By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
June 4, 2008

In a break with its pattern of partnering with the largest provider in every international market it enters, Apple (AAPL) has cut an iPhone deal with Tokyo-based Softbank (SFT.F), Japan’s No. 3 wireless provider with 18.77 million subscribers. The news came Wednesday in a Softbank press release that’s even more terse than usual:

SOFTBANK MOBILE Corp. today announced it has signed an agreement with Apple® to bring the iPhone™ to Japan later this year. (link)

Meanwhile in Spain, Telefonica (TEF) seems to have got over whatever last-minute jitters caused it to pull Monday’s press release (see here). On Wednesday the telecommunications giant announced once and for all that it has agreed to carry the iPhone in Spain through its Movistar subsidiary.

Telefonica is Spain’s No. 1 carrier — by a long shot — with 23 million mobile subscribers, and it already carries the iPhone in the United Kingdom through its O2 subsidiary.

The Softbank deal is more of a surprise. Early betting had favored NTT DoCoMo (DCM), Japan’s predominant mobile phone carrier and one of the pioneers of 3G technology (see here). That door is not necessarily closed, however. “If there’s still a possibility of releasing iPhone from DoCoMo, we would consider it,” an NTT DoCoMo spokesman told The Wall Street Journal. “Though we cannot comment on whether we have specific negotiation plans with Apple,” (link).

These two announcements bring the iPhone country count to 70, according to the list maintained by applinvestors.

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