AT&T cites Apple’s iPhone as driver for record smartphone sales

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AT&T(s t) said on Wednesday it expects to break its record for smartphones sold during a single quarter in the fourth quarter of 2011, based in part on the success of Apple’s iPhone 4S(s aapl), which prompted a very high number of upgrades among its users.

For the fourth quarter of 2011, AT&T has already seen around 6 million smartphones sold: already near its previous record of 6.1 million smartphones during a single quarter. With only a month left to go in the fourth quarter (December, one of the busiest shopping months of the year for smartphones), it definitely isn’t a case of counting chickens before they hatch to say AT&T will pass the 6.1 million mark this time around.

In its official statement, AT&T singled out the iPhone 4S when talking about how it managed such strong smartphone sales, calling attention to its earlier announcement of more than 1 million iPhone 4S handsets activated in the first five days of its availability. It also said iPhone 4S sales “remain strong” for the carrier, two months after its initial release in the U.S. A lot of those sales come from a very high number of handset upgrades from AT&T customers who were eagerly awaiting new hardware according to AT&T, so pent-up demand resulting from Apple releasing this year’s iPhone upgrade later than usual could have helped boost sales even more than with previous launches.

AT&T’s account of strong iPhone 4S sales suggests analyst predictions of a very strong quarter for Apple’s smartphone are right on track.

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