I suppose you have to look at it through the eyes of the networks. They have spent millions of pounds establishing their own high street presence and yet they are competing with stores that are reselling their own products and taking an extremely health commission in the process. They are competing with themselves.
Without doubt this is what has led to the demise of Phones4U, which officially entered administration today. The networks want to get as close to their customer as possible, to retain as much profit as they can and the mega-chains which have previously sold multiple brands just don't fit into the picture.
Will the consumer lose out because of today's events? Probably. If you wanted to go into a shop and get the best contract from a number of operators, previously you had to do that at either Phones4U or Carphone Warehouse. Now, only CPW gives you that option and it's hard to predict a rosy future for them too - they will need to negotiate with the networks and offer a better deal than P4U were able to. At least after their Currys / Dixons merger they potentially have a wider portfolio within the business to sustain its existence.
In reality, 'comparison buying' in stores has been off the table in the true sense for a little while now as the networks have gradually pulled out. Three for example have only sold in their own stores / online for a while and have conducted a concerted customer acquisition cost reduction initiative, stretching even as far as removing themselves from cashback sites. A comparison isn't a true comparison if not everybody is included.
I feel most sad for the employees of Phones4U of course and also the impact it will have in towns. Where I live we have no operator branded stores, but we do have a Phones4U (did?) and have a Carphone Warehouse. Perhaps we will see a growth in operator stores to pick up the slack, but I consider it unlikely, as they will want to reduce their retail costs and grow their customer base online where they can.
One slightly interesting rumour doing the rounds today is that Tesco is considering their own 'Phone Shop' network outside of their stores, with a number of ideal retail units suddenly becoming available, I wonder if we'll see this sooner rather than later?
I'm not sure I really blame the networks for what they've done - I know EE have taken a lot of flak today - from a purely business perspective maybe this day was inevitable.