AT&T Insiders Report iPhone Exclusivity Going Away On Wednesday

It's sort of hard to believe that all the hype from CES is already over and done with. Larger companies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to introduce and showcase new products at the show, and now all anyone wants to talk about in the tech world is Apple. Must be nice to be Steve Jobs (or an investor). The company that gave the world the iPod and iPhone is planning a media event on the 27th of this month, and while the world tends to believe a tablet or slate of some sort is planned, there has been no definite proof of that to this point.

We really have no idea what's next from Apple; we just know that it'll be something to unleash one's creative side according to a tagline in the invite. According to an inside source close to the going-ons involved in all of this, a new tablet of some sort may not be the only thing on deck for next Wednesday though. We have been led to believe by an inside source that AT&T will lose their iPhone exclusivity on the same day, though it's not yet clear what other carrier (or carriers) will be stepping in to also carry the phone. For anyone who has followed the saga, you may notice that you haven't seen AT&T fighting to extend their original exclusive agreement of late. In fact, they have spent most of their time fighting Verizon's negative ad campaign.

This may not be all that surprising. Inside of AT&T, we are hearing that the iPhone is causing more trouble than ever before. On some level, having the iPhone is hurting AT&T's image. Because they are the only company to carry it, and it's such a data hog, it's largely to blame for AT&T's network troubles. We don't remember hearing about AT&T's "horrible network" before the iPhone--do you? The iPhone itself doesn't really handle the switch from 3G to EDGE very well, so calls that are in-progress tend to fail whenever the 3G bands aren't optimal and the phone attempts to step down to EDGE. It seems that AT&T is tired of taking the heat for this, and at this point, they may be smart to just let another carrier take some of those customers who are most inclined to complain.

We also heard that when AT&T loses their grip on the iPhone, they'll be introducing a bunch of other new smartphones with new platforms in order to "compensate." At CES, it was announced that new Windows Mobile, Android and webOS-based phones were destined to land on AT&T, but few details were provided as to when. Now, it seems the puzzle pieces are beginning to slot together. It's possible that AT&T recently went searching for deals with other phone makers in order to proactively bolster its smartphone lineup for when this day-of-doom would come. AT&T has gained a huge amount of subscribers from being the only operator with the iPhone, and if it loses that advantage, it'll need some other cutting-edge, high-brow phones to keep people's attention.

One big happy family soon?

It's hard to say what'll happen if a carrier like Verizon gets the iPhone. Will existing iPhone users on AT&T run in droves to switch, regardless of the early termination fee? Will existing AT&T iPhone users stick with their plan? Maybe Apple will simply see a new influx of iPhone users, as customers who were always wary of AT&T finally make the jump now that the phone is a on a network with better perceived quality? We still have to take all of this as rumor for now, but we have very good reason to believe that we'll see AT&T quietly (or perhaps not so quietly) lose its grip on the iPhone come Wednesday. What happens after that is anyone's guess, but we would expect the overall iPhone market share in the US to surge quite significantly if it's made available on a CDMA carrier.