ATandT Losing Exclusive iPhone Rights this Week?

AT&T may lose its exclusive rights to the iPhone on Jan. 27, according to one published report. Whether it happens this week or later this year, though, AT&T will have five new Android phones, including Dell's Mini 3, to fall back on.

Is Jan. 27 the day Apple introduces its anticipated tablet - and AT&T's exclusive relationship with Apple's iPhone comes to an end?

According to Hot Hardware, which cites an "inside source," the latter is seeming likely - though news of which additional carrier or carriers will gain access to the iPhone is still unknown.

Verizon Wireless has been rumored for some time to be on line for an iPhone - a scenario that analyst have called a positive one for Apple - while others have said that Verizon may also be first in line for the Apple tablet.

The move would entail Apple releasing either a CDMA-based version of the iPhone, or a single, updated iPhone that could run on both networks.

Were AT&T to lose its exclusive iPhone contract, it could potentially make up some business with the five new Android phones that, at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, it announced it will be releasing in the first half of the year.

The Android phones will come from HTC, Motorola and Dell - making AT&T the first U.S. carrier to offer a Dell smartphone. Versions of Dell's Mini 3 are currently available on China Mobile and on Brazil's Claro network.

The end of the exclusivity contract could potentially also lighten the criticisms lobbed at AT&T, which has seemed to struggle to meet the data-devouring needs of its iPhone customers. It's been said that the Apple, and not AT&T's network, is actually to blame for some iPhone service issues, though AT&T has stoically kept mum about this.

"It could potentially take the weight off their shoulders," Ken Hyers, an analyst with Technology Business Research, agreed, adding that the network issues associated with the iPhone aren't all AT&T's fault.

"But whether or not the exclusivity contract ends this week or this summer, those customers are still going to be with AT&T for some time, since they signed two-year contracts. Any problems are going to be ongoing," Hyers told eWEEK.

He added that, should an additional carrier get access to the iPhone, changes to the AT&T network won't be immediately noticeable, buts changes to AT&T's sales numbers will. With all the news about AT&T's service issues, consumers who can get the iPhone on a different network may finally make the move.

"The iPhone has been very good for AT&T, though," said Hyers. "It will be interesting to follow their subscriber numbers once the exclusivity contract ends."