AT&T and T-Mobile: All About the iPhone 4G in 2012?

AT&T's deal to buy T-Mobile USA has already caused plenty of discussion. But is there a simple secret at the heart of the deal? Is this really all about the iPhone 4G in 2012?

T-Mobile iPhone

AT&T's definitive agreement, for just shy of $40 billion in cash and stocks, has the entire tech world talking. There's speculation about what the alliance may achieve—and one big bonus may be better cellphone coverage for users in the key New York and San Francisco areas, since the linked cellphone network will contain more towers per square mile than before. Very soon after the news arrived, there was hot speculation that the deal was largely prompted by Apple's iPhone 4, and specifically by AT&T's desire to boost its network to compete with the new Verizon iPhone 4. This of course would enable many millions more U.S. consumers (folks tied to T-Mobile, or who prefer that network) to buy Apple's wonderphone. Those hopes were quickly quashed when T-Mobile said it will remain independent, albeit under AT&T's stewardship, for around a year, and it won't offer the iPhone to its customers in that time.

But here's the thing: The joining of AT&T and T-Mobile pairs the U.S.'s second and fourth biggest cell phone networks, creating a new monster company that would be the biggest by far—beating Verizon's approximately 300 million users by a large margin. And while AT&T and Verizon are busy pushing forward on its 4G long term evolution upgrade to bring about the next generation of mobile data phones, T-Mobile actually has the largest existing 4G infrastructure in the U.S. By buying into T-Mobile, AT&T is setting itself up to take the lead in the race to 4G coverage.

Which suggests that, yes, this acquisition all about the iPhone 4G.

Okay, maybe not all, exactly—the deal will cover a thousand different business arguments, and the resulting cell phone company would serve millions of users who couldn't care less about Apple's product. But the original iPhone revolutionized the entire smartphone business, and was an AT&T exclusive resulting in countless billions of dollars of income for the network. The initial phone wasn't a 3G edition, but AT&T was busy implementing its 3G infrastructure, and Apple knew the GSM standard the company was using was way more popular around the globe than Verizon's CDMA protocols. That made AT&T more attractive, from an economies-of-scale in manufacturing point of view, than the much bigger Verizon customer base.

Most thinkers are suggesting Apple's iPhone 5 for 2011 won't adopt 4G technology because, much as with the original iPhone, the network infrastructure just isn't in place yet. Instead the phone will be an evolution of the iPhone 4, with better features and one or two bonus "extras" (possibly including NFC) to keep the device at the cutting edge. But the iPhone 6 for 2012 may be a different affair. If Apple follows its habits, it'll be another design revolution, and it may well embrace 4G technology, which will be far more ubiquitous by then—and Apple will need to make its move precisely at this point, before Google's Android OS swallows up too much of the early 4G market (there're already rumors about the Nexus S 4G).

So, can we picture AT&T's executive team having a few quiet phone calls with Apple's management team right about now? They'd be able to say things like: "Next year we'll be the biggest network in the U.S., and we'll have a very mature 4G system in place. about talking to us about a new exclusivity arrangement, eh?"

Think of it as a gold rush for the 21st Century: AT&T already knows the iPhone's gold status, and it can see the next-gen 4G one being even more valuable, what with consumers continuing to throng to Apple and increasingly using smartphones. The enhanced mobile Net experience on 4G would seem an ideal fit for the iPhone technology—it's exactly the kind of breakthrough change in a market that Apple would love to embrace, and PR the heck out of its innovative uses of 4G data.

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  • Solin


    My Iphone 4g has been stoped, nitification appears says that ' Iphone has been stoped  call itunes'
    help please,,, thank u very much...

  • marvin

    i have a iphone 4g for $450 if you wanna buy it email me

  • Donald Pierce

    2012 until iPhone gets 4G? Why? I'm browsing this site from a HTC ThunderBolt on a 4G LTE connection right now. I have a friend who owns an iPhone that loves the speed I'm getting. He was hoping that the next iPhone would include 4G data speeds. It wouldn't be a good idea for Apple to let the competition get too far ahead.

  • Benjamen Hicks

    This acquisition has much larger ramifications for consumers than whether or not it's "all about the iPhone 4G in 2012." I'm a T-Mobile subscriber and could care less about the iPhone. What is more important for me is that I have a phone plan that includes unlimited texts, 4G web, and minutes for $79. I don't believe that AT&T will come close to matching that price point. T-Mobile has long been the cheapest of the major carriers. It scares me to think what could happen to prices for mobile phones after removing a company that pushes phone plan prices down. Also, AT&T has the worst customer service according to J.D. Power and associates. What better way to further ruin customer support than by adding even more customers. I think this merger is a horrible idea, but don't bother mentioning any of those details. Instead, we need more articles speculating how this relates to Apple, so Apple fanboys like @joe belkin have something to read.

  • joe belkin

    First, unlike before - Apple cannot afford to wait around another year on the "4G-LTE" thing for the iphone6 - so it's coming to the iPhone5, if not every city is not robust enough - well, what are you gonna do.

    BTW, Verizon has 100 million subs, not 300 million in the US.

    And there no way the iphone is going ATT exclusive US – unless ATT is willing to pony up aboiut $1k per phone – unlikely – especially since Verizon is joining the LTE thing.

    As for the hilarious Android fanboy. Verizon tried going Android only and realized that consumers were willing to accept the Android Os on a $29 phone but not anywhere near full price like the iPhone. Android is a fine free linux like copy of the iphone OS but not very robust on battery life, OS, features, apps, media store and hardware issues – other than that, it is better than Symbian but again, fine as a free OS – notice that unsubsidized Android devices sell only in the thousands (Nexus, Xoom,Galaxy Tab) – Apple selling more ipads 2 in one weekend about 5 times over than all of them combined?

    The smartphone market is split. Apple takes the high margin, full price profits from the market (around 75%) leaving android, RIM, WIN & Symbian to fight over the other 25%.

  • Greg Marquez

    Verizon has 300 million users in the U.S.?
    That doesn't sound right. There are only 300 million people in the U.S.

  • Bud Thompson

    This piece has a Charlie Sheen desperate-fantasy quality.

    In the first place, the iPhone is hardly a "wonderphone" - at least not anymore. Is noticeably slower than the new Android phones. The iPhone is prone to break when dropped, and it has an antenna problem. The new Android phones have features the iPhone can't match.

    A few iPhone users have switched their phones to T-Mobile but you ll note that AT&T is buying a bunch of Android subscribers.

    This is about AT&T trying to get back subscribers who quit that miserable network....and getting some towers in areas where AT&T is particularly weak.

    Good luck, T-Mobile subscribers, when AT&T starts dumping their overload on T-Mobile towers.

  • Chris Reich

    AT&T just wants to own the T-Mobile girl. I hope this doesn't mean an end to her commercials as they are all I watch on TV. But I can't figure out how to TiVo them.

    Hey...That gives me an idea. Would it be cool to be able to TiVo commercials by keyword? Google like. I could search "laundry detergent" and see all laundry detergent commercials run by all companies in a given time frame. Hummmm

    Chris Reich

  • james FC

    " the resulting cell phone company would serve millions of users who could care less about Apple's product."

    the phrase you are looking for is "couldn't care less". think about it.