Sprint sells out of 16 GB iPhone 4S but other models are still available

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) said it has sold out of the entry-level 16 GB Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 4S, but still has the 32 GB and 64 GB models in stock. The other two carriers selling the iPhone 4S, AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), said all of their models are sold out and on backorder.

"It is important to note that Sprint is not taking backorders of our iPhone devices," Sprint said in a statement, according to CNET. "Sprint is committed to delivering devices to our pre-order customers on or very near the time of launch and also making these devices available for purchase on launch day--Friday, October 14. Apple and other carriers may continue to take pre-orders that will be delivered to the customer at a later time." Sprint spokesman Michelle Leff Mermelstein said the 32 GB and 64 GB models are available in limited quantities for pre-ordering, and that Sprint is taking orders from new and existing customers .

As of Tuesday morning, AT&T's website said all iPhone 4S's ordered now will ship within three to four weeks. Verizon's website said iPhone 4S's ordered now will ship by Oct. 20.

Apple said Monday it received 1 million iPhone 4S pre-orders within 24 hours of the device going on pre-sale Friday, breaking the previous single-day iPhone pre-order record of 600,000 iPhone 4's in 2010. AT&T said it received 200,000 iPhone 4S pre-orders alone.

Why does Sprint still have iPhone 4S inventory when the other carriers are sold out? There are several possibilities. Sprint has been selling its iPhones with the promise of unlimited smartphone data plans, which AT&T and Verizon no longer offer to new smartphone customers, but that may not be enough to entice customers to switch or upgrade just yet.

"Sprint management has previously talked about how customers have been asking for the iPhone in Sprint stores and Sprint has spent heavily on advertising unlimited data as a point of differentiation," BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk wrote in a blog post. "We believe that speed might be more important than unlimited for wireless customers, particularly if the 3G speed that Sprint offers is not fast enough to power increasingly popular bandwidth hungry apps. AT&T plans to market its HSPA+ version of the iPhone 4S as 4G, and for good reason as the AT&T iPhone 4S will clearly be the fastest iPhone on the market. We believe this will resonate with consumers."

Additionally, Piecyk wrote, Sprint customers may be more interested in devices with Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform, particularly if they have mobile WiMAX capabilities. Apple could also have simply allocated more iPhone inventory to Sprint than the other two carriers.

But new Sprint customers who want to order an iPhone 4S from the Apple website are not able to do so. "At this time, we are only taking online iPhone orders for current Sprint customers upgrading a phone on an existing line," a message on the Apple website said. Customers are then directed to the nearest Apple store to check for availability. Mermelstein directed inquiries to Apple, and an Apple spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

For more:
- see this CNET article
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this BTIG blog post (reg. req.)
- see this Apple site

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