Apple has been challenged on its policy of selling locked iPhones through one operator. Vodafone is taking legal action against T-Mobile claiming that the sale of an unsubsidised, locked handset with a 24-month contract violates German competition law.

A court in Hamburg has granted a temporary injunction against T-Mobile, although the terms of that order do not stop the operator from selling the iPhone, said representatives for Vodafone and T-Mobile. T-Mobile is still selling the iPhone in Germany today.

European mobile phone operators typically subsidise the cost of handsets for customers who sign long-term contracts, but the handsets are locked and won't work on other networks. Some countries regulate such behaviour. Customers can also pay full price for unlocked phones that will work with any network.

T-Mobile denies its iPhone distribution deal violates German law.

"We have an exclusive device in our portfolio, but if you look at the market, that's normal," said a T-Mobile spokesman in Germany.

Another court hearing will be held in about two weeks, although a date has not been scheduled.

Vodafone did not ask the court to stop T-Mobile from selling the iPhone, said Simon Gordon, a Vodafone spokesman in the UK. Vodafone would like to see a court eventually mandate that T-Mobile sell an unlocked version of the iPhone for the same or less as today's locked version, he said.

T-Mobile said it sold about 15,000 iPhones on 9 November, the day it launched in Germany, but has not released figures for sales since then.

Apple's tight control of the iPhone and the locking of the device to the networks of its chosen operators hasn't gone down well with users, either.

Hackers have succeeded in modifying the firmware to let the iPhone run on other networks, but Apple has invalidated the hacks in successive updates of the phone's software.

In France, Apple's partner Orange plans to release an unlocked version this month to comply with a law there that forbids tying a mobile phone to a specific operator. The iPhone is due to go on sale in France on November 29.

In its October earnings conference call, Apple estimated that some 18 percent of the iPhones sold by then, or about 250,000 of them, had been unlocked to run on networks other than that of its US partner AT&T.

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