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Wal-Mart to begin selling iPhone post holidays - reports

Mega-discount chain Wal-Mart, along with subsidiary Sams Clubs, will join Best Buy in offering Apple's iPhone 3G to their customers just days after Christmas, according to new reports.

In an email to clients on Wednesday, JRPG Research analyst Jamie Townsend said his firm has reason to believe that Wal-Mart will begin stocking the touch-screen handset by the end of December.

"We expect purchase of an iPhone will still require a two year contract with AT&T and is likely to be priced the same or less than at AT&T or Apple stores," he wrote.

The analyst, who is forecasting Apple to sell 8 million of the devices during the three-month period ending December, said the move would reinforce confidence that AT&T will be able to maintain strong new subscriber growth amid a slowdown in the consumer market.

He expects Apple will be just one of several smartphone vendors that will ramp up competition in the smartphone market by discounting their excess inventories immediately following the Christmas holiday.

Townsend's report echos claims published by BGR on Tuesday. The mobile phone rumor site published a memo from Wal-Mart to its employees announcing plans to launch the iPhone nationally on December 28th.

"We are pleased to announce that Wal-Mart has reached agreement with Apple to offer iPhone 3G in Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart-managed Sam’s Club Connection Centers nationwide beginning December 28, 2008," the memo says. "AT&T will support Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club with the activation process for iPhone 3G, and we need all National Retail employees engaged to ensure a successful launch."

In total, approximately 2,500 Wal-Mart locations and 69 Sam’s Club locations that use the discount chain's ordering system are expected to carry the device. Training for Wal-Mart employees is schedule to begin early next month, running up to the post-Christmas launch.

Wal-Mart is the world's largest public corporation and private employer, operating over 3500 Discount and Supercenter locations in the United States, in addition to more than 500 Sam's Club warehouse clubs. The retailer is also one of Apple's highest volume iPod resellers worldwide.

In his email Wednesday, Townsend also suggested the possibility that Sam's Club's larger rival, Costco, may also be in line to carry the iPhone post-holidays, though no further details were provided.

Rumors that Wal-Mart was next in line for the Apple handset began swirling last month, though they originally suggested that the discount chain would begin selling the device on November 15th.