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iPhone to help AT&T grab record smartphone sales this quarter

The carrier expects to break its single-quarter record for smartphone sales by selling more than 6.1 million smartphones for the final quarter of the year.

AT&T is eyeing record smartphone sales, thanks in large part to the iPhone.
AT&T is eyeing record smartphone sales, thanks in large part to the iPhone. Apple

AT&T is looking at some happy holidays, thanks to a new record expected for smartphone sales.

The carrier anticipates breaking its previous quarterly record by ringing in sales of more than 6.1 million for the final quarter of 2011.

Speaking at the UBS 39th Annual Global Media and Communications Conference (PDF) in New York earlier today, AT&T Chief Financial Officer John Stephens said the carrier has already sold about 6 million smartphones just in October and November.

And since December is typically a strong sales month, the company is looking to handily beat its previous record of 6.1 million phones sold.

The robust quarter was due in no small part to Apple's latest iPhone release. A large number of customers were waiting for the iPhone 4S to upgrade from their existing handsets. AT&T had previously said it activated more than 1 million new iPhones in just the first five days after the device debuted.

J.P. Morgan analysts expect AT&T to add around 450,000 new postpaid subscribers for the fourth quarter, compared with 1.2 million for Verizon Wireless and 250,000 for Sprint.

A full 36 percent of all of AT&T's postpaid subscribers for the quarter will be iPhone users, said J.P. Morgan. And 57 percent of AT&T's phone sales will be iPhones, compared with 33 percent in the third quarter.

Stephens also confirmed that AT&T is moving ahead with its 4G rollout plans. The carrier is turning the switch on LTE in additional markets this year, including New York City, and it plans to cover around 70 million people by the end 2011. The company recently debuted its 4G-capable LG Nitro HD Android phone, its third LTE phone so far.

In comparison, Verizon had already covered about 160 million Americans with LTE this past August, around half of the nation, and it continues to forge ahead into additional markets. But AT&T is still ahead of Sprint, which expects to reach 120 million people, but not until the end of 2012.

A Webcast of Stephens' presentation should be available sometime today through the UBS Web site.