Vodafone UK begins shipping iPhone – 50,000 pre-orders dispatched

guy-lawrence[UK] In case you weren’t already convinced by the level of pent up demand for an alternative to O2’s iPhone monopoly in the UK, more evidence comes from Vodafone today. The mobile operator has begun selling the iPhone 3G and 3GS, including shipping 50,000 units to customers who have pre-ordered.

That’s a pretty healthy number for Day One but it doesn’t look quite so impressive when compared to the number of pre-orders – 65,000 – that Orange is said to have clocked up in its first few days after announcing it would offer the device. It’s likely that Vodafone, initially at least, has been impacted by Orange breaking O2’s monopoly first and, perhaps crucially, in time for the holiday season. Especially since there is little to distinguish all three offerings price-wise. Apple still commands an unprecedented amount of control over the iPhone brand and pricing. The retail monopoly has been broken by the supply monopoly remains nicely intact.

That isn’t stopping Vodafone’s UK CEO Guy Laurence (pictured above) from being in buoyant mood though, not surprising since the iPhone has been such a long time coming. Of course, Lawrence is keen to credit Vodafone’s “outstanding network” for the high demand – and it’s true O2 has had major capacity issues, especially in London – although, technically, Orange’s 3G network covers more of the UK population.

But how long before everybody offers the iPhone?

If you’re a network and you don’t sell Apple’s iconic smartphone then you’re left with a real customer churn problem with regards to some of the highest value customers. T-Mobile, which is on track to merge with Orange, doesn’t yet offer the iPhone in the UK and is known to have had a batch of ‘grey’ imported iPhones as a carrot to keep high spending customers. While a reliable source recently told me that 3UK are doing something similar for their so-called ‘VIP customers’.