It was probably only a matter of time until a company realized that people can’t afford to purchase their phones outright, but that they also don’t want to sign long contracts. What’s a money-gouging corporation to do when customers start getting wily to their ways? Release a new program that lets users lease their smartphones, instead of outright purchasing them. O2 has begun letting business customers lease their iPhone from the company.

For the record, the base model iPhone 4S in the UK sells for approximately £499.00 without a contract. With the new “O2 Lease” program, the company will charge £45.00 per month, with a 12-month commitment for the phone. Included in the lease is a 500MB data plan, 300 minutes of talking time, and unlimited text-messages.

When all is said and done, leasers will pay £540.00 for a new iPhone 4S instead of the £499.00 it costs to buy it outright from Apple. That puts the cost of service at £3.41 per month. This is mighty competitive, since  a similar plan with O2 for contract-free service with the same specs weights in at £21.50 per month.

Not too shabby, but we should also point out that customers don’t get to keep their phones. This is not a lease to own program. Customers will be required to return their iPhones in a satisfactory condition to the company. Should customers fail to meet that condition, they will be charged “substantially” for the device, according to ZDNet.

It’s an interesting concept, but we’ll be curious to see how it plays out before weighing in on the future of these types of plans. Most companies just get rid of their old phones when a new one arrives, so if you’re the type that upgrades your phone every year or two, this plan makes complete sense. When it stops making sense is if you prefer to purchase your phone, then use it for 2-3 years before upgrading again. The carriers would make a substantial profit on people who tend to do that from time to time.