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iPhone 5 supply catching up with demand at US Apple Stores

Supply of the iPhone 5 for carriers AT&T and Verizon continues to improve, and may reach consistent availability in the next 2 to 3 weeks, according to a new survey of Apple retail stores.

Gene Munster and his team at Piper Jaffray have been conducting nightly inventory checks at 100 Apple Stores. They found this week that availability of the iPhone 5 at all three major U.S. carriers, including Sprint, was above 20 percent for the first time.

Specifically, 54 percent of Apple Stores polled had the AT&T model in stock, while 24 percent had the Verizon model, and 84 percent were stocked of the Sprint variety.

The numbers are a big improvement from before, when supplies of the iPhone 5 for AT&T and Verizon were severely constrained. Availability of the iPhone 5 through Sprint, which is the third-largest carrier in the U.S., has been consistent for a few weeks now.

"We believe this is an important step for Apple as it appears they are finally gaining momentum in being able to keep up with demand for the iPhone 5," Munster wrote on Friday. "We believe that if AT&T and Verizon device availability follows the same trend as Sprint, it may only be 2-3 weeks before iPhone 5s are consistently available to customers."

The information aligns with a separate report issued on Thursday which cited checks in Apple's supply chain in revealing that production capacity for the iPhone 5 is "much improved" from when the device first launched in September.

Munster's survey of 100 Apple Stores has been ongoing for the last 23 days. To determine availability, his team has checked the Apple online store 30 minutes after new iPhone 5 units become available for reservation at 10 p.m. local time each night. His sample consists of 100 stores across the U.S. serving 10 different zip codes.