Verizon, AT&T start marketing battle over iPhone 4S, while Sprint stays mum

For the first time, three U.S. wireless carriers will have access to the same Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone, in the form of the new iPhone 4S, which will go on sale Oct. 14. Of course, that's not stopping them from arguing that their particular iPhone will be the best.

"We feel like the new phone, when it runs on our 4G network, is going to download material twice as fast," AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) CEO Ralph de la Vega told AllThingsD in an interview on Tuesday. "When you combine that with a new portfolio that includes the iPhone 3GS, the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S, I think we have the best iPhone portfolio in the industry."

The iPhone 4S will support both GSM and CDMA networks. However, GSM users likely will enjoy faster data speeds due to the phone's HSDPA support of speeds up to 14.4 Mbps--faster than CDMA EV-DO data. AT&T is also the only carrier that will offer a free iPhone 3GS with a two-year contract.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) began offering the iPhone 4 in February, and supported unlimited smartphone data plans for new customers until July. It also offered a mobile hotpsot service with the iPhone, which AT&T did not have at the time of launch (but has subsequently gained). However, now both Verizon and AT&T will be offering usage-based data plans to new iPhone 4S customers. In that competitive environment, Verizon indicated it will turn to an old standby in terms of marketing: its network quality.

"The network matters," Verizon CMO Marni Walden said in a statement, according to AllThingsD. "And, while iPhone 4S may look like the same device across all carriers, customers know they are choosing reliability when they select a Verizon Wireless iPhone 4S."

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), meanwhile, confirmed that it is getting the iPhone (and like Verizon and AT&T will offer an 8 GB iPhone 4 for $99 with a two-year contract), but has not tipped its hand as to how it will market the iPhone. The carrier has not issued a formal press release about the iPhone yet and has not indicated what kind of data plan it will pair with the device, though Sprint does remain the only Tier 1 wireless carrier with a truly unlimited smartphone plan--its $79.99 Everything Data plan.

Meanwhile, analysts seemed to conclude that Sprint will take a large hit in its operating margins as a result of the iPhone, which Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has indicated may be the case, but that getting the iPhone was a net positive for the company. "They will benefit from improved retention of their customers and a high level of customer upgrades," Michael Nelson, an analyst with Mizuho Securities USA, told Bloomberg. He said he expects Sprint will sell about 1 million iPhones in the fourth quarter.

For more:
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this Bloomberg article

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