Vodafone, Telecom Italia to sell iPhone in Italy

Vodafone will sell Apple’s iPhone in ten countries including Italy from later this year, while Telecom Italia will also sell the phone in Italy, the companies said in separate announcements Tuesday.

The announcements signal a break with Apple’s policy of striking exclusive national deals with carriers.

Vodafone customers in Australia, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Greece, Italy, India, Portugal, New Zealand, South Africa and Turkey will be able to purchase the iPhone for use on the company’s networks there later this year.

The deals with Vodafone and Telecom Italia will mean a significant increase in availability of the iPhone, which today is sold in just six countries: the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Ireland and Austria.

While Vodafone has subsidiaries in the U.K., Ireland and Germany, it will not offer the iPhone there as Apple has already struck exclusive agreements with local operators O2 and T-Mobile.

The situation in Italy is very interesting, according to Ben Wood, analyst at CCS Insight.

“It shows that Apple has decided to open up its distribution approach to move away from exclusive deals, which have limited the sales of the iPhone. The big demand for unlocked phones has shown that,” said Wood.

Wood sees another side to Italy that makes Apple’s move into that market special: it could signal a move away from a business model built on long-term contracts.

“We believe Apple, and carriers, have to include a prepaid business model if they want to make the most of the iPhone. Italy, for example, is a prepaid market,” said Wood.

Neither Vodafone nor Telecom Italia would provide information about their pricing plans for pricing. Representatives for the two companies would not say whether the iPhones they sell will be locked to their networks. Apple representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

More broadly, said Wood, “The announcement comes at a good time for Apple, when its international strategy seems to be faltering.” Apple’s retail partners in the U.K. and Germany have been forced to offer deep discounts on the iPhone as sales have taken off more slowly than in the U.S.

Vodafone would not say whether it will sell the current iPhone model or an oft-rumored future version for 3G (third generation) mobile networks.

Wood downplayed the significance of 3G capability, as not all countries have widely deployed 3G networks. In some it’s important, and in others not so much, he said.

He also believes Vodafone is happy with whatever deal it got from Apple. Not jumping on the iPhone in the first phase of roll-out gave Vodafone the opportunity to learn from other carriers, and gain a better position when negotiating with Apple, according to Wood.

Updated at 9:15 a.m. PT to add information about Telecom Italia.

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