It is widely rumored that Apple will announce the iPhone 5 on September 12th with a September 21st launch. The rumored new specifications of the phone:
- 4G LTE – this is largely a given at this point given that the iPad 3 has 4G and that the LTE networks are now more widespread.
- Larger screen – taller, not wider, bringing the screen size to 4 inches and the aspect ratio to 16×9 from 4×3
- Faster processor
- More solid construction (“LiquidMetal” casing)
- New dock connector – not an exciting feature and an annoyance to many.
- NFC chip – this is a huge maybe, but IMHO would be a huge deal (per my prior post)
So what does this have to do with Sprint? Well, Sprint made a huge push to carry the iPhone and got it last fall with the iPhone 4S. In order to get it, they were rumored to have committed to buy (and sell to consumers) $20 billion of new iPhones over 4 years, that’s 30 million iPhones. Sprint has sold about 6 million iPhones so far. So only 24 million to go in the next 3 years….
Meanwhile, the biggest update with the iPhone 5 will be 4G LTE. Sprint actually was the first big carrier in the US to build a 4G network. However they built it based on a technology called WiMax. They eventually realized this was a losing standard and committed to build an LTE network earlier this year but this is years after Verizon and At&t started building their networks.
It seems very likely that the iPhone 5 will not have WiMax capability and therefore a Sprint iPhone 5 will only work on 4G in very limited cities compared to Verzion and At&t. See the stats below:
- Verizon 4G LTE – 371 Markets, 230 million people
- AT&T 4G LTE – 47 Markets, 80 million people
- Spint 4G LTE – 19 Markets, unspecified coverage, but likely <30 million people
So, as you can see, Sprint is way behind here. If, as anticipated, consumers are excited about 4G LTE speeds, they’ll want to buy a Verizon or At&t phone (note that some have speculated At&t will suffer with their smaller footprint too).
If Sprint doesn’t capture a good share of iPhone 5 sales, they’ll be stuck with a contractual commitment, an expensive network rollout and more subscriber losses. Meanwhile, T-Mobile is offering better pricing on unlimited data plans, which threatens Sprint Android business. I think the iPhone 5 launch could trigger the beginning of the end for Sprint, forcing them to sell the company, either to another carrier or a dark horse like Google or Apple (looking to disintermediate the carriers entirely).