iPhone sales start with a bang for Vodafone

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Vodafone delivered 50,000 iPhones to its customers on the first day of sales, as the UK's appetite for Apple's iconic device continues unabated. The group became the third UK operator to offer its customers the iPhone yesterday, four months after Orange announced it had broken O2's exclusive hold over the phone in Britain. Tesco, which operates its own brand mobile business in partnership with O2, also sells the iPhone.

Vodafone, whose chief executive Vittorio Colao has long coveted the device, announced it had won the right to offer customers the iPhone just a day after Orange, but it was forced to wait until after the lucrative Christmas period to start selling.

There had been fears the group would see customers move to rival operators as a result. However, one company insider said: "When we didn't get the iPhone initially, everyone predicted that customers would leave. These sales figures have proved that wrong."

This came despite Vodafone offering customers the device on a similar tariff to Orange and O2, scotching talk that a bitter price war was set to break out. Both Orange and Vodafone have instead looked to sell the phone off the strength of their networks. Mr Laurence reiterated yesterday that the "exceptional demand" had been driven by the strength of the company's network.

This is part of a strategy by rivals to highlight perceived issues at O2. Yesterday's announcement comes just weeks after Ronan Dunne, the chief executive of O2, apologised for problems at the group's network in London last year. He said the service had suffered as the use of smartphones, such as the iPhone, increased strain on the network from the huge rise in internet usage. O2 said data traffic in the UK was doubling every four months.

O2 has sold more than a million iPhones since it secured exclusive rights in the UK in 2007. Orange, which started selling the iPhone in November, is understood to have sold 30,000 by 4pm on the first day. Tesco has not broken down the numbers.

This follows news this month that Vodafone had stolen a march on its rivals by being the first UK operator to offer customers Google's Nexus One phone. The group is expected to unveil the phone formally at next month's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.