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Date:21/11/11

Would-be iPhone buyers still face weeks-long waits

More than a month after the Apple Inc. iPhone 4S went on sale, the three largest U.S. wireless carriers are still struggling to keep up with customer demand for it.

Customers of Verizon Wireless may have to wait more than three weeks for the device, according to the carrier's website. This compares with as much as 21 days at AT&T Inc. and up to 14 days at Sprint Nextel Corp.

While some tech blogs have suggested Apple's manufacturing isn't keeping pace, the carriers point to unexpectedly strong demand for the handset.

"We are having some supply issues in the sense that demand's huge," AT&T's president of emerging devices, Glenn Lurie, said Wednesday. "We have had just record-breaking sales on it."

The carriers are relying on the device to boost contract-subscriber growth this quarter. Verizon Wireless and AT&T both reported slowdowns in iPhone activations in the most-recent quarter, saying the more-modest results were due to customers delaying action in anticipation of the latest model's release.

U.S. retail sales rose 0.5% in October, beating expectations, and many economists said the fifth consecutive monthly increase for the indicator was due in part to the Oct. 14 introduction of the iPhone 4S model.

The introduction helped to spur a 3.7% increase in electronics sales. Apple may sell as many as 27 million iPhones globally in its fiscal first quarter, estimated Morgan Keegan analyst Tavis McCourt.

For Sprint, the device gives it an opportunity to boost contract-subscriber rolls for just the second three-month period since 2007. The Overland Park, Kan.-based carrier has shed 259,000 postpaid users this year, compared with gains of 712,000 at AT&T and three million for Verizon Wireless.

Jennifer Fritzsche, a Wells Fargo analyst, estimated Sprint could add 303,000 postpaid customers in the fourth quarter, largely on the strength of the iPhone.

A spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless, Brenda Raney, said the carrier is working with Apple to increase its inventory of iPhone 4S models."Not only was the iPhone 4S popular when it was introduced, but the popularity continues to build," she said."We don't want to keep our customers waiting for their purchases.



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