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T-Mobile USA soon to carry iPhone, analyst suggests

Chatter is picking up about a deal between Apple and T-Mobile to carry the device in the U.S., Merrill Lynch says.

Composite by Joe Aimonetti/CNET

T-Mobile USA is next on the list to carry Apple's iPhone, according to chatter overheard by Merrill Lynch analyst Scott Craig.

In a note to investors this morning, relayed by Fortune, Craig said "speculation is heightening" about T-Mobile USA parent company Deutsche Telecom announcing plans to bring Apple's iPhone to its U.S. carrier at an analyst event next week.

T-Mobile is the fourth largest carrier in the U.S. with 33 million customers, about 4 million of which would be expected to buy the device, Craig estimated. The carrier was set to be part of AT&T in a planned merger last year that was later quashed by U.S. regulators.

So far T-Mobile has taken an outsider's approach to wooing current iPhone buyers, selling nano-SIM cardsthat can be popped into unlocked iPhones for use on its network. That's been a not-so-sexy deal for budget smartphone shoppers, who prefer to buy the $649-plus device at a subsidized price tied to a multi-year contract.

The analyst meetings are scheduled for next Thursday and Friday, which means news of a deal might not come out until the following week.