AT&T hires 2,000 extra staff to handle iPhone stampede

US telecoms and mobile phone network operator AT&T has hired an additional 2,000 temporary staff as its attempts to get ready for the expected stampede among early adopters eager to buy the Apple iPhone when it goes on sale next week.

The iPhone, Apple's first in-house developed iPod/phone hybrid is due to go on sale in the US on 29 June, and will be sold in conjunction with AT&T's mobile phone arm, which has exclusive network rights to the device in the US at launch. The device is due to hit stores in the UK in October, though no mobile phone partnerships or exclusive carriage deals have been announced as yet.

The vast number of additional staff AT&T has hired to handle its much-hyped retail introduction of the iPhone will mostly be on the sales floors of its chain of retail stores, with some staff taken on to bolster technical support and pre-sales call centre numbers. AT&T's wireless division (previously known as Cingular) employs a total of about 58,000 people.

AT&T sales staff have received a total of 100,000 hours of training to sell the device, at "the high end of the normal range" with an average of six hours per employee, said AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel.

Apple, which plans to start selling the phone in its own 162 US retail stores on 29 June, did not disclose any plans around training or staffing for the launch.

Apple will also start selling the phone online on the launch date, but AT&T will first launch only in its stores.

"This is such an important product we want to make sure people are fully informed when they buy it", said Siegel. "We also want to free people from the rush of what they would normally encounter on a busy day."

AT&T is requiring iPhone buyers to enter into a new two-year airtime contract rather than selling the phone SIM-free, and has yet to reveal the service fees it will charge iPhone customers for data access. The price of an iPhone will be either $499 (260) for the 4GB model and $599 (315) for the 8GB one. Exact UK pricing is still to be confirmed.

AT&T and Apple said they plan to start selling the device starting at 6 pm local time in cities across the US.

(Additional reporting by Reuters)