No one really brought it up Thursday when AT&T released its third-quarter earnings report, but the telecom is now faced with the challenge of competing with at least one other carrier -- Verizon Wireless -- for the business of iPhone users. Earlier this month Apple announced an agreement that would allow Verizon Wireless to sell iPhones for its mobile network beginning early next year. AT&T until now has been the exclusive carrier for Apple's popular smartphone. You can't blame AT&T for not wanting to spoil an upbeat earnings report with a dour note. But you have to think the company is somehow preparing for the inevitable loss of iPhone customers to Verizon Wireless. And it is. According to this Bloomberg article, AT&T is "adding handsets at an accelerating clip and retraining store staff to help reduce reliance on its top-selling smartphone during the holidays": The company’s lineup this year will have ballooned by about 10 smartphones ahead of the holiday season to more than 20, including ones running Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc. software. Yesterday, AT&T reported the effort is showing early success, saying more than half of new customers chose a device other than the iPhone last quarter, up from 36 percent a year earlier. I can imagine it now: "You know how you always were instructed to steer customers to the iPhone because it's the best on the market? Well, now it's not. Going forward you're to tell customers that the Android phones and Windows 7 phones are just as good, if not better! Yes, I said Windows 7. Don't laugh." What really would be interesting is to find out what measures AT&T took to maintain its exclusivity agreement with Apple. You have to imagine they offered something to keep the sweet deal. If anyone's heard anything, post a comment. Conjecture is good too.
Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.