Vodafone has won the exclusive rights to sell a 3G iPhone next year with an announcement due as early as January. Or so says italian technology site Morse.it, which claims to have spoken to 'reliable sources' at Vodafone.

This latest rumour comes on top of news that Vodafone has been granted an injunction against T-Mobile in Germany over its iPhone contract with Apple. The aim is not to stop T-Mobile from selling the iPhone, but to examine to the terms of the contract to establish whether or not it is anti-competitive.

The Apple-Vodafone deal would give Apple exclusive rights to sell the iPhone 3G in every territory in which it operates. However that appears to fly in the face of the exclusive 'five year' deals done by Apple with T-Mobile in Germany, Orange in France and O2 in the UK. Although Engadget points out that the deals are to sell the 'iPhone' and not necessarily the 'iPhone 3G'. Clever.

May deadline for 3G iPhone

The Vodafone 3G rumour has been given some ammunition by news from a Spanish tech company blog that a 3G iPhone could debut as early as May. This makes some sense: by then the Apple iPhone will have been on sale in the US for nearly a year, and it will also enable Apple to counter accusations that the lack of 3G is the biggest bar to iPhone adoption in Europe.

Apple says it shied away from 3G in the first iPhone because a) 3G networks aren't very widespread in the US where EDGE is more common; and b) because heavy power consumption by 3G chips would severely limit battery life in the slim device.

Since then though Broadcom has announced a ' 3G on a chip' mobile phone CPU that promises both high performance and low power consumption. Could this be what Apple - and iPhone fans - have been waiting for?

We have asked Apple and Vodafone to comment on the substance of this story.