Vodafone has dropped the biggest hint yet that European mobile networks have been demanding Apple offer 3G support in the iPhone.

Vodafone Group chief executive Arun Sarin called the lack of 3G support in the iPhone a "concern".

"The iPhone is clearly a good, software-driven device, but we're concerned about wideband area coverage. 3G (capability) is something we look forward to and hope Apple moves forward to soon," Sarin said, Reuters reports.

Apple's device uses EDGE (also known as 2.5G) networks for data traffic - however, unlike in the US, European mobile networks have invested billions in building up their 3G networks - they want those networks used.

Apple has described its choice of EDGE above 3G as being predicated on the power demands imposed by 3G technology, use of which would impact battery life on the sophisticated device.

However, lack of 3G support is emerging as one of the major market inhibitors to widespread adoption of the device, particularly among mobile and tech-savvy Europeans.

Analysts are split on Apple's 3G plans, some expect the iPhone that ships this year in Europe could be 3G-enabled, others don't anticipate a 3G version until March next year.

Apple's European launch plans remained topic for debate. Vodafone had been expected to clinch the contract on a pan-European basis, but Apple now seems set to favour a country-by-country distribution deal.

It has been widely reported that Apple will shift the iPhone through O2 in the UK and Deutsche Telekom in Germany, and perhaps also through other networks.

Sarin confirmed that "virtually every mobile company" is in discussion with Apple over the iPhone, but refused to confirm or deny his company's involvement, saying that Apple has made no announcement on this.