The operator-iPhone exclusivity deals are having a tough time in Europe. First there was the litigation between T-Mobile and Vodafone over T-Mobile's exclusive iPhone deal in Germany. Subsequently Vodafone became an iPhone distributor in 10 countries. The two events may or may not be related.
In France there has been similar litigation over France Telecom's (Orange's) exclusive iPhone deal with Apple. In December it was found to be a violation of French law by regulators. Now an appeals court in France has upheld the decision:
National competition regulators suspended the five-year exclusive sales deal between iPhone manufacturer Apple and France Telecom's mobile arm Orange on December 17. Both Apple and Orange had appealed the ruling.
A spokesman for Orange told AFP it would seek to overturn the ruling before France's high court of appeal, the Cour de Cassation.
Rival operator Bouygues Telecom filed suit against Orange before the French competition council in September, and was joined by France's third main mobile carrier SFR and the French consumer rights group UFC-Que Choisir.
Both Bouygues and SFR welcomed the ruling and said they hoped soon to be able to offer the iPhone in their stores, saying talks were underway with Apple to finalise distribution agreements.
Even though Apple was a party to the appeal in support of exclusivity it's actually in Apple's long term interest that the iPhone be distributed widely through multiple, non-exclusive operator relationships. Exclusivity limits the potential penetration of the device.
I believe that the US market would see several million more unit sales were it not for AT&T exclusivity.