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iPhone won't make or break AT&T-T-Mobile merger

Though some analysts say that the availability will be a decision factor in the AT&T-T-Mobile merger, there are much bigger issues at stake.

It's just a phone. Josh Miller/CNET

There's a curious line of thinking going around that suggests that if Sprint lands the next iPhone as rumored, the handset would undercut the carrier's push to stop the proposed AT&T and T-Mobile merger. As Frost & Sullivan analyst Brent Iadarola puts it in a recent CNN Money post, the win of an iPhone would "weaken Sprint's core argument that a duopolistic wireless market would limit consumer choice" and that it would "represent an odd kind of win for AT&T."

The writer of the story, David Goldman, quotes a few other sources to back up Iadarola, but I'm still at a loss as to how the iPhone could play a definitive role in the merger in any way. And this isn't the first time that someone has suggested that it would. Immediately after the initial news of AT&T's intentions broke last March, some analysts made the ridiculous claim that the merger would be good for T-Mobile's customers because they'd finally have a crack at Apple's handset.

Besides conveniently overlooking the fact that anyone who really wanted the iPhone could have switched to AT&T years ago, that argument also neglects the numerous downsides that could afflict T-Mobile customers if the merger goes through. Is one phone worth the potentially higher prices, poorer customer service, and variable network quality that they could face with an AT&T buyout? I don't think so. Sure, the iPhone is a great device, but T-Mobile and Sprint customers can get their hands on plenty of great phones right now. The iPhone would just add one more to the mix and it would bring various drawbacks to the carriers as well.

Related links
• Full coverage of the merger from CNET
• FCC restarts the clock for AT&T, T-Mobile merger

Iadarola's theory may not be quite as silly, but it's equally simplistic. It's true that Sprint has said that that merger would decrease customer choice. And by removing one major carrier from the marketplace, there's no denying that it would. Yet, there are a host of other factors to consider. For example, Sprint has not wasted time in rightfully pointing out that AT&T is sitting on a heap of unused spectrum. As because of that, Sprint says that AT&T's claims that it needs T-Mobile to expand 4G are hard to swallow.

What's more, Sprint isn't just talking about fewer handsets choices. There also are the matters of consolidation in service plans, fewer customer options for network coverage and strength, and less incentive for the remaining carrier to innovate, introduce new products and services, and sharpen their customer service skills. Less competition can lead to all of these things. And that, rather than just ability to get its hands on the latest phone, is what's at the core of Sprint's argument.