Sprint will offer the iPhone with unlimited data service plans, according to Bloomberg.
That could give the carrier a competitive edge over AT&T and Verizon, both of which already offer the iPhone. "The advantage of unlimited is it's cheaper for big users," Bank of Montreal analyst Peter Rhamey told the news agency, which cited unnamed "people familiar with the matter" for its original information.
Neither Apple nor Sprint has confirmed that the latter will carry the iPhone, despite the steady drumbeat of rumor building for the past month or so. Apple is widely expected to release the next-generation iPhone, which the press has dubbed "iPhone 5," sometime in either September or October. The Bloomberg report suggests mid-October as the timeframe.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster has estimated that giving Sprint the iPhone would boost the device's overall sales by 6 million units. A Sprint iPhone would also leave T-Mobile as the only U.S. carrier without an Apple phone in its device portfolio, although the latter's parent company, Deutsche Telekom, has offered the iPhone for years in Germany (and is allowing customers to preorder the iPhone 5, although without any mention of a release date or device specs).
Rumors suggest the iPhone 5 will include a larger screen and faster processor, along with an 8-megapixel camera and possibly a redesigned body. Some analysts have theorized that Apple also intends to release a line of low-cost iPhones, with an eye toward combating the number of inexpensive Google Android smartphones on the market.
Apple also faces significant competition from Android devices on the high end of the market, a situation that's triggered a series of lawsuits against rival manufacturers. Samsung and Apple are locked in courtroom battles around the world, for example, with each side claiming patent violations by the other; for its part, Apple accuses Samsung of outright copying its designs.
If T-Mobile ends up acquired by AT&T, its customers could inherit the ability to purchase the iPhone-but federal regulators seem intent on denying that acquisition. That would leave T-Mobile with the sole option of negotiating directly with Apple to carry the iPhone, a deal that would almost certainly evolve on Apple's terms.
Apple is undergoing a seismic transition with the resignation of longtime CEO Steve Jobs, who handed the reins to former COO Tim Cook. At this point, analysts generally view the disruption from the transition as minimal, at least when it comes to the product pipeline. Rumors also suggest Apple will release the next iPad sometime early next year.