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9/20/2011
12:56 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
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T-Mobile Exec: No iPhone 5 For Us

It could be a rough holiday quarter for T-Mobile if it's the only major U.S. network operator not offering the iPhone 5.

According to a leaked internal memo, T-Mobile USA CMO Cole Brodman said quite bluntly, "We are not going to get the iPhone 5 this year." The statement was made as part of a company communique to T-Mobile USA employees. What does this mean, if anything?

Assuming the statement (posted by TMoNews.com) is legitimate, it means T-Mobile USA will likely be the only major U.S. wireless network operator not offering the iPhone 5 when it is released later this year. It is expected to be sold by AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless. Though the exact availability is still unknown, this will put T-Mobile USA at a significant disadvantage heading into the holiday shopping quarter.

Carriers typically roll out their best devices ahead of the holidays, hoping to snag new customers interested in the latest technology. Some of the smartphone industry's most-anticipated devices have launched in the fourth quarter of previous years, such as the original BlackBerry Storm, Motorola Droid, and others.

[The Justice Department and legislators are lining up to block AT&T's planned acquisition of T-Mobile. Read AT&T And T-Mobile: What's Next?.]

Brodman said later in the same memo that the carrier would have two compelling new smartphones, but without the iPhone 5, T-Mobile will be in a tough spot. He didn't offer details about these two devices, which are surely based on Google's Android platform.

Of course, this doesn't mean that T-Mobile USA won't be selling a different version of the iPhone, such as the iPhone 4S or iPhone 4 Plus. Reports have indicated for months at Apple will offer a lower-spec iPhone in additional to the new iPhone 5. It is possible that Apple will make a version of this lower spec phone for T-Mobile.

The iPhone 4 in its current state will work on T-Mobile USA's GSM/EDGE 2.5G network, but doesn't support T-Mobile's 3G spectrum. With most U.S. networks rolling out 4G in one flavor or another, falling back to EDGE would be brutal. (Keep in mind, when T-Mobile is mad at its customers for hogging too much data bandwidth, it slows them down to 2.5G EDGE speeds.)

Will Apple make a special version of the iPhone 4S/4 Plus just for T-Mobile USA's 3G network? Your guess is as good as anyone else's. Even if it does, there's no guarantee Apple will choose to support T-Mobile's 3G network.

Brodman's statement could also mean that there's a 60- or 90-day exclusive with one or the other carriers and that T-Mobile will have to wait until 2012 to sell the iPhone 5. That could be a more plausible scenario.

Last, it is possible that T-Mobile will never get its own version of the Apple iPhone. That will be a significant problem for T-Mobile to overcome both in the short term and the long term, depending on factors such as when the iPhone 5 goes on sale and also whether or not the sale to AT&T is approved by U.S. regulators (which would give T-Mobile the iPhone by default).

Without any variant of the iPhone, T-Mobile will only continue to bleed customers to its larger rivals.

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