T-Mobile Next to Get the iPhone?

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Just when the annual iPhone-on-Verizon rumors were starting to calm down, a new batch of rumors has started, this time claiming that the iPhone may come to T-Mobile, instead.

Shaw Wu, an analyst with the investment firm Kaufman Bros, is telling investors that the iPhone may come to T-Mobile USA as early as this fall. In a note to clients, Wu said that the iPhone will be available on multiple carriers in the United States by 2011, and the first carrier to get the iPhone after AT&T exclusivity ends is likely to be T-Mobile. The Kaufman Bros analyst based his assessment on discussions with sources in Apple's product supply chain and others, according to the Associated Press.

T-Mobile is the smallest of the four major U.S. carriers and offers a variety of smartphones including Android devices like the myTouch 3G, Samsung Behold II, and Motorola Cliq XT. Apple's iPhone is also no stranger to T-Mobile since the International wing of the company carries the iPhone in a variety of European countries including Austria, Croatia, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Like AT&T, T-Mobile USA is a GSM-based network, making it a relatively simple adjustment to produce iPhones for the smaller carrier's network. Verizon and Sprint, on the other hand, are CDMA-based networks and incompatible with the current version of the iPhone.

But how would T-Mobile handle the data demands iPhone users place on a network? Even though it's surprising how little data iPhone owners actually use, AT&T's struggles with the data load from iPhone users have been well documented. So if AT&T, serving 85 million wireless customers on its 3G data network, has service issues, how would T-Mobile with its current base of 33.7 million users deal with an onslaught of iPhones?

Wu is also arguing that other carriers will also be getting the iPhone. Could the iPhone be coming to Verizon and/or Sprint as well? Perhaps Verizon and/or Sprint have plans to adjust their networks so that they can carry the iPhone, as some carriers in Canada have done. Or will Apple look at smaller, regional GSM-based carriers as potential partners instead?

Then again, haven't we gone through this before? Every few months rumors turn up predicting the end of iPhone exclusivity in the United States, and every time the rumors are proven wrong. So don't be too surprised if AT&T remains the exclusive iPhone provider well past this fall and into 2011.

Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul).

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