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Tuesday, June 24, 2008, 03:55 pm PT (06:55 pm ET)

O2 rumored to allow pre-launch iPhone activations, 7AM opening

The iPhone's sole UK carrier is claimed to be taking some of the pressure off of stores for the iPhone 3G launch by letting users sign up for their contracts ahead of time as well as by introducing the handset early in the morning.

A visitor to an O2 store in Britain's Midlands region, posting to Mac Rumors' forums, has allegedly met an O2 staffer aware of a company conference on Monday outlining plans for the July 11th iPhone 3G release date.

According to the claim, every O2 shop in the UK from July 1st onwards will handle the contract sign up process for the new iPhones in advance. Both the credit check and contract itself can optionally be setup ahead of time such that early buyers will only have to pick up and activate their iPhones on launch day; plans won't go live until subscribers give stores registration codes that set the plan in motion.

The unusual approach is aimed at creating a "successful and painless launch" that would let the most eager early adopters walk out of the store quickly, according to the report.

This same source would also have O2 retail stores tentatively opening their doors for the iPhone 3G introduction at 7AM local time — before normal store hours and much earlier than the original iPhone launch, which took place in the evening. A number of fellow UK residents also say they have heard similar claims that narrow the launch time to 7:02AM, a play on O2's name that was also made with last year's 6:02PM unveiling.

These details are unconfirmed and are called partly into question by the store worker's claims that all O2 shops will receive about 5,000 units for launch; the quantity would be extremely large for most stores, though the O2 staffer claims that his store received a single 5,000 iPhone shipment for the earlier November launch that lasted until May, a story also supported by other British customers.

However, word of a morning launch follows on the heels of a similar rumor regarding AT&T, which is said to be preparing for an 8AM American launch that may be timed to guarantee that all customers can activate their phones the same day.

The rumor also backs an O2 spokeswoman's comments that Apple itself may be forced to sell only prepaid iPhones in its stores due to the lack of an O2 account activation system and proper training. Visitors to official Apple outlets will only have access to Pay As You Go plans, the newer report says.