Court lets T-Mobile sell locked iPhones in Germany

T-Mobile Germany need not sell an unlocked version of Apple’s iPhone, a court in Hamburg ruled Tuesday.

The decision leaves the German operator free to sell the phone for €399 (US$585) including tax, tied to its network and with a two-year service contract, just as it proposed at the phone’s German launch on Nov. 9.

Rival Vodafone filed suit against T-Mobile on Nov. 19, alleging that the sale of locked phones tied to a two-year contract breached German consumer protection laws.

More importantly for Vodafone, T-Mobile’s exclusive deal with Apple, combined with the locking of the phones, meant that Vodafone stood to lose customers attracted by the device.

In response to Vodafone’s suit, the court temporarily ordered T-Mobile to sell an unlocked version of the phone, with no restrictive contract, while it decided the case. T-Mobile sold the unlocked iPhones without a service contract for €999 while waiting for the court’s final ruling.

Now the court has thrown out Vodafone’s complaint, and T-Mobile is once again selling only locked phones, T-Mobile said Tuesday.

T-Mobile offers three service contracts for the iPhone, with monthly costs of €49 for 100 voice minutes and 40 text messages, €69 for 200 minutes and 150 messages, or €89 for 1,000 minutes and 300 messages. There is no charge for cellular data traffic, access to T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi hotspot network or use of the Visual Voicemail service. Unlike their U.S. counterparts, European mobile phone users do not pay for incoming calls. All the contracts run for a minimum of 24 months, after which customers can ask T-Mobile to unlock their iPhone for free, the company said.

Vodafone said it will analyze the ruling before deciding what action to take.

Customers wanting an unlocked iPhone can still cross the border to France, where France Télécom subsidiary Orange sells phones without a contract for €649, plus a €100 unlocking charge. (The charge is waived if the customer waits for six months from the purchase date.) The phones sold by Orange can be configured to present menu options in French, German, English or Italian.

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