August 09, 2010, 7:43 AM — So you want an iPhone but you don't want to use AT&T as a service provider. It's an old story...almost as old as the iPhone itself. We've heard again and again that AT&T's exclusivity agreement with Apple was about to run out, but so far it hasn't. Well here's another rumor saying the same thing. Actually two rumors that mesh together pretty well.
First up, leaks from the hardware front. TechCrunch's Steve Cheney reports that Apple has ordered "millions of units of Qualcomm CDMA chipsets." Why is this significant? Because AT&T's network uses GSM, not CDMA, so presumably Apple is building iPhones for a network other than AT&T's. The leap to Verizon seems to be one of faith for Cheney, who says the Verizon iPhone will hit in January, but there are a lot of cellular providers around the world. How does Cheney know these chips are going into Verizon phones?
Well, luckily for him, we've got another data point to work with. This one comes from Electronista who reports on an AT&T SEC filing. The filing, Electronista points out, devotes "a significant section of its warnings to the risks that occur when 'exclusivity arrangements end' and tried to minimize the potential effect." The filing doesn't single out the iPhone but let's face it, their deal with Apple is the only really significant exclusivity arrangement AT&T has. (You can read the whole SEC Filing here.)
So putting the pieces together: Apple is building a CDMA device. AT&T is downplaying the loss of an unspecified exclusivity deal, implying the iPhone is going to be available on another carrier here in the U.S. Since Sprint and Verizon both use CDMA we still can't be sure which of the two carriers the new device is headed for (maybe both?) but given the relative size of the two it's a safe bet that Apple would be most interested in partnering with Verizon.
So why is Apple severing its exclusive ties with AT&T now? If I had to speculate, I'd say Android is the main reason. We keep seeing huge numbers posted for Android devices (the most recent being that 200,000 Android devices/day are being activated). Can Apple afford to restrict itself to one carrier in the face of dozens of Android phones across several carriers, including AT&T? Sooner or later Android is going to hit enough of a critical mass that app developers are going to start switching teams, and without the App Store much of the magic of the iPhone vanishes.
We've heard this rumor a lot of times and so far nothing has come of it. Let's hope this time out things are different.