Paris appeals court confirms no iPhone exclusive for Orange

Mobile phone operator Orange may not have exclusive rights to distribute Apple's iPhone in France, the Paris Court of Appeals confirmed Wednesday, upholding a ruling made by the national competition council in December.

Apple launched the iPhone in the U.S. with an exclusive distribution deal with AT&T, a sales model it later replicated for the European launch with O2 in the U.K., T-Mobile in Germany and Orange in France.

By offering the operators exclusive rights to such a sought-after phone, Apple was able to influence the conditions under which the phones were sold, including the type of airtime contract sold with it. That level of control was not to the taste of rival operators, who issued legal challenges in France and, ultimately unsuccessfully, in Germany.

In France, Orange also offered the iPhone without an airtime contract, for use on any mobile network -- but at a much higher price than it sold it with an airtime contract.

For rival operator Bouygues Telecom that was not enough, and it filed suit with the national competition council, demanding the right to sell the iPhone directly. The council ruled in Bouygues Telecom's favor in December, but Apple and Orange filed suit with the Paris Court of Appeals to contest the ruling.

The court rejected their appeals with a 19-page judgment on Wednesday, a decision Bouygues Telecom hailed as a significant advance for consumers. Bouygues Telecom said it would allow them to freely choose their phone and their operator according to the best deals available.

Unfortunately for Bouygues Telecom, the competition council's decisision came too late for the important Christmas sales season. The company is still negotiating with Apple the terms under which it will sell the iPhone, it said Wednesday, and it plans to launch the phone as soon as a deal is finalized.

Along with France's other mobile network operator, SFR, Bouygues Telecom offers interested customers the opportunity to sign up to a mailing list for more information when the iPhone becomes available. Both networks welcome customers who have bought a phone directly from Orange and unlocked it for use on other networks.

Neither Apple nor Orange responded to repeated requests for comment on the appeal court's ruling, or on their future plans to distribute the iPhone in France.

Perhaps realizing that exclusive deals were making it more enemies than friends among mobile operators, Apple changed strategy with its third wave of launches, choosing to sell the iPhone 3G through multiple operators in countries including Australia, India and Italy.

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