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Monday, November 05, 2007, 07:15 am PT (10:15 am ET)

UK's O2 places orders for "hundreds of thousands" of iPhones

O2, the largest mobile carrier in the UK and exclusive provider of Apple's iPhone for the region, says it expects the touch-screen handset to become its fastest selling phone yet when it goes on sale this Friday at 6:00 p.m.

Speaking to the Financial Times, O2 chief executive Matthew Key estimated a "a couple of hundred thousand" iPhones would be sold in the first two months, adding that his firm along with its retail partner have ordered "hundreds of thousands" of units from Apple in preparation for the Nov. 9 launch.

Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner, found Key's forecast to be on the conservative end, and instead believes between 350,000 and 400,000 iPhones could be sold in the UK by January. Part of that success will have to hinge on O2's retail partner in the region, Carphone Warehouse.

In a separate interview with the Telegraph, Key recalls openly admitting to Apple chief executive Steve Jobs that O2 would need to use Carphone Warehouse as a retail partner to maximise distribution if it were selected as the exclusive iPhone carrier for the UK.

Key's openness reportedly chimed with Apple, which later revealed to have already mystery-shopped all O2's stores in the UK — something Jobs also did for himself before Apple formally announced its intention to use O2 as its exclusive provider for iPhone in the region.

"He's a hugely impressive guy, hugely impressive guy," Key said of Jobs. ''He clearly knows his stuff in a level of detail that for someone at that level is mindblowing, and he has a great incisiveness in terms of what the customer wants and needs in products."

The O2 chief said he knew immediately after his first two-hour meeting with Jobs that iPhone was a device he absolutely had to offer to his customners.

"In the UK market, where the top four networks have pretty much equal shares, it offers a great way for me to get a hell of a lot of high-value customers on to O2 and drive up data usage," he said.