LONDON (Reuters) - Apple's AAPL.O new iPhone sold out online in Britain ahead of its Friday launch, defying general consumer gloom as the country's economy threatened to tip over into its first recession in more than a decade.
Carrier O2 TEF.MC said on Tuesday its website had been unable to cope with demand, which peaked at 13,000 per second. It later said it had sold out.
Carphone Warehouse CPW.L said the level of interest was 10 times that for the original iPhone last year. Neither company would give sales figures.
Both O2 and Carphone Warehouse said they had separate stocks of iPhones to sell in their stores from Friday morning when the phone will be launched in 22 countries. The phone is expected to go on sale in 70 countries by the end of the year.
After launching its first iPhone through exclusive deals with carriers that tied consumers into expensive contracts, Apple is targeting a far bigger market with its new, third-generation (3G) iPhone.
This time around, Apple is allowing carriers to subsidize the iPhone -- which is common practice in most parts of Europe -- with the result that many are giving it away or charging a nominal fee as long as customers sign up for service deals.
“We’d done everything we could to cope with high demand but on that scale our Web site did struggle,” said an O2 spokesman. “The experience wasn’t as smooth as we’d have liked it to be.”
The new iPhone, which can exploit faster networks than the original, has GPS location chips and supports corporate email such as Microsoft's MSFT.O Outlook.
Like the first iPhone, whose starting price last June was $500 on top of a $1,400 service contract, the touch-screen device combines an iPod music player and Web browser with basic voice-calling functions.
Along with Apple itself, which did not sell any iPhones online ahead of time, only O2 and Carphone will sell the phone in the UK.
Apple shares were up $3.70 or 2 percent at $178.86 on Nasdaq on Tuesday afternoon, three days ahead of the launch.
(Reporting by Sinead Carew in New York and Kate Holton in
London; Editing by Paul Bolding and Andre Grenon)
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