France strips Orange of exclusive iPhone rights – Will the UK follow?

The french competition regulators have passed their judgment on the deal between Apple and Orange for the exclusive distribution of the much coveted iPhone 3G in France, and the result could be a good one for all potential iPhone fans around the world as the ruling is that Apple has to offer their iPhone to other mobile operators as well (Source: The Times).

Orange which had the exclusive rights to sell the iPhone in France will now have to share the market with other operators, including SFR which is part owned by Vodafone. The ruling by the french competition regulators can end up having ripple effects to other countries as well, including the UK where O2 has the exclusive rights to the iPhone.

The ruling of the french competition council was that Orange’s five year exclusive deals was in excess and would limit competition in the mobile market, and in the end not be the best for the consumer. The ruling in France came in time for other operators to start selling the iPhone in time for Christmas, however they still need to be able to get stocks of the iPhone from Apple.

According to the article Orange will appeal the verdict on the claims that it differs from iPhone deals in other EU markets, such as the UK, Spain and Germany.

So what impact could this have for the UK? According to legal experts competition law in the EU is the same for all countries so in theory other networks might seek to get the same ruling for the UK as well and thereby open up the market for other operators, such as Vodafone and Orange to sell the iPhone in the UK. However they also state that market conditions is one key factor in these rulings, and they differ greatly between France and the UK. Orange in France has over 40% of the market, whilst in the UK there are five competitors, with the two main ones, O2 and Vodafone, being similar in size.

Unless you are with O2 at the moment i guess we will just have to wait and see if any of the UK competitors decide to challenge the exclusive deals between O2 and Apple for the distribution of the iPhone. We will keep our ear to the wire and come back with updates should we hear any rumours.

If you can’t wait for a possible challenge and ruling to get your iPhone, you can find the O2 deals on iPhone 3G here.


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