The End of AT&T’s iPhone Exclusivity

The iPhone was introduced on January 9, 2007 to an AT&T (Cingular) only client base. Many early adopters dropped their old carriers without a second thought because their thirst for this obvious game-changer was so great.

The rest of the would-be iPhone owners declared that they would simply wait for the phone to end up on their carrier. Just about every “insider” theory and rumor at the time pointed with near certainty towards a 2-year AT&T exclusivity agreement. After these two years, they told us, the iPhone will immediately hit Verizon followed by every other major carrier.

January 9, 2009: The planet continued to spin and the iPhone continued to be tied to a single US carrier. January 9, 2010, three years after the release of the iPhone, still no sign of the end of AT&T’s reign. Despite the fact that countless experts have been absolutely certain on countless occasions that the iPhone would open up to other carriers, the projected dates all come and go without a word from Apple.

Why No Verizon?

At the time, many were baffled as to why Verizon wasn’t picked to be the sole carrier of the iPhone. It turns out they were. According to several sources, Apple offered the iPhone to Verizon first and the carrier made the incredibly solid business decision to pass on it due to a dispute over how much control Apple would have in the relationship.

Can you hear me now? No Verizon, we can’t.

Verizon on Good Behavior

How’d that decision work out for Verizon? In a recent statement, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg said of the iPhone, “We would love to carry it when we get there, but we have to earn it.”

A few years ago they were faced with the opportunity of being the sole carrier and now they’re making statements about trying to make themselves good enough to earn the good will of Apple!

I’m sure given the opportunity they would do it all again, sans the profound ignorance of how much of a hit the phone would be with consumers worldwide.

Verizon iPhone 2011! Right?

June 29, 2010. Bloomberg headline reads “Verizon Wireless Said to Start Offering iPhone in January.” It seemed we had finally reached the end of the iPhone monopoly. After this article there was no shortage of “me too” blogs and websites that had suddenly produced undeniable evidence of a January Verizon release.


It's really going to happen this time... or not.

The most telling sign of this supposed future were numerous reports from secret sources all claiming that manufacturers were indeed ordering parts for and building a CDMA version of Apple’s iPhone 4 (AT&T uses GSM).

However, the recent statement from Verizon’s CEO (above) regarding earning the iPhone seems to leave Verizon customers, yet again, with their hopes dashed. Seidenberg went on to say that Verizon’s new 4G network (slotted for completion around 2013) would hopefully be a significant factor in making Apple “get with the program” and bring the iPhone to their carrier. Not exactly the kind of statement you would expect from someone who had just landed a deal to release the iPhone in a matter of months.

Now, given Apple’s love of secrecy, Seidenberg could be pulling the wool over our eyes in preparation for Apple to blow us away with a now unexpected announcement come next year, but in the words of PCMag writer Chloe Albanesius, “Don’t Hold Your Breath.”

There is Another…

We can’t know for certain at this point that Verizon is out of the game for January, but let’s assume they are. Further, let’s make an even larger assumption that the rumors regarding a CDMA iPhone are true. Where does that leave us?


This is the one, I'm sure of it.

The Internet’s favorite guess is currently Sprint, the next logical conclusion if we’re limited to CMDA carriers. Who knows? Sprint’s CEO certainly hasn’t been making any statements to the contrary lately (which could be good or bad).

Square One

Unfortunately, despite any sources that you read claiming any degree of certainty, we pretty much don’t know squat about when AT&T’s exclusivity will end. All we have at the moment are conflicting and mutually “certain” opinions and rumors: the same thing we’ve had since day one.

January 9, 2011 is on the horizon. As some AT&T customers purchase their fourth iPhone the rest of the US market is wondering if four will be their lucky number. Four years after the iPhone’s initial release AT&T’s supposed two year exclusivity agreement lives on, but for how long?

It’s interesting to note that AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson is busy trying to convince investors that they’ll be just fine after the exclusive agreement with Apple ends. Verizon may not be be concerned with January, but perhaps AT&T is…

What Do You Think?

Are the Internet rumors the same bull we’ve been hearing for four years? Will January come and go without an announcement? Or will 2011 bring the first falling pebble in the avalanche of new carriers that will sell the iPhone?

Leave a comment below and let us know what you think! Also be sure to tell us whether or not you’ll hold out for another carrier or just give in and make the switch to the one carrier we all know will have the iPhone in 2011: AT&T.