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Summary:

Sprint isn’t the only new U.S. carrier allowed to sell the iPhone this year. On Wednesday, regional carrier C Spire (formerly known as Cellular South) announced pre-order instructions on its website to buy Apple’s latest smartphone, which means T-Mobile was once again passed over.

C Spire iPhone 4S

Turns out Sprint isn’t the only new U.S. carrier allowed to sell the iPhone this year. On Wednesday, regional carrier C Spire (formerly known as Cellular South) announced pre-order instructions on its website to buy Apple’s latest smartphone.

What’s sad, though, is that Apple bypassed more well-known T-Mobile in favor of a carrier whose name most people would have to look up. And it’s not that the carrier hasn’t made it clear it wants the iPhone. At our GigaOM Mobilize conference several weeks ago, T-Mobile CMO and EVP Cole Brodman said T-Mobile has asked to sell the popular smartphone, but the ball was in Apple’s court.

Apple hasn’t yet responded why they went with C Spire, but if you look at C Spire and T-Mobile’s respective voice and data coverage maps on their sites, the two are either tied or C Spire has a very slight edge. So that may be one clue.

During Tuesday’s earnings call, CEO Tim Cook said Apple wants to “make the iPhone more accessible to a broader market,” so going with a smaller, regional carrier like C Spire does fit with that strategy. It’s certainly not a household name the way AT&T and Verizon are, but if Apple intends to expand the market for its smartphone — and in effect, the rest of its product line — reaching customers where they live is important.

  1. T-Mobile’s 3G network is not compatible with the iPhone. It uses a different frequency. I have an iPhone 4 and a T-Mobile account and it only runs at EDGE speeds.

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  2. Probably has to do with T-Mob not having the standard GSM 3G operating frequencies. C Spire on the other hand is on CDMA / EV-DO, therefore the iPhone will work on 3G without any hardware modifications.

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  3. Much simpler than that, ATT wants to make sure the T-Mo merger goes through. If no iPhone on T-Mo, then T-Mo appears week, and in need of merger partner. If they have iPhone, sales spike, demand spikes, revenue spikes, and merger is doomed. I bet ATT leaned on Apple to make sure that T-Mo insure that T-Mo didn’t get the iPhone until post merger. My guess is that tweaking frequencies would be piece of cake. And am curious as to why no one questioning the merger hasn’t at least asked about this point.

    I’m also guessing that the great rates we have on T-Mo will disappear if the merger is completed.

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    1. No surprise here as AT&T is their “partner in crime” and once again the public is being FORCED to their combine money making game plan. If T-mobile has the iphone too then that lowers the reason why AT&T would have to take over the deal to take over the market place should they be allowed to buy T-mobile.

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  4. David – well, that’s an engineering issue and not insurmountable. I’m pretty sure that the non-standard bands could have been accommodated in the 4S revision. After all, Samsung has delivered phones on all 4 carriers in the US.

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  5. C Spire actually has a very small coverage area, what they have is a roaming agreement with Verizon.

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  6. T-Mobile USA is the only company on the planet using this band for 3G. T-Mobile probably wasn’t able to guarantee enough volume to justify the addition of another radio front end. Secondly, these phones already have a 1900 tx/rx, an 850 tx/rx, a 1800 tx/rx, and a 900 tx/rx, plus bluetooth and wifi radios. In addition, they are supporting 3GPP GSM/HSPA and 3GPP2 CDMA/EVDO technologies. Given the small amount of surface area for antennas and the packaging inside for circuits, they are pushing the performance as far as it can go. So adding another band would more than likely impact performance AND increase costs. And for what, maybe another 1-2 million phones a year? Apple is not dumb, they probably ran the numbers and how it would affect margins and probably thought it was not in their best interests.

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  7. Im with david ….apple would have to build special for tmobile …. im not sure thats cost effective unless tmobile is willing to go all in like Sprint did

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  8. I think it is great that people not served by big carriers are getting a chance to get the iphone. My guess is you are going to begin seeing many regional and rural carriers get the iPhone. That is great news for consumers.

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  9. Michael W. Perry Wednesday, October 19, 2011

    Other posters are right. If you want to understand this, follow the money. Apple has a vested interest in keeping the price of cellular plans high. They make far more on their slice of two-year contracts than on the hardware price itself.

    The very existence of T-Mobile threatens that high pricing scheme. That’s why AT&T wants to put it out of business. It’s why Apple wants to strangle it.

    Other posters are wrong. Technology isn’t the issue. Numerous other cell phone makers have had no trouble creating versions for T-Mobile’s particularly blend of frequencies. Apple’s engineers are no less talented than they.

    As I said, if you want to understand this, follow the money.

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