As Sprint Nextel files suit to block AT&T from acquiring T-Mobile, it may have another slap against the nation's No. 2 carrier up its sleeve: adding the No. 1 selling smartphone to its lineup.
AT&T lost its three-year monopoly on Apple's iPhone earlier this year when Verizon Wireless began offering the CDMA version of the iPhone 4. A third carrier for the new iPhone 5, widely believed to be in the pipeline for an October launch, could be more bad news for AT&T after the Justice Department filed its opposition last week to the company's acquisition of T-Mobile from Deutsche Telekom.
"If a Sprint iPhone were to happen, it would likely slow some of the iPhone growth at AT&T and Verizon Wireless," said wireless analyst Alex Spektor of Strategy Analytics.
Pre-Orders Coming Soon?
The Wall Street Journal reported on Aug. 24 that Sprint, which also uses a CDMA network, will carry the iPhone 5 when it is released as soon as Oct. 5. Sprint will also get to carry the iPhone 4, which presumably will go down in price when the new model arrives, as did the iPhone 3GS.
Now, the blog Boy Genius Report obtained what it says is a leaked internal document from electronics retailer Best Buy showing notations both on pre-sales for an iPhone launch the first week of October as well as a Sprint iPhone launch. The Best Buy promotional activity document notes that dates are subject to change. BGR's source said pre-orders for the Sprint iPhone could be available as soon as this week.
Analysts are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
"Following the loss of AT&T's exclusivity on the iPhone and the introduction of the CDMA version for Verizon Wireless, there are no longer contractual or technological constraints for a Sprint iPhone," said Spektor of Strategy Analytics. "All that remains is business decisions for the involved parties."
A third carrier should help Apple win back U.S. market share it has been losing to devices powered by Google's Android, which is now the leading OS here, available on all major carriers.
"Android has benefited greatly from being available in multiple devices across all carriers," said Spektor. "Broader iOS availability certainly could be beneficial for iPhone volumes, as higher shelf-share could translate into more visibility with consumers."
Likely changes for the next iPhone include a slightly larger, 3.7-inch touchscreen display and a dual-core processor for better multitasking together with a much-improved operating system. It will also likely be thinner and presumably with improvements to the antenna band that caused some connection problems for iPhone 4 customers when they connected the two components with their fingers. That flaw was an embarrassment to Apple but didn't seem to have a major effect on sales.
Sprint Nextel announced on Tuesday that it was filing suit against AT&T on grounds that the proposed T-Mobile acquisition violated the Clayton Antitrust Act.