Fresh research finds that up to seven million Brits might want to buy an iPhone when it ships - even though the device won't be available in the U.K. until the end of the year.

The research emerges as reports claim Apple is facing challenges finding a network willing to carry the device in Europe, with both Vodafone and Orange variously mooted as most-likely candidates to secure a European deal for the device.

According to research group M:Metrics, pre-launch publicity surrounding the device means that 56 percent of U.K. people and 64 percent of U.S. folk as "aware of the iPhone."

The research also confirms the device should experience strong demand when it first ships in the U.S. on June 29. "14 percent of (U.S. people) who had heard about the iPhone reported they would be highly interested in buying one," M: Metrics claims. That equates to 19 million highly-tempted U.S. consumers.

"This data confirms that the iPhone has sparked the imaginations of consumers and is not merely a topic of conversation among insiders and technology enthusiasts," said Mark Donovan, senior vice president and senior analyst, M:Metrics.

He added that the potentially already converted 19 million U.S. consumers is an impressive figure: "When you consider that the installed base of most high-end devices rarely approaches one million and respondents were informed of the price point as well as of the AT&T exclusive."

AT&T has a five-year exclusive deal to carry the iPhone. According to M:Metrics, the mobile network seems set to attract a new wave of users when the device ships, because, "67 percent of those who were most inclined to purchase an iPhone are subscribers on other carrier networks," the researchers claimed.

In the U.K., 30 percent of mobile phone users - 7 million people - reported strong interest in buying an iPhone.

M: Metrics analyst Paul Goode observed: "We expected that mobile users in the U.K. would be more inclined to buy an expensive device, since smartphones are twice as popular in the U.K. as in the U.S. These figures are very impressive, although respondents in the U.K. were not presented with a launch price or any restriction of mobile phone carrier as in the U.S."

The research also shows that 64 percent of users with a strong interest in investing in the Apple mobile already own an MP3 player, causing the researchers to speculate some consumers will replace their music players with an iPhone.

Despite the good news, the research also revealed that 28 percent of mobile phone users were aware of the iPhone, but unlikely to purchase one.

"While other devices - some of them already on the market - have features equal or better than the iPhone, such as 3G, superior cameras, and the like, the iPhone has been the first mobile device to create widespread consumer excitement around a mobile phone," said Donovan. "This has the potential to increase consumer demand for more expensive, full-featured phones across the board as OEMs and other operators respond to AT&T/Apple's marketing juggernaut."