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Vodafone Sues to Block German iPhone Sales

European mobile operator Vodafone has been granted a preliminary injunction by a German court in Hamburg against the sale of Apple iPhones by rival T-Mobile. Vodafone alleges that the sale of an unsubsidized handset locked to T-Mobile service with a two-year contract violates German competition laws. However, the injunction does not actually stop T-Mobile from selling the iPhone, and T-Mobile is continuing to do so. Vodafone says the goal of the court action is not to stop German sales of the iPhone, but to make sure the terms under which it is sold are legal.

EU mobile operators often subsidize the cost of mobile handsets for customers, who in turn sign long-term contracts locking the phone into service from that provider. However, customers can also pay full price for handsets which will work on any compatible mobile network. The Apple iPhone, however, is not subsidized by T-Mobile; Vodafone argues German law therefore prevents the iPhone from being locked to T-Mobile’s network.

T-Mobile disagrees, saying its sales of the iPhone do not violate German law.

German mobile phone operator Debitel says it has filed a similar complaint about iPhone sales with Germany’s telecommunications regulators last month.

Industry watchers note that Vodafone may be irked in losing out a pan-European deal to sell the iPhone to regional providers like T-Mobile, Orange, and O2. Rumors have Vodafone already talking with Apple about a distribution deal for an anticipated 3G version of the iPhone.

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