subsidies with prices like that. That's why most of the world pay for the phone upfront while in US (and some other countries) people pay 3-4 times more and think they use "free phone".
Sadly most affluent buyers are gated by carriers thus carriers still can control the future of mobile handsets. Only middle-range phones are created for carrier-uncontrolled world (think Dual-SIM phones).
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