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O2 chief dampens iPhone hype

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Peter Erskine, CEO of UK operator O2 said it's "early days" for the iPhone in the UK - and shot down some of the larger sales numbers being touted for the device.

iPhone sales were below tabloid guesstimates of 100,000 (The Sun & The Guardian) and 70,000 (The Mirror) - Erskine said the number was in the "tens of thousands".

Nevertheless, he said he was happy that people were coming into the stores, if only to play with the gizmo.

"It's the old story in retail, if you can get them in you can sell them something," he said. "What I don't know yet... is how much extra we are selling as a result of all the extra footfall."

That's probably not what O2 was thinking when it hired 1,400 extra staff ahead of the launch to cope with "unprecedented" demand. Apple's retail partners even shut up shop ahead of the launch on Friday afternoon to prepare for the crush.

So how well did the iPhone really do at the weekend?

Carphone Warehouse, with over 1,000 stores in the UK, did most of the heavy lifting. O2 has 300 high street shops here and Apple just 12. A channel source tells us that Carphone took stock of 50,000 but only shifted around 11,000.

In the much larger German market, T-Mobile shifted about 10,000 iPhones. So Erskine's "tens of thousands" claim is defensible. Just. But the Europeans appear to be far more circumspect about the wonderphone than Americans. Apple says it sold one million iPhones in the first 74 days in the US.

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Erskine might also take some comfort from the fact that Carphone Warehouse's national chip and pin network went titsup just as the iPhone went on sale.

Readers have deluged us with reports.

"I was first in the queue for one at my local branch and I didn't leave until over one hour later. God help the poor sods who came in after me," writes one reader.

"The problem seemed to be related to proving my identity - the system was set up to use a credit card to identify customers via Chip & PIN," writes Paul from Cambridge.

"Unfortunately after doing so, it said 'further identification required', but would only accept Chip & PIN - which it rejected because it already had it. Deadlock."

Steve adds:

"With three staff on, they were only able to sell three iPhones in 45 minutes in the Parliament Street branch in York."

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