Sprint Nextel Corp. will begin selling the iPhone 5 in mid-October, closing a huge hole in the No. 3 US carrier's lineup and giving Apple Inc. another channel for selling its popular phone, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.
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The timing, however, indicates Apple's new iPhone will hit the market later than expected and too late to contribute to sales in the company's fiscal fourth quarter, which ends in September. Most observers had expected the device to arrive next month.
Top US carrier Verizon Wireless and No. 2 AT&T Inc. will begin selling the phone in mid-October as well, two of the people said. Sprint had more than 52 million subscribers at the end of the second quarter, compared with 106 million for Verizon and nearly 99 million for AT&T.
Landing the iPhone is a big win for Sprint, whose results have suffered without being able to sell the iconic device. This February, Verizon Wireless began selling the iPhone 4, while AT&T has relied on versions of the Apple device to drive sales since 2007.
In the second quarter, Sprint blamed a decline in its contract subscribers on more pronounced "competitive head winds," most prominently, "the first full quarter both major competitors offered the iPhone."
Sprint will also carry the iPhone 4, starting at the same time, one person familiar with the situation said.
Richard Doherty, director of the research firm Envisioneering Group, said that the addition of the iPhone would help Sprint to retain many of its customers who want to upgrade to the popular device. The iPhone will also increase foot traffic in Sprint stores, which should help the company to sell high-margin iPhone accessories.
"Sprint needs it," said Doherty. "There are a lot of families that will embrace the iPhone."
The new iPhone is expected to be similar to the current iPhone 4, but thinner and lighter with an improved digital camera and a new more sophisticated operating system.