AT&T’s iPhone Exclusivity Almost Over—Carrier Looking for a Replacement

With AT&T’s iPhone exclusivity deal in the US expected to end this year, the wireless carrier is on the prowl for more exclusive partnerships. Bloomberg is reporting that it was tipped off by two sources familiar with the situation back in June that Verizon will indeed start selling the iPhone in early 2011. That leaves AT&T without a flagship smartphone to tout and Verizon has both a huge amount of Android powered phones and BlackBerrys already.

You might remember that the poorly selling BlackBerry Torch 9800 was made with considerable input from AT&T and still is in its exclusivity contract phase. AT&T does have more WP7 devices than other carriers (T-Mobile has a couple right now, including the Dell Venue Pro) but Verizon is also getting WP7 smartphones of its own soon.

So what exclusive deals is AT&T trying to land? No one knows right now. Research In Motion (RIM)’s next generation of smartphones that are expected to be somewhat based on the software that will power the PlayBook could be an option. Making a deal with AT&T for exclusivity on the PlayBook and related phones would make sense.

Meanwhile, Bernstein Research doesn’t think that Android smartphones sales will be damaged much if any by Verizon getting the iPhone. AT&T will start pushing more Android phones and Verizon will start pushing the iPhone. AT&T will of course still be able to sell the iPhone, but the device will end up having less importance overall to AT&T’s strategy.

So what do you think? Should AT&T partner up with RIM again? Is Palm a better choice? There will be five or six new Palm devices coming out next year and the company’s new HP webOS 2.0 certainly is looking good.

Ultimately, the damage to AT&T from losing sole rights to sell the iPhone in the US won’t be as drastic as you might think. It does however need to start finding new partnerships. If you think smartphone manufacturers or operating system makers are cunning, carriers are at a whole different level. Look at us here in the US. We still buy our phones with contracts and pay bloated data plan fees in exchange for an upfront ‘discount’ that comes with our two-year contracts.

Let me know who you think AT&T should try to team up with.

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