Vodafone is in pole position to carry the iPhone when it comes to Europe at the end of 2007 – or so reckons American Technology research analyst Shaw Wu. And while Vodafone have dismissed the comments as "pure speculation", there's no doubt that the size of the network – which operates subsidiaries, joint ventures or affiliates in 17 European countries and has parnerships in a further 15 - would prove attractive to Apple.
With 200m subscribers, Vodafone is second only to China Mobile in terms of customer base, and has far greater coverage throughout Europe than its rivals. It would seem like the logical partner for Apple.
However, there's one big problem facing Apple and Vodafone: the iPhone uses a technology called EDGE.
EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) is a souped-up GPRS data service that offers speeds close to 3G (think of it as 2.75G... if you must).
The iPhone is all about data. The web browsing and (free!) push email functions are fantastic, and the network that bags the iPhone will cash in big time - just as long as it can deliver an experience that doesn't have users running for the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot.
One of the significant reasons that Apple chose to partner with Cingular in the US is that it had the only EDGE network in the country. In Europe, EDGE networks are piecemeal, and the only mobile provider to have invested significantly in the technology (and the only one to offer it in the UK) is Orange. Vodafone has pretty much ignored EDGE altogether, except in Czech Republic and Slovenia.
So, will Apple agree to reduce the user experience in order to partner with Vodafone Europe-wide? Will it make individual national deals on the basis of available EDGE networks? Or will it delay the European launch in order to launch a 3G iPhone?
Personally, I hope they go with partners running EDGE networks. I'd hate to have a brilliant phone hobbled by poor data rates - it's unlikely that Vodafone will be willing to spend money upgrading its base stations to EDGE throughout the continent. And while I'd love a 3G iPhone, I really don't want to have to wait.
Maybe I should just move to America instead...