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Wednesday, May 14, 2008, 10:00 am PT (01:00 pm ET)

O2 fuels 3G iPhone frenzy as Bharti says deal signed for India

Telefonica's O2 subsidiary, the exclusive provider of Apple's iPhone to the UK and Ireland, has stoked anticipation of a 3G model with fresh comments Wednesday. Meanwhile, Bharti Airtel has signed a deal that will make it the second iPhone provider in India.

Speaking to analysts and members of the media during a quarterly conference call, O2 Europe chief executive Matthew Key said Telefonica and Apple would make a joint statement in "the coming weeks" but declined to specifically say whether it would regard the much hyped 3G iPhone.

"It is broadly known we are now out of stock of the 8 gigabyte and we have got some 16 gigabytes left," he would later tell Reuters in an interview.

Apple has also let its inventory of iPhones run uncharacteristically lean in recent weeks. Both its online stores in the US and UK have stopped taking orders for the device, and recent polls of the company's brick and mortar locations have turned up spotty availability at best.

At present, the Cupertino-based company and its wireless partners appear to be avoiding talk of a next-generation, 3G model strictly as a matter of policy. Always a showman, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs is likely to have planned a gala introduction for the handset at or before the company's annual developers conference set to kick off on June 9th.

Nevertheless, countless media reports and findings within resources of Apple's developmental iPhone software have revealed that the new phone should at they very least include 3G wireless and GPS capabilities.

For Apple, the stakes appear particularly high in India, where it along with Vodafone and just-announced partner Bharti Airtel will reportedly market the new handset through a staggering 250,000 Vodafone and Airtel retail outlets, including franchisee-owned shops.

It's reported that the rollout will be the largest in the world, handily dwarfing Apple's stateside plans that will see the device available in only about 7,000 AT&T and Apple retail locations pending any further developments.