Vodafone "looks forward" to 3G iPhone version

LONDON (Reuters) - Vodafone Group VOD.L said on Thursday it was concerned the current iPhone mobile phone -- Apple's AAPL.O latest "killer" gadget -- does not operate on fast 3G networks.

Amid speculation that Apple is close to handing a deal to Vodafone’s rivals to bring iPhones to Europe, the mobile phone giant said only any deal needed to make sense for shareholders.

“It’s clearly a good, software-driven device, but we’re concerned about wideband area coverage so that 3G (third-generation) or HSDPA (upgraded 3G) connectivity with the iPhone is something that we look forward to.

“Every product, every alterative, every choice here has a price and we just have to be conscious of what it is that we’re doing for our customers and our shareholders,” Sarin told a conference call after the company posted strong quarterly numbers.

Analysts expected Vodafone to be in prime position to secure an exclusive, pan-European deal to sell iPhones, which have flown off the shelves in the United States, but warned that Apple was a tough negotiator and liked to dictate terms.

Apple, whose iPhones operate over slower 2.5 generation networks in the United States, is not expected to bring out a 3G version until March 2008, analysts say. And Vodafone has invested heavily in its 3G network and services.

IPhones, which combine Apple’s hugely popular iPod digital music player, a video player and Web browser into a sleek, touch-screen device, went on sale in the United States in June.

Sarin said virtually every mobile company was having a conversation with Apple, but that he could not comment further on any potential decision or announcement.