According to the Wall Street Journal, Sprint will be among the operators to receive the next batch of iPhones. Citing unnamed sources, the Journal reported Sprint will start selling the iPhone 5 in mid-October, soon after Apple is expected to unveil the device in September.
Time for some chest thumping. We at Connected Planet have been predicting this for months, and we were even right on the timing (Unfiltered: Apple’s international expansion points to a Sprint iPhone), even while the industry was distracted by the idea of a T-Mobile iPhone (Unfiltered: A T-Mobile iPhone? Why not?). (Then again, we were dead wrong about Apple ever releasing a CDMA iPhone in the first place, so we’re not exactly seers.) To be fair, we weren’t the only ones to make that prediction. Ovum’s Jan Dawson tweeted as early as January–shortly after the VZW CDMA iPhone 4 was released—that Sprint would not only get the iPhone, but that it would have to wait until version 5’s release.
Immodest self-congratulatory displays aside, let’s get down to the analysis. First, it’s still an unconfirmed report. If Apple produces anything in more volume than iPhones and the iPods it’s rumors, and the Journal isn’t immune to them (T-Mobile-Sprint merger, anyone?). But if proved true, it would almost certainly confirms that the iPhone 5 won’t support LTE. Sprint won’t have an LTE network in 2011, no matter how wishful it’s thinking, and it might not even see an LTE network in 2012 (CP: Sprint’s 4G predicament). Technically any CDMA-LTE iPhone Apple makes for Verizon will work on Sprint’s CDMA network—but with no 4G access. That would just be plain cruel to Sprint. Apple has shown its willing to fly in the face of the newest technologies, but to brand an iPhone as 4G and sell it millions of subscribers without 4G access would be beyond the pale.
Apple could launch a WiMAX version of the iPhone, but it probably doesn’t want to lend its support to a dying ecosystem. CDMA iPhones have reach beyond Verizon and Sprint, but a WiMAX-CDMA iPhone would be built solely for the benefit of Sprint. Apple has already split its once-unified iPhone product line into two configurations. It probably doesn’t want to add a third.
That said, Apple has every reason to get the iPhone into as many operators’ hands as possible. Enlisting Verizon into the iPhone fold didn’t dilute sales for AT&T–far from it (CP: AT&T sails through loss of iPhone exclusivity). Considering the huge surge in overall iPhone sales in Q1—despite it having released it in June—it’s a surprise Apple didn’t tap Sprint immediately for a partnership. Sprint was almost certainly willing. Verizon may have gotten Apple to give it a few quarters of CDMA exclusivity. Or maybe Apple decided it would get more bang if it staggered carrier launches, but launching with Sprint in Q2 or Q3–right before the emergence of the iPhone 5–would have been too much.