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Summary:

Rumors surfaced last week that T-Mobile USA — not Verizon Wireless — will soon offer the iPhone as AT&T loses its exclusivity. The move makes sense on a number of levels, and it would disrupt the mobile industry in a big way.

Verizon Wireless has long been rumored to be the first carrier other than AT&T that will offer the iPhone, but Cult of Mac reported last week that T-Mobile USA will likely offer Apple’s iconic gadget during the third quarter of this year. As I discuss in my weekly column over at GigaOM Pro, a T-Mobile iPhone is far more likely than a Verizon version, and if the latest rumors are true, the mobile industry is in for a big shake-up.

Carrying the iPhone would be an especially big coup for T-Mobile, a carrier often overshadowed by its bigger counterparts. The operator, owned by Germany’s Deutsche Telekom, would see a surge of iPhone lovers who adore their handsets but hate AT&T’s network. And unlike AT&T, which has done away with all-you-can-eat data plans, T-Mobile offers unlimited voice, text and Internet for only $80 a month, which would surely capture the attention of data-hungry iPhone users. While the iPhone has yet to support HSPA+, future versions could enable users to tap T-Mobile’s 21 Mbps network.

And just as the iPhone would be a huge boost for T-Mobile, the inevitable end of AT&T’s exclusive grip on the gadget would be a massive blow to the nation’s second-largest carrier. Apple has been a godsend for AT&T in recent years; the iPhone accounted for an astounding 3.2 million activations for AT&T in the most recent quarter. AT&T would kiss those kinds of sales goodbye if the iPhone becomes available elsewhere with unlimited plans that are cheaper than AT&T’s capped plans.

There’s still no official word, but the rumors of a T-Mobile iPhone have the whiff of authenticity. If so, the nation’s smallest major carrier is about to get substantially bigger — and AT&T should be preparing for some serious turbulence. Read the full post here.

Image courtesy Flickr user mauritsonline.

  1. Analysts have forever adhered to the broken clock philosophy in predicting every 2Qs that Verizon will carry iPhone. If what is known publicly—Apple and AT&T have a 5 year exclusivity agreement—is to be relied upon, then no one should be getting it prior to 2012. Nonetheless, since Rumor lives on every quarter or two, let’s say it cannot relied upon.

    Why would Apple cater to Verizon? The culture at Apple contrasts to that of Verizon. As I understand it, Apple originally sought Verizon to be the exclusive carrier of its iPhone until Verizon didn’t want to make exceptions for the control it wields (especially true then) over all its devices. AT&T was much more savvy and willing to make exceptions and concessions to Apple being that the iPhone was and is a gamechanger. From what I can tell of Steve Jobs, he’s not the type to grant Verizon seconds and I’ve always anticipated that Verizon could be last to get it, if ever. As I think of him, it’s entirely in Jobs’ character to tease the notion that Verizon’s next by comments such as those he made recently when he said they have both AT&T and Verizon towers on the Apple campus only to announce someone else gets the iPhone before Verizon – again.

    The business sense that Verizon should carry iPhone is unavoidable as it’s the largest carrier and Apple’d be insane not to want to crack into their 90M users. That’s something, though, that a character like Jobs would opt to do without until Vodafone, I predict, flexes its muscle and takes over Verizon. That won’t be until after DT’s T-Mobile USA gets it first, which is actually good for iPhone users and Apple as it’ll spread its users across more than just one network, which is strained due to the iPhones immense success.

    So, and as long as Verizon thinks it makes sense to promote its myriad and jumbled droid devices as iPhone alternatives (let’s face it, droids are second fiddle and poor man’s iPhones; disagree? 80% of iPhone users state they will (and they do) buy another iPhone and 80% of droid users won’t buy another droid), I’d expect Jobs to let Verizon hang in the wind like the ingrate of a girl who declined to dance first while the big dog gets around to all the other girls on his own schedule.

    As far as the assumptions made about T-Mobile in the article go, I don’t think you can presume that TMo’s current low-end rate plans will be the ones you get with an iPhone that runs off its network. And if people dislike AT&T’s coverage, whoa boy, wait till they exit a mile off the interstate while trying to hang onto a T-Mobile signal. That might not be fair, but the criticism of AT&T hasn’t been, nor is the stroking of Verizon as the great infallible. And a note on that, actually: Verizon had to give up rural wireless spectrum across about 20 states as a condition to their purchase of Alltel, and AT&T bought it all. This should mean the two networks will be more comparable in terms of AT&T becoming nearly as ubiquitous as Verizon is.

    Also both are upgrading to LTE, leaving Sprint as the only WiMax player, for their 4G networks. This means that, potentially, Apple would not have to make an entirely different iPhone just for Verizon’s old CDMA technology. Eventually the iPhone should and will be on Verizon, but the blogger desire and analyst predictions have yet to be true and so I don’t think Apple will be catering to either anytime soon. Like I said, if (when) the day comes that Vodafone topples its partner, VZ, and assumes control of Verizon Wireless, rebrands it under the global icon of Vodafone itself, I’d expect Jobs will announce in Quicktime that the new Vodafone will carry the iPhone by that Christmas.

