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Tuesday, September 08, 2009, 11:10 am PT (02:10 pm ET)

Proposed Orange-T-Mobile merger centered around iPhone

Two British wireless carriers hope to merge and create the nation's largest network, partially in a bid to grab Apple's attention and earn the right to sell the iPhone.

According to The Daily Telegraph, the merger of Orange and T-Mobile in the U.K. would have 28.4 million customers representing 37 percent of the market. Tom Alexander, chief executive for Orange in Britain, said the additional clout would be an advantage for the company as it looks to have the iPhone on its network.

However, a potential deal between Orange and T-Mobile is far from a foregone conclusion. Any merger would need to be approved by regulators from the European Union, though company officials said they believe it would be accepted.

"We (Orange) are already the network of choice for multimedia devices, we’ve already got the biggest 3G network, now with T-Mobile we've got an even stronger 3G network," Alexander said. "We’ve got a fantastic platform and are obviously the network of choice for all multimedia devices, including potential the iPhone in future."

Months ago, rumors suggested the iPhone could be leaving exclusive carrier O2 for the British T-Mobile. That report said that the carrier would gain access to the old model iPhone 3G, while O2 would continue to be the exclusive provider of the iPhone 3GS.

Currently, O2 is the British market leader, with 27 percent of the nation's subscribers. Vodafone is in second with 25 percent, followed by Orange (22 percent) and T-Mobile (15 percent).

As the iPhone continues to expand internationally, exclusive contracts like the one first struck with AT&T have become less common. A recent deal between Apple and China Mobile was non-exclusive. Since the two reached a three-year agreement, rumors have surfaced that Apple has turned its sights to competitor China Mobile, which has more than 475 million subscribers.

In the U.S., the exclusive arrangement between AT&T and Apple is scheduled to expire in 2010. While the wireless carrier has reportedly been negotiating an extension, some have speculated that the iPhone will jump to other domestic carriers.