T-Mobile to get US iPhone at last
Fourth cellco vague on details, but will add the Apple handset some time next year, with no Sprint-like volume commitments
Published: 7 December, 2012
T-Mobile USA has finally got its iPhone, although it will not offer the handset until next year - and question marks remain over whether it will be too late to make an impact against larger rivals, .especially when its LTE roll-out is well behind that of Verizon and AT&T.
The company retorts that it will deliver a "dramatically different" iPhone experience. New CEO John Legere confirmed that the handset would arrive on its US network in 2013 but was very light on further details. The Apple handset has now supported TMo's unusual HSPA-on-AWS band, but the carrier is now in the process of shifting 3G services into more standard PCS spectrum and refarming AWS for LTE - again, in line with other carriers and Apple's handset choices. However, even by the end of 2013, it will have far less coverage and capacity for 4G than the big two carriers and AT&T will already be upgrading to LTE-Advanced in some markets, promising iPhone users a stepped-up experience.
Legere admitted to a German investor conference that the lack of an iPhone was a significant gap for TMo, and that some customers will not even enter a store unless the handset is on offer. Financially, he said 2013 expectations already assume the impact of the Apple deal, and that carrying the iPhone will add to cashflow and EBITDA in 2014.
One of the few details he revealed - but a significant one - was that his agreement with Apple does not include the volume commitments included Sprint's controversial pact with the iPhone maker. That created significant risk around the Sprint iPhone strategy, but TMo will not have to deal with that factor, though like all iOS supporters, it will have to bear the increased subsidy burden that the smartphone brings.
With about 33m customers, T-Mobile could sell 4-5m in the first year from launch, RBC analyst Amit Daryanani told Bloomberg. Sprint sold 6.3m iPhones in its first 12 months. The analyst added that T-Mobile could also sell 2m iPads.
He hinted that TMo would seek to make the iPhone affordable for its large prepaid base, its best chance to differentiate from the big two carriers. He suggested that users might pay "$99 for the most iconic device in the world", without a contract, but instead paying an additional $15 to $20 a month for data while they still had the product. Such policies are TMo's way to reduce subsidies and increase loyalty among the contract-shy base.
It will also step up its LTE roll-out to ensure it can cope with the demands of the data hungry iPhone. It aims to cover 100m POPS by the middle, rather than the end, of next year and has also been steadily upgrading its HSPA+ systems.