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    1. Conquistador Sunday, July 25, 2010
      1. Like your comments about it being personal between Jobs and Verizon – it probably hasn’t helped that they’ve spent a ton of marketing money on the Droid campaign.
      2. Vodaphone buying Verizon Wireless? It will never happen.
      3. In terms of potential non-AT&T customers, going with T-Mobile and Sprint would be comparable to Verizon.
      4. RE: LTE – that story is still being written. But even if Verizon meets their 100 million (potential) user coverage with LTE this year, they will be leveraging their CDMA voice network for a long, long time. 4G isn’t going to kill off CDMA nearly as fast as everyone claims.
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      1. @Conquistador

        1. I wouldn’t be surprised if the motivations behind the next carrier partnership for Apple is personal.

        2. Why does this seem so outrageous to you? Vodafone already owns 45% of Verizon Wireless. The only reason I can see them not doing this is because they may want to wait until they have a cohesive strategy in place, but a complete takeover, I think, has always been in the works, at least in the rumormill.

        Thanks and looking forward to hearing yours and anyone else’s thoughts.

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  2. Good move for T Mobile in my opinion. Verizon will never offer the iPhone until all of the other major wireless carriers are offering it because its leadership lacks vision.

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  3. Obviously T-Mobile having a GSM network would make it the easiest technologically to get the iPhone. I have friends using various versions on the iPhone on T-Mobile already.

    But come on! Doesn’t anyone ever read a TOS anymore? “Unlimited Internet” means unlimited e-mail and browsing in T-Mobile speak. Is the implication that’s all iPhone owners ever do or want to do with their precious devices?

    I’ve had to tolerate the carrier’s redefinitions. The word “unlimited” was the first casualty. Does GigaOM have to fall into the deceptions too?

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  4. Aside from iPhone 4 “death grip” publicity, the only thing holding the iPhone back from taking over the whole smartphone market right now is AT&T. They are really handcuffing Apple, and it’s certain they want another carrier (ANY CARRIER) so they can move more product. Wired reports that Steve Jobs has almost unilaterally terminated Apple’s agreement with AT&T a half dozen times he’s so frustrated with them. So even if this latest rumor is not true, you know Cupertino wants it to be. AT&T’s exclusivity is going to end eventually, whether that is this fall or 2012, and when it does the article’s predicted industry shake-up IS going to happen. I, for one, intend to enjoy that show.

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  5. Not sure the move to Tmo would be that great. Their network isn’t that much better than AT&T right now. Few dropped calls but that is before all the iPhone traffic. I traveled a lot place in the US with my Tmo phone and I found roaming to more common than AT&T. I have AT&T with my iPhone now and coverage is better but dropped calls and drops drops are not. HSPA+ is good but not sure with all those iPhones it is really going to be much better. I think Tmo doesn’t have the infrastructure. It’s like an unlimited web hosting plan for $2.99.

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    1. “but dropped calls and DATA drops are not.” (Typo)

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    2. Colin Gibbs Sunday, July 25, 2010

      I agree that T-Mo’s network may not be much better than AT&T’s, COM_by_CRAIG, and that a T-Mo iPhone might expose some vulnerabilities that have gone unnoticed. But with better pricing plans and the promise of HSPA+, T-Mo could help itself tremendously by the time those weaknesses make headlines.

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  6. iPhone has been out for 3 YEARS, anyone who wanted one has alread switched to AT&T

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  7. Steve Jobs is a snake-oil salesman and these two highly, corrupt, money-grubbing companies have done nothing but profits and pure greed over customer satisfaction with their obvious sweetheart deals, with attached heavy-handed power grabs (“death grip”, is more like it) is nothing more than than after-glow to their ill-gotten orgasms. Both companies repulse me.

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  8. I”m very interested in the IPhone, I hope Apple will wive T-mobile a chance to carry its product. At&t data prices and plans are just ridiculous with with very outstanding high prices, specially with the IPhone they just taking advantage on the fact they are the only carriers of this amazing phone. with a very competitive t-mobile and reasonable prices, i think consumer will have a better deal for there money when they get the Iphone with T-mobile.

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  9. I’m stunned by this post, as I expect more from GigaOM. As other commenters have noted, these rumors pop up every quarter about a new carrier. I’m not sure if its an attempt at stock manipulation, Apple “leaking” a rumor to you for buzz, or an extraordinarily dumb analysis conducted by you as a “publish or perish” piece. We all know AT&T just renewed their exclusive contract with Apple. So, lets cut the nonsense and cover real news. OK?

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    1. Colin Gibbs Sunday, July 25, 2010

      You’re right that rumors such as these surface constantly, jj, which is why I mentioned that fact in the first sentence of this post. =) But there are some compelling reasons to think the latest rumors are more likely to be true than previous ones, and a T-Mo iPhone would send tremors through the mobile industry. So I think it’s worth discussing.

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      1. I appreciate your reply, and agree it would be a “compelling” discussion, but again I feel this discussion is premature. As far as I know the AT&T contract would preclude this arrangement from taking place within the next several years.

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    2. “We all know AT&T just renewed their exclusive contract with Apple. So, lets cut the nonsense and cover real news. OK?”

      We know no such thing. If you have some sort of info on Apple renewing their AT&T contract, kindly link/post.

      The only thing we know, and we know it because it was revealed in court documents, the original AT&T iPhone contract was for 5 years. Everything else, including your statement has been 100% pure speculation.

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      1. I said “as far as I know”. And this is just the first of many pieces of coverage you can find:
        http://www.thetechscoop.net/2010/05/10/apple-and-att-renew-their-vows/

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  10. [...] What a T-Mobile iPhone Would Mean Verizon Wireless (s vz) has long been rumored to be the first carrier other than AT&T (s t) that will offer the iPhone, [...] [...]

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