Launched exclusively on AT&T in 2007, the iPhone has remained more of a boon for the carrier than any rival that gained it in the years that followed. Indeed, in the second quarter of 2012 AT&T activated 3.7 million iPhones, a million more than arch rival Verizon was able to in the same period. But that could change with the debut of an LTE-capable version of the Apple handset.
AT&T’s LTE (long term evolution) network is not nearly as broad as Verizon’s. And because of that, the debut of an LTE iPhone could put it at a competitive disadvantage.
“As of the end of 2Q12, Verizon’s LTE network covered 230 million POPs, more than all the other carriers in the US combined,” Jefferies & Co. analyst Thomas Seitz said in a note to clients. “We believe this network advantage could lead to a share shift towards Verizon, primarily at AT&T’s expense.”
According to Seitz, the debut of an LTE iPhone could cause a modest decline in AT&T’s share of U.S. iPhone sales — to 45 percent in the third quarter of 2012 from 47 percent in second quarter of 2012.
Ironically, that could be further compounded the company’s past success. Seitz notes that AT&T sold 9 million iPhones in the third and fourth quarter of 2010 and many of those customers will likely be coming off contract right around the time Apple’s next generation iPhone launches. For them, Verizon’s broader LTE coverage could be a compelling reason to switch carriers — assuming the next iPhone supports LTE.