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Tuesday, April 17, 2007, 10:00 am PT (01:00 pm ET)

Vodafone seen as frontrunner for European iPhone contract

Apple has yet to say with which international carriers it plans to partner on iPhone distribution, but one Wall Street analyst is citing sources in saying that heavyweight Vodafone is all but a shoe-in for Europe.

"Our sources indicate that Vodafone is most likely iPhone's carrier partner for Europe," analyst Shaw Wu, an analyst at American Technology Research, told clients as part of a broad research note on iPhone. "We believe Vodafone's 200 million subscriber base (compared to 61 million for AT&T, its USA partner), broad country coverage, and investment in advanced technologies make it a strong fit for Apple."

Wu, who raised his price target on shares of Apple by $27 to $145 on Tuesday, went on to say that Vodafone's presence and coverage in 59 countries gives it the global reach that Apple and its customers are looking for.

Apple has said that it hopes to launch iPhone in Europe by the fourth calendar quarter of this year. In February the Cupertino-based company reportedly sent representatives to scout out a Unipart Trade Logistics-operated mobile phone repair centre in Europe to determine whether it would be suitable to handle iPhone repairs for the region.

Meanwhile, reports obtained by both AppleInsider and other Wall Street analysts have suggested that Apple could introduce a version of the iPhone based on 3G wireless technology in Europe during the first half of 2008.