Kaufman Brothers investment analyst Shaw Wu today contended that T-Mobile USA, not Verizon Wireless, will be the next U.S. carrier to sell Apple's popular iPhone.
In a research note e-mailed to subscribers on Thursday, Wu said that T-Mobile, like current exclusive carrier AT&T, runs a GSM network. The GSM setworks of the carriers run on different frequency bands.
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Meanwhile, Verizon, the nation's largest carrier, and Sprint Nextel both run CDMA networks, which would require changes to the current iPhone technology.
Wu was astute enough to notice that the new iPhone 4, unveiled this week and slated to ship on June 24, and the current iPhone 3GS model, support 3G speeds at the 2100 MHz frequency used by T-Mobile.
AT&T uses the 1900 MHz frequency -- T-Mobile and AT&T also support the 850 MHz frequency.
Wu also argued that T-Mobile is a sizable carrier with 34 million subscribers. He added that Apple needs an additional carrier to compete with coming Android phones supported by Google.
"Looking at industry data, Android's wins have been where iPhone isn't available," Wu said in his note. "That could change dramatically if the iPhone were available on more carriers."
Most analysts expect that Verizon will be the next iPhone carrier , perhaps by as early as this fall, but more likely in 2011.
Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates, questioned Wu's reasoning in predicting that T-Mobile will be next iPhone carrier.
Gold said that among manufacturers, Apple is virtually alone in not making CDMA phones, so "getting an iPhone on Verizon should not be much of a problem."
He added that Verizon has a much larger U.S. installed base than T-Mobile -- 93 million subscribers -- and a larger marketing budget. (By comparison, second place AT&T has 87 million subscribers, Sprint has 47 million. T-Mobile USA is the fourth largest carrier with 34 million.)
Gold also argued that T-Mobile in the U.S. has the "least 3G capability," although T-Mobile has widely promoted its network upgrades in recent months "T-Mobile is expanding, but not on par with AT&T, Verizon or even Sprint," Gold said. "So if Apple has problems with iPhone on AT&T,what would it be like on T-Mobile?"
Gold did list one reason that T-Mobile USA might be the next to carry the iPhone: It is a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom in Germany and Apple could conceivably work out a combination deal to allow T-Mobile to sell the iPhone worldwide.
Other analysts have noted that many other factors are involved in how the iPhone will be sold going forward, including the upgrade path to 4G networks, specifically LTE, which both AT&T and Verizon are moving to. In fact, Verizon plans to have an LTE network later this year. T-Mobile is also on a path to LTE, while Sprint's 4G approach, already rolling out, is Wimax.
Wu's analysis was not only based on the logic of T-Mobile running GSM and related factors, but also on statements made by "sources" who said T-Mobile is more likely to agree to Apple's terms for selling the iPhone because it most needs to win back lost customers.
T-Mobile USA and Apple did not respond to requests to comment on Wu's note.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com .Read more about mobile and wireless in Computerworld's Mobile and Wireless Topic Center.