Softbank Mobile Corp., the only Japanese mobile phone operator selling Apple Inc.’s iPhone, will begin offering on Friday the multimedia gadget for free and slash Internet connection fees to attract more customers, the company said Thursday.

Although the iPhone has garnered attention worldwide, market observers note the device is beyond the budget of most consumers.

During the campaign, which runs through May 31, the company will provide 8GB iPhones for free instead of ¥23,040, while the price of the 16GB version will be cut from ¥34,560 to ¥11,520.

In addition, the company is lowering the monthly cap for Internet service to ¥4,410 from ¥5,985, a deal also available to current users.

But customers paying off handsets under two-year contracts won’t be able to take advantage, a company official said. It is not clear whether contract lengths will change as well.

The phone debuted with a bang in Japan last July, when thousands of people lined up the first day at Softbank Mobile’s flagship store in the tony Omotesando district of Tokyo, and other outlets across the country.

With the campaign, the company is looking for a quick boost in the number of customers paying for calls, software downloads and e-mails.

The iPhone, with its multitouch interface that allows “pages” on its large LCD screen to be flipped with the flick of a finger, has been a runaway success globally.

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