Apple to End AT&T iPhone Exclusivity Within a Year?

Published on August 31, 2009
by John Paczkowski

att_iphoneAnother point worth pulling out from Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster’s recent research note about Apple, this one regarding AT&T’s iPhone-exclusivity deal: Munster doesn’t see it lasting much beyond this year. Apple (AAPL) is slowly transitioning the countries in which it sells the iPhone to a multicarrier model and the United States is at the top of its list.

“We expect Apple to add new iPhone carriers in the U.S. within the next year (likely with a new product launch next summer), Munster writes. “By way of example, for various reasons the company moved from an exclusive relationship with French wireless carrier Orange to a multi-carrier model. In France, the company now enjoys dramatically higher market share (in the 40% range vs. about 15% in ROW) than in countries with exclusive carrier agreements (such as AT&T in the U.S. where the iPhone has market share in the mid-teens). We believe Apple is seeing the increased unit sell-through more than offset the slightly (~10%) deteriorated economics per unit involved in non-exclusive agreements.”

If Munster’s prediction proves true, it will undoubtedly be welcomed by iPhone owners–nearly a third of whom listed AT&T as the feature they dislike most in the iPhone in a recent ChangeWave survey. But it will be ugly news for AT&T (T), which could suffer some serious subscriber defections if the company loses its iPhone-exclusivity deal–particularly if Apple signs on Verizon (VZ) as a second carrier. As Pali Research recently noted:

“As the iPhone exclusivity period rolls off between AT&T Wireless and Apple, a material number of AT&T customers will flock to Verizon’s superior network. We estimate that nearly a third of AT&T’s post-paid customers are being retained by AT&T primarily because of the iPhone exclusivity.”

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