Sprint–along with Verizon and AT&T–will carry the iPhone 5 in “mid-October,” according to people “familiar with the matter,” the Wall Street Journal reports. That’s good news for Sprint (NYSE: S), the nation’s third largest mobile carrier, but bad news for those who’d hoped the iPhone 5 would launch in September.
Sprint will start carrying the iPhone 4 at the same time, the WSJ said. When the iPhone was first launched Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) chose to develop it for the GSM family of networks, which is used by longtime iPhone partner AT&T (NYSE: T) and much of the rest of the world. However, Sprint and Verizon use different network technology that isn’t compatible with AT&T’s network, meaning that Apple would have to create a special version of the phone for those partners. Apple, of course, pulled that trigger earlier this year with a version of the iPhone for Verizon’s network.
Earlier this year Verizon Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo suggested that the iPhone 5 would be a “global device,” implying that it would come with chips that would be compatible with both standards. That has been corroborated in recent days by Techcrunch, among others.
Apple has not formally announced a ship date for the iPhone 5, or even acknowledged that it exists. AllThingsD has reported that the device would ship in October, and Apple is expected to use a September launch event to introduce the new phone.
It’s difficult to understate how important securing the iPhone deal has been to Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, currently running a wireless carrier that is struggling to keep up with AT&T and Verizon. Without the iPhone, Sprint has been forced to lean on other handsets to try and cash in on the smartphone revolution, which is the primary driver of wireless carrier profits these days.