Page last updated at 08:31 GMT, Tuesday, 29 September 2009 09:31 UK

Vodafone enters UK iPhone market

iPhone
The handset has boosted sales for O2

Vodafone has reached an agreement to sell Apple's popular iPhone in the UK.

The announcement follows news that network operator Orange had secured a similar agreement with Apple.

The deals mark an end to the exclusive UK arrangement between O2 and the US technology firm, which has been in place since 2007.

Vodafone says users can register an interest online, with the handsets becoming available to customers from early 2010.

Orange said its customers would be able to buy the phone "later this year" but did not specify a date or pricing.

Vodafone is one of the biggest mobile operators in the world with an estimated 300 million customers world wide, making it the second largest carrier after China Mobile.

The agreement sees both Orange and Vodafone selling both the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS.

A spokesperson for Vodafone said the firm was "delighted" at securing an agreement with Apple and that the phone was going to be primarily for existing Vodafone customers.

This is a different model from that adopted by O2, which used the iPhone as an incentive to attract new customers.

Exclusivity

O2 has offered the handset in the UK since its launch in 2007. In February, it said it had sold more than one million of the handsets.

The launch of the latest iPhone 3GS in June significantly boosted sales, with many stores running out of stock.

The phone has also allowed the firm to win subscribers from other networks, according to analysts.

Dave McQueen, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms and Media told BBC News said that the smartphones - which have the ability to surf the web and send e-mail - has put a burden on the O2 network.

"IPhone users to tend to use data quite extensively - perhaps more than anticipated," he said.

O2 will continue to sell the handset in Britain, alongside iPhone rival the Palm Pre.

The Palm phone, described by some as an "iPhone killer", will be available exclusively to O2 from 16 October.

O2 said that it always knew that its exclusive deal was for "a limited period of time".

In countries where exclusive deals still persist, such as the US, some customers choose to "unlock" their phones using third party software so they work on an unlicensed network.

However, Apple has warned that the practice can cause "irreparable" damage to a handset and has engaged in a game of cat-and-mouse, releasing periodic software updates which prevent unlocked phones from working correctly.



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