Ina Fried

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Ready to Rumble: One iPhone 4S, Three Networks, Three Different Pitches

Although the iPhone 4S being sold by Sprint, Verizon Wireless and AT&T will be the exact same model, Tuesday’s announcements will give each of the three room to tout why their model is actually the best bet.

For its part, AT&T can highlight the fact that the iPhone 4S runs on its faster HSPA+ network, and that owners can talk and surf at the same time. Also, it will be the only U.S. carrier offering the iPhone 3GS, which will now be free with a new two-year contract.

“We feel like the new phone, when it runs on our 4G network, is going to download material twice as fast,” AT&T Mobility President Ralph de la Vega told AllThingsD in an interview on Tuesday. “When you combine that with a new portfolio that includes the iPhone 3GS, the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S, I think we have the best iPhone portfolio in the industry.”

The company also hopes to convince subscribers to stick with AT&T by introducing a new “upgrader” app that will let eligible customers order a new iPhone from their current device.

Verizon, meanwhile, continues to pitch the quality of its network as its chief selling point.

“The network matters,” chief marketing officer Marni Walden said in a statement. “And, while iPhone 4S may look like the same device across all carriers, customers know they are choosing reliability when they select a Verizon Wireless iPhone 4S.”

The big news for Sprint, of course, is the fact that it is finally getting the iPhone after a wait of several years. In addition, Sprint remains the lone iPhone carrier offering unlimited data plans to new smartphone subscribers, something that is expected to continue even with the iPhone joining its lineup. Both AT&T and Verizon initially offered unlimited data to iPhone customers, but later moved to tiered data pricing.

Sprint declined to talk in any detail about its iPhone plans, saying only that it was “delighted to be part” of the iPhone announcement and would have more information soon.

“Today is all about the new products being announced by our partners at Apple,” a Sprint representative said on Tuesday.

Although it wasn’t highlighted on stage, Sprint is also getting the $99 iPhone 4, in addition to the new iPhone 4S.

None of the major carriers went into detail on their rate plans and other particulars on Tuesday, though all are expected to do so this week, with preorders for the device slated to start on Friday. The iPhone 4S is scheduled to start shipping — and to hit stores (at least until they sell out) — on Oct. 12.

Left out in the cold, as expected, is T-Mobile USA. As is the case with the iPhone 4, not only does the carrier not have a deal with Apple to sell the device directly, but the GSM version of the phone doesn’t support T-Mobile’s 3G or 4G networks. Even with that condition, T-Mobile noted earlier this year that it has more than one million iPhones running on its network today.

Apple does plan to offer an unlocked version of the iPhone 4S, but it has yet to announce pricing and, for technical reasons, it is really more suited to AT&T customers that travel a lot internationally than it is to switching between CDMA and GSM networks.

The fact that a single iPhone 4S model works across Sprint, Verizon and AT&T does open up some interesting possibilities for when a customer is at the end of their two-year contract. In theory, it could be simple to move that phone to another carrier, though it remains to be seen what roadblocks, if any, will emerge.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus