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3G iPhones at an AT&T store? Fuggedaboutit

We called 50 AT&T stores. None of them had the new phone. Apple stores fared better, but not great.

"Welcome to the new AT&T, we're currently out of iPhones, how can I help you?"

That's how two AT&T stores--one in Los Angeles, another in Denver--answered their phones Tuesday. But those stores are hardly alone in their lack of 3G iPhones. A CNET News survey on Tuesday and Wednesday showed that during their first week on sale, Apple's latest iPhones are playing extremely hard to get.

In total, we contacted 50 AT&T stores in 21 cities across 11 states, and not one had any of the three models of the Apple iPhone 3G. And none had good news about when one might be able to get the device.

When asked if someone could walk in and buy a phone any time this week, an employee of an Austin, Texas, area store put it this way: "No way, no how, no store."

That's because of the huge back-order of phones. An AT&T representative confirmed that most of the company's stores ran out of iPhones on Friday, the first day the devices were for sale. Since AT&T doesn't have any in stock, its individual stores are taking "direct fulfillment" orders, which means customers can put in an order, pay for a phone, and will be contacted when it arrives. Most of the 50 stores said that process is running between 10 and 21 days before the phones will arrive.

"We are shipping tens of thousands of iPhone 3Gs each day to accommodate demand," said AT&T spokeswoman Jenny Parker. "As we're able to start re-stocking our stores, we will do so as fast as we can."

From what we can tell, the shipments vary. Though each store said it gets a shipment of phones every day, some said they hadn't received any containing iPhones since launch day and didn't expect any until next week. When they do arrive, "sometimes there are 10 iPhones, sometimes 100," reported a Seattle-area AT&T employee who answered the phone.

Of course, this evidence is entirely anecdotal, but similar stories have been showing up on the Web this week. Suffice it to say, it's fairly improbable anyone will be able to waltz in off the street and buy an iPhone 3G from AT&T until at least the end of August. Though you could get lucky if someone happens to return a phone the same day you go in.

iphone 3G line
Lines like this, taken on iPhone launch day, remain at Apple stores, while AT&T outlets across the U.S. are sold out. Tom Krazit/CNET News

Apple stores are faring moderately better. There are more than 1,000 AT&T stores carrying iPhones, and 188 Apple stores in the U.S. Of those Apple outlets surveyed in the same cities of the AT&T stores that had no phones in stock, seven Apple stores reported having the iPhone in stock and three said they just ran out Wednesday morning. Those that still had iPhones to sell reported lines with waits of one-and-a-half to three-and-a-half hours.

Still, the odds are heavily in favor of Apple being able to supply iPhones to their customers on the spot. So if you really, truly must have an iPhone as soon as possible, it seems pointless to bother with AT&T.

CNET News' Holly Jackson contributed to this report.