Although it remains a rumor, it seems like a foregone conclusion at this point: Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) will launch a CDMA version of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone sometime early this year. The perennial rumor kicked into high gear late last year, with first Bloomberg, then the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and others stating quite plainly that a Verizon iPhone is at last coming.
But what if Apple CEO Steve Jobs has "one more thing" up his sleeve? It's entirely plausible that Apple will open up access to the iPhone to Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile USA in addition to Verizon--despite recent rumblings from Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu, who claimed that Verizon is paying Apple to keep the iPhone away from Sprint and T-Mobile.
Verizon may well have an exclusive honeymoon with the iPhone--perhaps for six months, which will allow it to attract customers from those dissatisfied with AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T).
But why would Apple expand to additional U.S. carriers beyond Verizon? First, Apple has already expanded iPhone sales to most carriers in other major markets, including the United Kingdom. Second, the addition of Sprint as a distribution vector would be a relatively simple affair, based on the CDMA similarities between Verizon and Sprint. Finally, for T-Mobile, Apple would have to add a 1700 MHz AWS radio to support T-Mobile's 3G spectrum--but Apple has major incentive to capture as much market share as possible, and it comes down to one word: Android.
Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android operating system grew leaps and bounds in 2010, muscling into all segments of the smartphone market. Android commanded 25.5 percent of the smartphone market in the third quarter of 2010, according to Gartner. Google's startling rise is surely making Apple nervous. What better way to blunt Android's momentum than by opening up not just one new U.S. carrier, but three?
Once the iPhone becomes available at all of the major U.S. carriers, as we expect, it will cease to be a status symbol, turning instead to a mass-market device. Think of it as a sleek, glass-backed Motorola (NYSE:MOT) StarTAC.