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T-Mobile UK starts shifting iPhones on the quiet

Exclusive, what exclusive?

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T-Mobile UK has started supplying iPhone 3G handsets to selected customers, while O2 UK continues to believe it has a UK exclusive on Apple's last-generation handset.

Apple's 3G handset won't be available to just any T-Mobile customer - only high spenders who threaten to leave need apply, and only 150 of those a week will be lucky enough to get their hands on an officially-supported T-Mobile iPhone, though even that risks annoying Apple and will certainly have O2 up in arms.

We previously reported rumours that T-Mobile, and possibly Orange, would be getting the iPhone 3G later in the year as O2's exclusivity period ended. But when we spoke to O2 this morning, the operator assured us that its exclusive deal included the iPhone 3G, and was still firmly in place.

So T-Mobile has imported an unknown number of iPhone 3G handsets from a European distributor, which it will be supplying to customers paying more than £75 a month if they threaten to leave - the latter clause enforced by allocating the handsets through 50 agents in the retentions department, and limiting those agents to three a week each.

Despite this apparent coup, T-Mobile won't be crowing from the rooftops: there are a very limited number of handsets and the company can't risk its own exclusive deal with Apple in Germany, and upsetting the lads in Cupertino could seriously damage long-term relations. So it's last year's iPhone, to a small number of customers, without attendant PR. You might be forgiven for asking why T-Mobile UK would even bother.

The answer to which is that T-Mobile is on the forecourt marked "For Sale", and just like any Arthur Daley the owners are applying a bit of spit and polish to make the company seem more attractive. That includes cutting down on goodwill payments, which topped more than a million quid last year, and reducing the options and hours in the cafeterias: small things that reduce operational expenditure and give the company a better bottom line even if they're not sustainable.

Anyone interested in making an offer on T-Mobile UK can now see a company offering the latest handsets with low opex: something worth having even if an iPhone 3G on T-Mobile UK isn't. ®

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