Vodafone and EE have stepped up and said they are interested in snaffling bits of Phones 4u, following the mobile retail chain's descent into administration earlier this week.
Phones 4u, which sold handsets with contracts from other providers, has seen all the major UK networks pull the plug on their support. First it was O2 and Three, then at the start of this month Vodafone announced it was cancelling its contract, and most recently EE.
The departure of the latter was the final straw and basically left Phones 4u with no meaningful avenues of business, hence the doors of its 550 shops did not open back on Monday. The Phones 4u website was also taken down, with a placeholder message stating: "Following the unexpected decision of EE and Vodafone to withdraw supply from Phones 4u, we regret that we are offline".
But now the last two networks to pull the plug, EE and Vodafone, have reportedly expressed an interest in buying some of Phones 4u's stock of smartphones (apparently some 300,000 handsets are on Phones 4u's inventory). The operators may also be interested in taking on some of the stores, the FT has reported via its sources, with EE potentially taking over up to 80 – though perhaps as little as a "handful".
All of which has left Phones 4u execs with a bad taste in their mouths. The cynical could even suggest this double pulling of the rug by EE and Vodafone guaranteed not just the closure of Phones 4u, but the availability of lots of cheap hardware, stores and staff to potentially poach. Much cheaper than having to buy the company up...
Neither of these networks is officially commenting on the situation, however, although a spokesman from Vodafone did say that they had been approached by the administrators (PricewaterhouseCoopers) of Phones 4u, not the other way around.
The FT spoke to one of PwC's administrators, who wouldn't name names, but said three companies were involved in discussions over potentially taking over stock, stores and staff.
Around 5,600 jobs are at risk if Phones 4u goes completely down the toilet, so in terms of the workforce, we have to hope some solid resolution is reached, even if EE and Vodafone's actions potentially look a little suspect.