If the Wall Street Journal is correct, Apple may have just thrown the No. 3 U.S. wireless carrier a lifeline:
Sprint Nextel Corp. will begin selling the iPhone 5 in mid-October, people familiar with the matter said, closing a huge hole in the No. 3 U.S. carrier's lineup and giving Apple Inc. another channel for selling its popular phone.Top U.S. carrier Verizon Wireless and No. 2 AT&T Inc. will begin selling the phone in mid-October as well, two of the people said. Sprint had more than 52 million subscribers at the end of the second quarter, compared with 106 million for Verizon and nearly 99 million for AT&T.
Also looming over Sprint is the potential $39 billion acquisition by AT&T of No. 4 U.S. wireless carrier T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom. Should the purchase be approved by antitrust regulators -- and that's far from a certainty -- AT&T would have about 130 million customers and Sprint, with about 17% of the U.S. wireless market, would be doing battle with a duopoly.
But if the deal is killed by the U.S. Department of Justice or Federal Communications Commission, Sprint's ability to survive in the market increases (even if only a bit).
Now throw in the iPhone 5, and suddenly Sprint sheds a huge disadvantage. (In fact, not having the iPhone has been more than a disadvantage to Sprint, it's been a disaster.)
I'm not guaranteeing the iPhone can help Sprint challenge for the U.S. wireless market lead any time soon, but Apple's smartphone could help the No. 3 carrier keep iPhone-coveting subscribers from defecting and perhaps draw away disaffected AT&T and Verizon subscribers.
In other words, the iPhone 5 gives Sprint the fair and fighting chance it's never had.
Unfortunately, it may have come too late.