Vodafone to sell the iPhone in UK

On Monday morning, we learned that France Telecom’s Orange will begin marketing Apple’s iPhone throughout Great Britain before the end of the year. The announcement came in light of the forthcoming expiration of the exclusive contract held by Telefonica’s O2.

Initially, some (including myself) thought that the news from Orange would put to rest rumors that Vodafone Group PLC, the second biggest operator in the U.K., wouldn’t be a factor in the iPhone’s immediate future. Previously, the folks at Vodafone had hinted at the company’s interest in selling the iPhone.

Today comes word, however, that Vodafone will, in fact, start selling the iPhone in the U.K. and Ireland early next year.

This announcement comes as good news to Apple. The likely bigger-than-anticipated distribution in the U.K. will now offset at least some of the lagging distribution that will probably be realized in China next month as a result of Unicom initially rolling out the hand set at very lofty prices. Unicom, as we’ve previously covered, plans to target the small high-end segment of the world’s largest mobile community.