Sprint to offer unlimited data with iPhone 5?

Citing anonymous sources, Bloomberg says Sprint will get the next Apple smartphone and use unlimited data to differentiate its iPhone offering from that of other carriers.

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When will the iPhone come to Sprint's network?
When will the iPhone come to Sprint's network? Sprint

Apple's iPhone 5 is coming to Sprint, and when it launches, customers will be able to have access to unlimited data, according to a report from Bloomberg today.

Citing "people familiar with the matter," Bloomberg is reporting that Sprint plans to offer unlimited data plans with the long-rumored iPhone 5 to "distinguish" itself from AT&T and Verizon, the carriers currently selling Apple's iPhone 4. Those sources also told Bloomberg that the iPhone 5 will be available on Sprint's network in mid-October, though they didn't provide an exact date.

Rumors suggesting Sprint will be carrying the iPhone 5 have been swirling for months now. In July, Piper Jaffray analyst Chris Larsen said that the time has finally come for Apple to offer up its smartphone to Sprint and even T-Mobile.

"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. His comments followed another note from Citadel analyst Shing Yin who said in July that Apple would start selling the iPhone to Sprint customers later this year.

The rumor mill started to heat up even more late last month when The Wall Street Journal cited sources who said that Sprint would carry the iPhone 5. Like Bloomberg, the Journal reported that the iPhone 5 would be made available to Sprint customers in mid-October.

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Sprint reportedly prepping for iPhone 5

A report from Betaweek Magazine earlier this week further bolstered that claim. The magazine said that its source had confirmed that Sprint has been installing network repeaters at Apple retail stores to ensure customers looking to buy an iPhone 5 from the carrier would have a strong signal to test out.

Will Sprint offer unlimited data?
Although most agree Sprint will carry the iPhone 5 if and when it launches, there has been some question over whether the company will offer unlimited data with the device.

As of late, Sprint has gone out of its way to position itself as the sole unlimited-data provider in the wireless industry. Last year, AT&T announced that it was switching its service to tiered pricing, and Verizon followed it up this year with its own tiered options.

AT&T offers a $15 plan for 200MB per month, as well as a $25-per-month plan for 2GB of data. Verizon has a 2GB option for $30 per month and an $80-per-month plan for those who want 10GB of data.

Last month, CNET News senior writer Roger Cheng argued that "once Sprint Nextel gets the iPhone, you can bid farewell to its unlimited-data plan." Cheng argued that Sprint, like AT&T and Verizon, will face increased bandwidth consumption on its network when it starts offering the iPhone, and might have no other choice but to eliminate its unlimited-data options.

iPhone owners are typically heavy data users, which means the carrier's network will face significantly more pressure if the device is made available on its service. And considering where the company already stands with mobile data usage, that might not be a good thing.

Last month, Validas, a company that analyzes consumer cell phone bills, reported that in June the average amount of data used per Sprint customer increased by about 381MB, compared to July 2010, easily outstripping Verizon's 308MB growth and AT&T's 282MB growth.

What's more, an earlier study from Validas found that the average Sprint customer uses 779MB of data per month. The average AT&T and Verizon customers, on the other hand, use 425MB and 394MB per month, respectively.

Realizing that, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has publicly acknowledged that his company might not be able to keep its unlimited offer forever, and could eventually limit data usage.

"If I have an all-you-can-eat buffet, and the entire New England Patriots football team shows up for dinner, it's going to run me out of business," Hesse said.

The question is, will Apple's iPhone 5 be that New England Patriots football team?

Neither Sprint nor Apple immediately responded to CNET's request for comment on Bloomberg's report.