Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Europe: a fragmented market for the iPhone, despite EU-wide carriers

According to AppleInsider, Vodafone is seen as the most likely European carrier for the iPhone. So, Europe will have a single iPhone carrier, just like the U.S., right?

Wrong. In Europe, Vodafone is not a company, it's a brand. In some countries, Vodafone Group Plc. has subsidiaries, in others, it has affiliates, and in yet others, only partners without any ownership affiliation. According to Wikipedia, Vodafone is present through partners only in as many as 12 of the 27 EU countries!

How fast will Vodafone get all these companies to launch the iPhone in their respective markets? Unless Apple bitches and moans and threatens the world's largest telecom company into getting its act together, there can be several-month differences between introductions in different member states, as has been the case with many cellphone launches. (One I have been experiencing, waiting for months in frustration, was the Sony Ericsson P910i a few years ago. The Hungarian launch came months after the UK and German introductions.)

The EU isn't a single telecom market yet: it's actually 27 separate markets, with their own separate national telecom authorities. This is supposed to change after this summer, but the iPhone will most likely still need 27 approvals.

Worse, the 27 Vodafones and Vodafone partners are very separate entities who don't really talk to each other. Yet another personal anecdote: when I moved abroad, I asked Vodafone if I could transfer my two-year subscription to the Vodafone in my new home country. Of course not.

Apart from the brand, there's very little in common between the different Vodafones in the EU. Terms, prices and services vary greatly. I wonder how Apple will manage.

So should Apple choose another carrier? Nope, my post wouldn't be much different if, say, T-Mobile were the most likely candidate. It's not a Vodafone problem, it's an EU problem.

Just think about the iTunes store. I'm not sure if everyone knows, but 12 of the EU's 27 member states still have no access to the store. (It's a different 12 from the countries without a Vodafone affiliate, so no, it's not a pattern.) Establishing a single European market is a great endeavor, and the EU has come a long way, but there's still a lot of distance to cover.

No comments: