'Weak iPhone offers' underscore limited competition among carriers this holiday season: Wave7

iPhone X, 3D sensors
The iPhone X 'is in high demand and short supply,' Sprint's CFO said last week. (Apple)

If you somehow hadn’t noticed that the U.S. wireless market is significantly less competitive than it usually is during the holiday season, feel free to look around for bargain-basement deals on new iPhones.

Go ahead. We’ll wait.

T-Mobile recently dropped iPhones from its buy-one, get-one-free campaign, according to the latest report from Wave7 Research, and Sprint’s offer of $350 off an iPhone 8, 8 Plus or X with a trade-in of a recent high-end smartphone expired a few days ago. AT&T continues to offer a buy-one, get-one-free deal on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, the firm said, but neither the X nor the iPhone 7 are available for that deal.

“Some investors worried that with the T-Mobile/Sprint deal off, competition would return to the intense levels seen in 2016. This has not materialized, with no service pricing cuts, no crazy iPhone offers, and the end of Verizon’s $650 ETF (early termination fee) buyout,” Wave7 wrote in a note to subscribers. “AT&T does have a multi-OEM BOGO that includes iPhones, but T-Mobile has no iPhone offers at all and Sprint has weakened its iPhone offer. Verizon’s offer is modest, as it requires trade-in of a valuable phone to get a $300 credit.”

Wave7’s report mirrors a research note issued yesterday by Barclays Equity Research that predicted the U.S. wireless market will remain “relatively rational” even through a holiday season that is usually brutally competitive. Barclays analyst Amir Rozwadowski said “promotional activity is likely to remain relatively rational” at least through the rest of the year as carriers continue to focus on maximizing profits rather than growing market share.

But constrained stocks of Apple’s iPhone X have likely contributed to the lack of aggressive iPhone promotions as well, as Wave7 pointed out. Apple reportedly was forced to deal with defects stemming from the bonding process for OLED screens, and the facial-recognition feature also proved difficult during assembly.

Sprint CFO Tarek Robbiati said last week that limited supplies of Apple’s new, high-profile phone have helped keep carriers in check during the holiday season.

“Part of it also related to supply of iPhone X’s, which is in high demand and in short supply,” Robbiati said during an investor conference last week, according to a transcript from Seeking Alpha. “So, you don't see–we haven't seen so far extravagant aggressive promotional activity across the sector.”