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Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 05:00 am PT (08:00 am ET)

Apple's iPhone to be sold by largest U.K. retailer, Tesco

Tesco, the largest chain of stores in the U.K., announced Wednesday it will soon sell Apple's iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS for use through the O2 network.

Tesco Mobile, the retailer's mobile virtual network operator, will "shortly introduce" the iPhone at Tesco Phone Shops in the U.K. The handset will also be available online through Tesco Direct.

Tesco Mobile is a joint venture between the retail giant and wireless carrier O2. Though products are branded Tesco Mobile, they rely on the O2 network. The service is pay-as-you-go.

The company plans to have more than 100 Tesco Phone Shops open in the U.K. by the end of 2009.

In terms of scope, the deal could be similar to Apple's introduction of the iPhone at Walmart, the largest global retailer. Britain's Tesco comes in third. Tesco Mobile products are available in regular Tesco stores, though the company's press release only makes specific mention of iPhone availability in its phone shops and online.

In the U.S., Apple began selling the iPhone at Walmart in 2008 just after Christmas. That was 18 months after the handset first debuted, and after another major retailer, Best Buy, was given access.

But Apple and Walmart have expanded their relationship this year. Some stores began adding an Apple-dedicated section in their revamped electronics sections. Some have speculated that move could be a precursor to Mac sales at the world's largest retailer.

In the U.K., O2 served as the iPhone's exclusive provider until its contract with Apple expired. That paved the way for competitors Vodafone and Orange to sell the smartphone.