Sprint, T-Mobile iPhones Could Follow Quickly on Verizon's Heels

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-01-17

Sprint, T-Mobile iPhones Could Follow Quickly on Verizon's Heels

The announcement by Verizon Wireless that the company soon would be selling a CDMA/EVDO version of Apple's popular iPhone has an impact that goes far beyond customers who want an iPhone but don't want AT&T.  

Verizon Wireless is expected to sell millions of iPhones once they become available on Feb. 10. According to a number of analyst reports, quite a few of those sales will be to disaffected AT&T users tired of not getting reliable 3G service. 

While a move of AT&T users won't necessarily be good for AT&T, it may not be all that bad, either. AT&T has already announced a wide variety of new devices, with more to come. In addition, quite a few of those departing iPhone users will have contracts with AT&T that must be paid off, meaning that AT&T will get money without having to provide service. 

AT&T customers who don't move to Verizon will be affected, too, but in a good way. They might find their 3G networks somewhat less heavily loaded and that in turn will mean they'll have a more positive user experience since dropped calls will diminish and 3G connections will be easier to obtain. Things will also get better for AT&T customers as the company continues to expand its 3G network, and launches its LTE network this summer, since at least some customers will migrate to 4G where it's available. 

But there are other impacts that go beyond just a move of some customers from AT&T to Verizon Wireless. Speculation is very heavy right now that Sprint is about to announce its own CDMA version of the iPhone. While Sprint won't comment on this, the company does have a major announcement set for Feb. 7 in New York. This could be for an iPhone announcement, but it could also be for something else such as a WebOS tablet. 

It's worth noting that the differences between a Verizon Wireless iPhone and a Sprint iPhone would be minimal. Both companies use the same EVDO 3G communications on the same frequencies. Some have suggested that the biggest change required to move from Verizon Wireless to Sprint would be to change the logo. But does this mean that Sprint will actually get the iPhone? It's possible-Apple has gone out of its way to say that the agreement for Verizon to sell the iPhone is non-exclusive.  

It's also worth noting that Apple has made the iPhone broadly available to other carriers overseas once a period of exclusivity has ended elsewhere. This probably means that there's no technical reason that Sprint cannot sell an iPhone-all that's really required is an agreement with Apple to do so. 


Sprint, T-Mobile iPhones Could Follow Quickly on Verizon's Heels

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There's also rampant speculation that T-Mobile might the next logical company to offer an iPhone. The company already sells the iPhone in Europe, for example, and while the 3G frequencies in use by the AT&T iPhone aren't compatible with T-Mobile's 3G network, that's not such a problem with the T-Mobile iPhone from Germany. There the 3G frequencies used by the UMTS system operate on 1900/2100 MHz. T-Mobile USA uses 1700/2100 MHz. All that's really needed is the ability for the 3G radio in the German iPhone to support 1700 MHz. The other features of the German T-Mobile iPhone already work perfectly in the United States. 

But does this mean that T-Mobile will start selling iPhones? In a statement provided by T-Mobile to eWEEK, the company has said that it wants this to happen and that the only thing preventing it is working out the 3G frequency differences. Two other things are worth noting. T-Mobile's new CEO Philipp Humm was T-Mobile's CEO in Germany when the iPhone was introduced. He has a long and very close working relationship with Apple as a result. Also, some T-Mobile company stores in the United States have begun offering iPhone accessories.  

T-Mobile also has one of those secret announcements planned in New York, and of course there's no word on what the subject might be. Could it be that instead of trying to re-engineer the AT&T iPhone, T-Mobile will simply enhance the version it already sells in Europe? There's no way to be sure exactly what's planned, but there doesn't seem to be any insurmountable obstacles keeping the other two major carriers out of the iPhone market. 

Of course, all of this is up to Apple. But Apple has a problem that it didn't have back in 2007 when it made all those exclusive arrangements. That problem is called Android, and it's not going away. As Apple has already determined when it started broadening the base of its sales for iPods and iPads, exclusivity can't stand in the way of market share, and right now Apple's market share is threatened. 

Of course, there's another reason. With new versions of the iPhone come improvements, even if they're not called new versions. The iPhone that Verizon Wireless will be selling has some significant changes that will make it work better, especially when it comes to antenna design. The infamous "Death Grip" problem that plagued the AT&T iPhone last summer doesn't exist in the Verizon version. That same improvement will follow the iPhone to Sprint if it gets the device. Would it follow the iPhone to T-Mobile?  

Right now the only thing we know for sure is that T-Mobile has already said it wants to sell the iPhone and appears to be getting ready to do that. Sprint isn't saying. But don't be surprised to see the iPhone shockwaves spread to those two carriers. 

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