Australia's Telstra restricts iPhone supply lines

The short list of Telstra sites selling the iPhone 3G raises questions about whether the telephone company has received a limited allocation of the device.

Australia's biggest telephone company, Telstra, on Wednesday said it would sell Apple's iPhone 3G in just 15 stores nationwide from Friday morning, including only one store in Sydney.

A list distributed by the company said its T-Life branded stores in George St. (Sydney) and Bourke St. (Melbourne) would open at 6 a.m. local time on Friday, July 11, to sell the iPhone to early customers. Normally the stores open at 8 a.m.

The short list of Telstra sites selling the iPhone 3G raises questions about whether the telephone company has received a limited allocation of the phone, which could lead to stock shortages. "Stocks in the first week will be limited, so the best bet is to head in early," said Telstra spokesman Peter Taylor.

Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde said he was sure there would be significant pent-up demand for the iPhone.

"In such a hype situation nobody knows what is going to happen," he said. "If the hype proves to be hype, there will be enough phones, but if there is a real rush then they might have a problem."

Competitor Optus will open its Sydney store six hours earlier (at midnight), but only to supply those who have already paid a deposit to buy an iPhone. Vodafone is also planning launch events in Sydney early Friday morning.

Gartner research director Robin Simpson said it was hard to tell about shortages until the iPhone went on sale, but there was no doubt the initial shipment wouldn't be as big as most would like.

The analyst suspected Telstra could be limiting the amount of stores because it had to properly train staff to activate the iPhone when customers bought them.

"Apple is usually fairly strict about retail training," he said. "It might just be a pragmatic consideration."

Telstra will also sell the iPhone from some 13 other stores nationwide.

Taylor said Telstra's move to sell the iPhone nationwide meant regional Australians would not be left out of the launch and would be among the first to buy the iPhone in Australia.

Renai LeMay of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.

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