Just a day after rival Orange announced it is to break O2 UK’s exclusive hold over the iPhone, Vodafone has said it plans to sell the iconic device in the UK and Ireland “in early 2010.” Specific details of pricing, tariffs and availability are not yet available, though the operator has set up a website for prospective users to register their interest. The UK and Ireland deals take Vodafone’s iPhone offering to 13 of its operating companies worldwide. It will, however, trail Orange slightly in selling the device in the UK, as Orange has said it will offer the iPhone later this year.

According to reports, the Vodafone deal was only signed late last night following talks that have been ongoing for about a year. Certainly, without securing the rights to the device Vodafone would have faced the prospect of losing hundreds of thousands of its customers to rivals O2 and Orange. The operator lost 159,000 UK customers in its latest quarter, due in part to its lack of a deal with Apple. Analysts are already expecting a price war over the device now that the country’s three biggest players are offering the handset.