"after all, we've got to pay for those shiny handsets somehow"
Heck no. They are paying me. I took up a 24 month contract (300 minutes, unlimited texts, 500Mb data) on a 23 months for free (by redemption) deal, and then got another 50 quid back by going through a cashback site when signing up. Free Tocco lite, two years use of it, and 25 pounds profit.
Yes, there's a catch. You have to remember to put in for the money. If you are lazy, forgetful, or disorganized you could end up paying after all.
This deal is still available at mobiles.co.uk, and the extra cashback through:
I also got £60 back from Topcashback when insuring my car (now £80 when you insure with the RAC).
Do Americans not get these deals? They are common in the UK. Some people haven't paid for a phone, or service, in years.