Vodafone has won an injunction preventing T-Mobile from selling the iPhone in Germany. T-Mobile is Apple's exclusive carrier partner in Europe's biggest market.
The lawsuit challenges T-Mobile's exclusivity arrangement with Apple. There's some confusion about the extent of the injunction - with Dow Jones reporting a total ban on sales as a consequence of the Hamburg court's decision, while other news services suggest that sales can proceed if the iPhone is available SIM-free *.
Vodafone's German boss Friedrich Joussen denied the goal was an outright iPhone ban: "We want it to be available to buyers without a mandatory calling plan. If I had wanted to halt sales, I could have, but I didn't," he said in a statement.
Under French law, Orange must offer a SIM-free version of the iPhone alongside one tied to a contract.
Vodafone's lawsuit is a significant challenge to Apple's go-to-market strategy, and therefore the business model it has devised for the iPhone. Apple takes the traditional network operator's subsidy, but doesn't use it to subsidise the phone. The company has also demanded a share of revenues generated by the device.
In an interview published yesterday, Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin described the iPhone as "a pretty poor experience", and said his company insisted on the right to call the shots.
"Whoever comes into the marketplace is going to have to work through us," he vowed.
Steve Jobs shouldn't take it personally, though. Network operators fight a constant battle to keep handset manufacturers with "cool" brands from setting the pace and negotiating a better price. For example, when Orange unveiled its latest phones, there were no models from either Nokia or Motorola. ®
Bootnote*: Reader Lars in Germany writes that the iPhone is still being sold in the T-Mobile shops and online.