It was one of the most sought-after gifts this Christmas, but has previously been available only through the 02 network due to an exclusivity deal that company has with iPhone manufacturer Apple. However, it has now emerged that rival operator Vodafone Ireland – which has been encouraging customers to "preregister" for the iPhone in advance of the formal launch of the mobile on its own network early next year – has quietly been offering it to customers who visit its retail outlets.

A spokeswoman for the company confirmed it was "facilitating customers who are requesting an iPhone by putting them in contact with independent agent", Independent Online Sales (IOS).

"As you can appreciate there has been an ever-growing demand from certain
customers to use the iPhone on the Vodafone network
and this desire has been communicated to us through
various customer channels ," she said

"We have thousands of customers who have pre-registered their interest in an iPhone with us and we have received an increasing number of queries from customers who want to get their hands on an iPhone in the interim period between now and when we launch the phone.

"Obviously, we completely recognise that some customers want to get up and running on the iPhone now, in advance of when we go to market in early 2010."

Vodafone Ireland already has over 10,000 customers on its network who have secured the iPhone over the past year, either by purchasing it online abroad, or by switching to Vodafone from 02 and from independent agents such as IOS, the spokeswoman added.

"We are completely supportive of their desire to do that. Or should it suit them better, they can wait until we launch. It is really up to the individual," she said.