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Crave UK: Which UK carrier has the best shot at the iPhone?

We know it's coming to the UK, and we know what it does, but we still don't know which UK network will have the enormous honor of hosting the iPhone.

Corrine Schultze / CNET Networks

We know it's coming to the UK, and we know what it does, but we still don't know which UK network will have the enormous honor of hosting the iPhone. Of course, that hasn't stopped the rumor mill from churning out stories, but what's the likelihood of any of these rumors being true?

Rumor 1: O2
According to the BBC, O2 has 'reportedly' won the deal to sell the iPhone in the UK. It's not unlikely that O2, which is owned by Spanish giant Telefonica, put in a good bid, but questions remain as to whether or not Apple is going to go with a group of smaller networks across the continent or choose one of the bigger boys. Telefonica has operations in the UK, Germany and Spain, but not in the large French and Italian markets.

If Apple does go with O2, there are clear issues regarding Europe-wide coverage and the current lack of a flat-rate data plan. On the other hand, O2 has a history of providing competitive tariffs and trying out new technology, so it may be more willing to make the kind of network changes that Apple wants regarding the visual voice mail system.
Likelihood rating 6/10

Rumor 2: T-Mobile
Some clever hackers recently cracked open the iPhone's innards and found some very interesting code, including two files that contained the words T-Mobile and Vodafone. Maybe the code is for roaming, but given that these are the only two European networks to be found in the code, it might be something more. That aside, T-Mobile is a good fit for iPhone--not only is it well established across a large proportion of Europe (although again, not France or Italy), it also provides a flat-rate data tariff, similar to what's being offered on the American AT&T iPhone deal.
Likelihood rating 8/10

Rumor 3: Vodafone
Vodafone has been a front runner for the iPhone in practically all the rumor stories, due to its size, brand and Europe-wide coverage. Vodafone is also mentioned in the hackers' uncovered iPhone code, so what we may see is a dual-network deal with both T-Mobile and Vodafone involved. In a possible attempt to keep up with T-Mobile, Vodafone recently launched a flat-rate data plan. But there are some doubts as to whether or not this mobile behemoth is prepared to let Apple mess with its network and take a large cut. US network Verizon, which is 45 percent owned by Vodafone, reportedly passed on the iPhone for this reason.
Likelihood rating 8/10

So there you have it; everything is up for grabs, but it looks like T-Mobile and Vodafone are most likely to fight it out, or, more interestingly, have to cooperate. But before you think that a bit of code and decent Europe-wide coverage is all it's going to take, bear in mind that Apple wants to keep control of its baby. It will be interesting to see whether the bigger networks are prepared to make all the necessary changes. If not, it may fall to smaller, more nimble networks to pick up the pieces and form a tangled Web of unified network operators, all serving the Messiah phone--surely this is the stuff of mobile network legends.