The 3G iPhone could be with us by the summer, according to a financial analyst who said that waning inventory of Apple's current model and the increasing demand in Europe for 3G products could be a sign that the handset maker is preparing the first major iPhone upgrade.

The iPhone shipments are likely to be weak during the March quarter, and inclusion of third-generation (3G) technology in the phone could ensure that Apple meets its target of shipping 10 million iPhones in 2008, said Citigroup analyst Richard Gardner.

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An iPhone upgrade to include 3G technology could help the company forge more relationships with carriers as it builds a European presence. "We believe that lack of 3G has been a significant headwind for iPhone in Europe where 3G is already pervasive," Gardner said.

During meetings with Citigroup, Apple reiterated its plan to introduce the iPhone into additional European countries and Asia by the end of 2008, Gardner said.

In a December report, Shaw Wu of American Technology Research said a 3G iPhone would likely ship around the middle or in the second half of this year, after network coverage and battery life issues are addressed.

During the iPhone rollout in the UK last year, Jobs said that 3G chips were "power hogs", but also said he expected to see better battery consumption this year. Chip vendors, including Broadcom and Arm, are developing power-efficient 3G mobile chips with multimedia capabilities.

There has been plenty of speculation surrounding the release of a 3G iPhone. Last year, Apple CEO Steve Jobs and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson separately said a 3G iPhone was coming in 2008, though the exact date is shrouded in secrecy.

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