Sprint and T-Mobile USA customers may not have to wait that long for a shot at the next iPhone.
That's according to Piper Jaffray analyst Chris Larsen, the latest to weigh in on the mounting speculation that carriers beyond AT&T and Verizon Wireless will get the next iPhone. Last week, Citadel analyst Shing Yin said he believed Apple would begin selling the iPhone for Sprint later this year.
"While we remain uncertain regarding the next-generation iPhone's specs and features, we believe the most noteworthy change could be the device's ability to run on more networks, specifically Sprint and T-Mobile in the U.S," Larsen said in a research note today.
A move to all four national carriers would greatly expand Apple's ability to reach the masses, critical at a time when smartphones running on Google's Android software have overrun the market. Adding Sprint and T-Mobile would increase Apple's addressable market by 30 percent, Larsen said.
The next iPhone is expected to be a universal device. Verizon Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo said in April that the next iPhone will be a global device, suggesting that Apple will sell one device to both carriers. Larsen said there are few technical hurdles to ensure the phone is compatible with both Sprint and T-Mobile.
The current Verizon iPhone 4 already contains the Qualcomm chip that is compatible with the CDMA network used by both Verizon and Sprint, as well as the GSM network used by AT&T and T-Mobile.
"Our belief is that if Apple is already going through the trouble to make a device that has the ability to work on both major network technologies, why not include all the necessary spectrum bands to make one device work on all carriers," Larsen said.
While T-Mobile customers were likely to eventually get the iPhone by virtue of the carrier's pending deal to be acquired by AT&T, the real winner is Sprint, which would benefit from lower customer turnover and increased growth, Larsen said.