“‘Millions of iPhones Go AWOL.’ Talk about a hysterical headline. But that’s how BusinessWeek distilled the discrepancy that came to light this week when AT&T said that it activated roughly 2 million iPhones last year. Apple, by contrast, claims that it sold 3.7 million iPhones in 2007,” Tim Beyers writes for The Motley Fool.

“That’s 1.7 million iPhones unaccounted for and which, apparently, aren’t earning Apple the $10 to $18 a month in telecom royalties investors like me were salivating over not so long ago,” Beyers writes.

“Others, such as Sanford Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi, say that the discrepancy suggests that more than 600,000 iPhones are stuck in some warehouse gathering dust. The rub? Rabid iPhone demand is pure fantasy,” Beyers writes.

MacDailyNews Take: Actually, Sacconaghi has already recanted. See: So-called ‘analyst’ finds his ‘missing’ iPhones.

Beyers writes, “What if Sacconaghi is right? What if demand is tepid? What if, instead of Apple selling 10 million iPhones in 2008 — or, as some have suggested, 7 million — Apple only sells 5 million handsets? And what if only half of those sold were via AT&T or authorized European carriers such as Telefonica’s O2 or France Telecom’s Orange?”

“Then, dear Fool, Apple would be on pace to produce more than $30.5 billion in 2008 revenue by my math, or at least 27% growth on the top line,” Beyers writes.

“What to do? How about charging pre-rebate prices for unlocked iPhones? You read that right. Want your iPhone unhinged? Ka-ching! That’ll be $599, please,” Beyers writes. “No doubt AT&T, which has a five-year exclusive distribution deal with Apple, would pitch a fit over a move like this. But in business, money talks and kickbacks to Ma Bell for each unlocked phone sold could equal hundreds of millions in revenue. Do you really believe she’d turn it down?”

Full article here.