Apple iPhone 3G pre-orders crash O2 site

Exclusive U.K. operator empties online inventory

Customers eager to pre-order an Apple iPhone 3G in the U.K. overwhelmed the O2 Web site early Monday, and when the site returned to operation, the mobile operator said "unprecedented" demand had exhausted its available inventory.

Starting at 8:00 a.m. in the U.K., O2 began taking pre-orders for the iPhone 3G, telling customers who had earlier registered interest in the new phone that an 8GB model would be delivered by courier on Friday, the smart phone's first on-sale day, after they completed an order form and selected a service plan.

Within an hour, however, the O2 online site became sluggish and then unavailable, according to reports posted by British newspapers, including the Times and the Telegraph. By the time the site came back up, O2 had stopped taking pre-orders.

Previously, O2 had said more than 200,000 people had expressed interest in the new iPhone by registering their e-mail addresses with the company.

As of 2:00 a.m. Tuesday, London time, the O2 online store was still offline, and the carrier's iPhone page was headlined with a message reading: "Due to huge demand for the iPhone 3G, we're currently out of stock online. Come back on July 10 for more information."

O2 issued a statement on Monday to explain the outage. "The response was so great that the online store completely sold out of iPhone 3Gs within just a few hours," the company said. "Though O2 had invested several million pounds to increase the order capacity of the site, at times the site still couldn't process the sheer weight of demand."

Elsewhere in the release, O2 claimed that "demand for the revolutionary device is already at unprecedented levels" but also acknowledged that it had a "limited number" of iPhone 3G phones to sell via pre-orders.

O2, the carrier that has exclusive rights to sell subscriber plans for the iPhone in the U.K., has said it would heavily subsidize the new 3G model. Customers who sign an 18-month contract and choose either the £45 or £75 monthly plans ($89 or $148 U.S., respectively) will receive an 8GB iPhone 3G free of charge. Users who agree to the lower-priced £30 or £35 plans ($59 or $69 U.S., respectively), on the other hand, will be charged £99 ($196 U.S.) for the same model.

AT&T Inc., the only mobile operator allowed by Apple Inc. to sell the iPhone 3G in the U.S., will sell the 8GB model for $199, and require a 24-month service contract at prices that begin at $69.99 per month.

AT&T and Apple will sell the iPhone 3G only at their respective retail stores starting Friday at 8:00 a.m. local time.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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