Is Apple Sprinting to the Finish Line?

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We're now apparently just weeks away from Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) new iPhone.

AT&T (NYSE: T  ) ? Check.

Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) ? Check.

Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S  ) ? Why not?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Sprint will become the next major stateside carrier to offer Apple's iconic smartphone when the iPhone 5 hits the market in October.

The news has been a long time coming, though Sprint users may want to be careful about what they wish for.

Sprint has resisted nixing unlimited data plans for new customers, the way that AT&T and Verizon Wireless have. But could that simply be because its network hasn't been overcome by data-sipping iHogs?

Sprint has often marketed its pricing advantages over AT&T and Verizon, but cynics can argue that Sprint has paid the price. AT&T and Verizon are consistently profitable, while analysts don't see Sprint turning a profit until 2013 at the earliest.

This does matter, because iPhones aren't cheap. With Apple commanding roughly $650 for every new iPhone, a carrier needs to subsidize hundreds of dollars that will hopefully make back during the two-year life of the contract. Can Sprint offer the iPhone without jacking up its rates or abandoning unlimited data plans?

If Sprint can miraculously make the numbers work at its current rates, it's going to win over more than just existing customers due for an upgrade. Verizon and AT&T customers will follow the savings -- as long as Sprint's network is up to the task.

Even if a Sprint iPhone makes it easier for regulators to clear AT&T's pending acquisition of T-Mobile, getting the iPhone could be a defining moment for Sprint. As of right now, the company is a distant third in the wireless market, with roughly half as many accounts as AT&T or Verizon command. If Sprint can hold its ground without buckling under pricing or network-reliability pressure, this profitless yet promising telco giant could close that gap in a hurry.

To follow all the action surrounding the upcoming iPhone launch, add any of the companies above to our free My Watchlist service:

The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of AT&T and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is hoping that he has plenty of choices, since he's due for an iPhone upgrade now. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (2)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2011, at 4:53 PM, GordonsGecko wrote:

    It may win customers over, but once they experience Sprint's terrible network outside of major cities...they will go running back to VZ or AT&T.

    I have had Sprint for 2+ years here in the Portland, Maine market. 4G is non-existent. The only towers around here belong to Verizon and U.S. Cellular. Stray even a little from the I-95 belt (and I'm talking a mile or two) and your service will degrade faster than the career of a stripper who hits 30 years old.

    Just sayin'....

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2011, at 8:53 PM, conradsands wrote:

    In a poll that asked 4,040 smartphone users in how many dropped calls they had experienced in the past three months, AT&T — carrier of Apple's iPhone and iPad mobile devices — came in dead last among the country's four largest carriers.

    Consumers are finally noticing that AT&T and Verizon = The Most Expensive Wireless Plans in America. We know where Verizon (the 10th leading U.S. lobbyist) and AT&T (the 12th leading U.S. lobbyist) get all that money to run commercials 24x7, pay out huge “fat cat” executive bonuses and hire armies of lawyers and lobbyists to push the U.S. market into a wireless industry duopoly -- the American consumer.

    Sprint tied for the number one spot among major wireless carriers for customer satisfaction, according to results from the 2011 American Customer Satisfaction Index. The ACSI survey also shows that Sprint is the number one most improved company in customer satisfaction, across all industries, over the last three years.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2011, at 8:54 PM, conradsands wrote:

    The "premium" wireless carriers like AT&T have remained pathetically stagnant in recent years, content to fleece their customers while Sprint has made legitimate changes that have now positioned it to capture postpaid marketshare. For example, AT&T has a poor 3G network that can't handle the data needs of its customers in key regions like NYC. In addition, AT&T and Verizon Wireless charge far more for comparable plans and use obscure marketing to mislead consumers.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2011, at 4:31 AM, WhiteHatBobby wrote:

    I wonder if Sprint, Disney, and NASCAR are working together to introduce the Sprint iPhone during the Charlotte NASCAR race weekend, which is the last broadcast network Sprint Cup race of the season, with a major push during the Bank of America 500 weekend.

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