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Rumor has it that Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) will get its hands on the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPhone in the near future. When that happens, presumably sometime next spring, the skies will darken, ominous thunder will roll, inexplicable plagues of locusts will invade the Western plains, and AT&T (NYSE: T ) will evaporate in a cloud of irrelevance. Thus spake the prognosticators.
Except today, UBS Securities analyst John Hodulik says that the end of AT&T's exclusive iPhone deal might not spell the end of Ma Bell after all. Great to see you joining the party, Mr. Hodulik -- you're only a year late.
Hodulik posits that Verizon will indeed soak up much of the demand for fresh iPhone accounts, but that the predicted mass exodus from the AT&T network isn't in the cards. In fact, he thinks that AT&T should be able to reduce its marketing budget while Verizon whips up the mother of all advertising campaigns. That could lower the cost for each new user AT&T adds to its fold, while Verizon's costs should skyrocket.
To that, I would add that shifting the bulk of new iPhone accounts to Verizon will give AT&T some breathing room to enjoy its substantial network upgrades. On the flipside, those data-hungry users just might bring Verizon's mighty network to its knees, tarnishing the company's reputation as a sterling data server.
Mind you, there are plenty of "might," "perhaps," and "could" caveats to all of this. Hodulik assumes that overall smartphone growth is decelerating a bit, and that neither Deutsche Telekom subsidiary T-Mobile nor Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S ) will get their hands on the iPhone when Verizon does.
And I think there's a hidden assumption in here somewhere about iPhone loyalty trumping whatever inventions and improvements the likes of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) can muster while Apple runs through its traditional yearlong cycle between serious improvements to the iPhone platform. All of these conjectures could turn out to be blatantly false in next year's 20-20 hindsight.
But as good as its exclusive iPhone deal has been to Ma Bell so far, I think we can all agree that AT&T should still do all right without it.
… Or perhaps we can't. Feel free to tell Anders off in the comments below.