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AT&T (T) has exclusive U.S. distribution rights to the iPhone into 2010, though specifics aren't known. The deal was struck in 2006, when the iPhone was still on the drawing board. Many telecom analysts expect AT&T to try to persuade Apple to extend the contract for another year, at least.
Should Verizon succeed, it would be a big loss for AT&T, says Roger Entner, head of telecom research for Nielsen. "Breaking the (iPhone) exclusivity with AT&T is a huge thing," he says. "That would send shivers into AT&T's stock and senior leadership."
The power of the iPhone was on full display last week, when AT&T reported stellar wireless results. AT&T signed up 1.6 million iPhone customers during the quarter — 40% of them new to AT&T. Revenue from mobile data was up almost 40%. Verizon reports results today.
By linking arms with Verizon, Entner says, Apple would gain access to its 80 million customers. While a few may already have an iPhone (some people have more than one carrier), the bulk don't.
Regardless, Entner says, Apple would likely maintain ties with AT&T. The biggest winners, by far, would be consumers, he says.