Verizon Wireless, the largest U.S. mobile-phone company, will start selling Apple Inc.’s iPhone next year, ending AT&T Inc.’s exclusive hold on the smartphone in the U.S., two people familiar with the plans said.
The device will be available to customers in January, according to the people, who declined to be named because the information isn’t public. Natalie Kerris, an Apple spokeswoman, and Jeffrey Nelson, a Verizon Wireless spokesman, declined to comment.
The iPhone, which has been the sole domain of rival AT&T in the U.S. since June 2007, will give Verizon a boost in its competition for smartphone customers, UBS AG analyst John Hodulik said in an interview. Verizon customers, who numbered 92.8 million at the end of the first quarter, may buy 3 million iPhones a quarter, he estimates.
“Apple is going to dramatically increase the number of devices it sells in the U.S. when exclusivity at AT&T ends,” said Hodulik, who is based in New York and rates Verizon shares “neutral.” “It’s hard to ignore the quality issues that AT&T has faced.”
Verizon Wireless, which is building a high-speed fourth-generation network, plans to unveil several devices that will run on the new technology in January at the Consumer Electronics Show, Chief Executive Officer Lowell McAdam has said.
Verizon Communications Inc., which co-owns the wireless company with Vodafone Group Plc, slid 9 cents to $28.62 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading at 4 p.m. AT&T fell 49 cents to $24.46. Apple, based in Cupertino, California, dropped $12.13 to $256.17 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
Peter Thonis, a spokesman for Verizon Communications, and Mark Siegel, an AT&T spokesman, declined to comment. Tenille Kennedy, a spokeswoman for Research in Motion Ltd., didn’t return a call seeking comment.
The iPhone has helped AT&T add subscribers even as the U.S. mobile-phone market nears saturation. There are enough wireless devices for more than nine out of 10 people, according to the CTIA wireless industry association.
In the first three months of this year, about a third of AT&T’s iPhone activations came from customers who were new to the carrier. Without those 900,000 new subscribers, the company may have posted a loss in contract customers that quarter, analysts said.
Still, Dallas-based AT&T has battled customer complaints about its wireless service, especially in New York and San Francisco, and dedicated an extra $2 billion to upgrading its network this year.
For Apple, a partnership with Basking Ridge, New Jersey- based Verizon Wireless is a victory over rivals such as RIM and Motorola Inc., whose smartphones are currently promoted by the carrier.
“For Apple it means a larger addressable market,” said Andy Hargreaves, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities in Portland, Oregon. “It’s also good news for Apple in that it will spread the load on the wireless data networks, which will be good for their customers.”
Motorola, which makes Droid phones that use Google Inc.’s Android operating system, fell 27 cents, or 3.8 percent, to $6.80 on the New York Stock Exchange. Google dropped $17.82, or 3.8 percent, to $454.26 on the Nasdaq. RIM, maker of the BlackBerry, declined $3.22, or 6.1 percent, to $49.75.
Apple has sold more than 50 million iPhones since the phone’s introduction in 2007. The latest version, iPhone 4, sold more than 1.7 million units in the first three days after its June 24 debut, a record for the product. Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs said the company didn’t have enough supply to meet demand. Many stores, including retailer Best Buy Co., sold out.
A release at Verizon in the first quarter will help Apple’s sales in the U.S. grow to at least 15 million units next year from 11 million in 2010, Barclays Capital analysts said in a note today. The company’s suppliers have been ramping up production of components for a phone on Verizon’s CDMA network, according to the research report.