“To get the free iPhone 4S, customers must sign up for a monthly plan starting at 286 yuan, or $45.”
I don’t know about the US, but in the UK the 16GB 4S is available for free at £41 ($63) per month on a 24 month contract. That’s with 900 minutes, unlimited texts and 750mb data. Sure, the data’s pretty poor but I guess the upfront cost (or lack thereof) is pretty important to some people. It is more expensive but still technically free upfront.
After checking out the AT&T website I’m now a little confused. In my experience, the more you pay per month and the longer your contract is the less you pay upfront. Is this true in the US?