Sprint may get to sell the iPhone 5. What about T-Mobile? [Updated]

iphone4angleWhen Verizon started selling Apple’s iPhone 4 back in February, it was largely considered a non-event among smartphone industry pundits. After all, an iPhone 4 on Verizon’s network is still just an iPhone, right? What’s the big deal?

Of course, we now know that, in the first quarter-and-a-half of its iPhone sales, Verizon activated 4.5 million units. (By comparison, AT&T – which had the iPhone since January and has sold it exclusively since 2007 – activated 7.2 million this year.)

Also, the availability of an iPhone on Verizon’s network has decreased the share of Android devices on that network. While you didn’t see a rush of AT&T users defecting to Verizon, you are seeing Verizon customers adopting the iPhone.

Excluded from the iPhone party so far are Sprint and T-Mobile, and if AT&T succeeds in merging with T-Mobile, only Sprint will be left wanting. or, if this report in the Wall Street Journal is correct, not.

The WSJ cites the ubiquitous “people familiar with the matter” as saying Sprint’s in when the iPhone 5 comes out, apparently in October. It would be huge for Sprint, which has about half the number of subscribers as AT&T and Verizon:

Landing the iPhone is a big win for Sprint, whose results have suffered without being able to sell the trend-setting device. AT&T has relied on versions of the Apple device to drive sales since 2007. This February, Verizon Wireless began selling the iPhone 4. Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications inc. and Vodafone Group PLC.

In the second quarter, Sprint blamed a decline in its contract subscribers on more pronounced “competitive headwinds,” most prominently, “the first full quarter both major competitors offered the iPhone.”

The WSJ story also says Sprint will begin selling the iPhone 4, as well, presumably as a low-end offering, much the way AT&T now sells the iPhone 3GS. a report earlier this week indicated Apple was working on an 8-gigabyte version of the iPhone 4 to be sold as a budget handset.

If the current spate if iPhone 5 rumors are accurate, it will be easy for Apple to sell phones that work on all three carriers’ networks because the device will support both GSM (AT&T) and CDMA (Verizon, Sprint) standards. the current crop of iPhones will also work on T-Mobile’s network when they’re unlocked, but their data access is limited to T-Mobile’s pokey and outdated EDGE network.

Of course, that limitation doesn’t stand in the way of those who really want to use an iPhone on T-Mobile. the carrier has estimated that there are already about 1 million unlocked iPhones on its network, or roughly 10 percent of all its smartphones

So far, T-Mobile doesn’t yet have an iPhone 5 rumor to call its own – unless you count AT&T’s besieged attempt to bring T-Mobile under its wing. It’s unclear just how much manufacturing magic Apple would have to do to make iPhones work as they should on T-Mobile’s network, which has a decent HSPA+ connection. Apple may also be waiting for the merger shoe to drop, rather than go to the trouble of adding T-Mobile support now.

Last year, I speculated that Apple would launch the iPhone 4 with immediate support for all carriers. I was certainly wrong about the time frame, but it looks like, eventually, that’s going to happen.

Update: T-Mobile gets an iPhone 5 rumor to call its very own, courtesy of MacTrast.

Following our report yesterday that Apple’s upcoming iPhone 5 will be arriving on the Sprint network, a contact within T-Mobile who claims to have been briefed on the matter has informed us that, in addition to arriving on Sprint at launch, the iPhone 5 will arrive on T-Mobile’s network at launch as well.

The informant, who requested to remain anonymous, went on to claim that the iPhone 5 would also operate at 3G speeds on T-Mobile US network. Current unlocked iPhone 4 units can only operate at at 2G “edge” speeds on T-Mobile’s network, and lack certain network-dependent features, such as Visual Voicemail.

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