Apple and Verizon are negotiating over porting the iPhone onto the carrier, according to one analyst, but T-Mobile and Sprint are waiting in the wings should those negotiations falter.
Apple will launch the iPhone on another carrier in 2011, according to a new research note.
That note, from Shaw Wu at Kaufman Bros., suggests that the iPhone
could arrive on both T-Mobile and Sprint, which in turn would possibly
delay the device's long-expected arrival on Verizon until 2012.
AT&T currently holds exclusive rights to the iPhone in
the United States.
"It is notable that signing up both T-Mobile USA and Sprint would
almost be the equivalent of Verizon (in terms of subscribers)," Wu wrote to investors, as reprinted on blogs such as Apple Insider
"For point of reference, AT&T has 90 million wireless subscribers
compared to 93 million at Verizon, 48 million at Sprint, and 34 million
at T-Mobile USA."
That being said, Wu added, Apple has an added incentive to push the
iPhone onto Verizon in order to blunt Android's momentum on the
carrier: "What better way to do that than where Android has seen the
majority of its success?" The analyst hinted that negotiations between
Apple and Verizon are currently underway; but should they falter, the
one-two combination of T-Mobile and Sprint could substitute in Apple's
quest to expand the iPhone's reach.
Wu's most recent research note somewhat echoes an earlier one published June 10
, which suggested the idea of the iPhone on T-Mobile in either late 2010 or early 2011.
"From our understanding, this is becoming closer to reality than
ever, with sourcing indicating that it could happen as early as this
fall or by [the first half of 2011]," Wu wrote in that previous
missive. "While the general consensus is around Verizon (which we
believe will happen eventually), we continue to believe that T-Mobile
USA is the most likely candidate given its use of similar cellular
technology such as AT&T."
At the time, he also wrote that, "We believe [Apple] needs to
sign an additional U.S. carrier to sustain its high growth
rates. ... Android's wins have been where iPhone isn't available and
that could change dramatically if the iPhone were available on both
Wu's June note appeared at the same time as rumors that Apple and T-Mobile were in advanced talks over the iPhone, with the blog Cult of Mac claiming the device would arrive sometime in the third quarter
of this year. An August study from market research firm Morpace estimated that 34 percent of current AT&T iPhone customers have declined upgrading to the iPhone 4
, in favor of waiting for the smartphone's launch on a different carrier.
"It is clear that if the iPhone does become available on the Verizon
network, it will impact the phone and carrier intentions of many
consumers," read the Morpace report. "The study found that nearly a
third of consumers are very likely or somewhat likely to purchase an
iPhone if it is made available to Verizon."
Based on somewhat oblique comments in the carrier's latest 10-Q
filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, AT&T seems
fully prepared to lose its exclusive rights to the iPhone in the United
"As these exclusivity arrangements end, we expect to continue to
offer such handsets (based on historical industry practice), as we
believe our service plan offerings will help to retain our customers by
providing incentives not to move to a new carrier," reads the filing for the quarter ended June 30
"While the expiration of any of our current exclusivity arrangements
could increase churn and reduce postpaid customer additions, we do not
expect any such terminations to have a material negative impact on our
Wireless segment income."
But a break in the iPhone's exclusivity would almost certainly help other carriers' income.