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Monday, January 25, 2010, 03:05 pm PT (06:05 pm ET)

Apple defends AT&T, downplays talk of multi-carrier inevitability

Despite a howl of complaints and even lawsuits filed by some disgruntled iPhone users, Apple reiterated that it supports AT&T as a great mobile partner, despite rumored moves to expand its iPhone partnerships in the U.S.

During Monday's quarterly earnings conference call, Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook also downplayed assumptions that Apple would inevitably embrace a multi-carrier business strategy in all countries where the iPhone is available. He said so far Apple has selected countries where the company believes a multi-carrier system would inevitably happen anyhow.

"I don't want to imply that would happen in every market or that we are headed that way in every market," Cook said.

Earlier in the call, analyst Gene Munster with Piper Jaffray inquired about the bad press AT&T has received as of late. "Can you remind us the benefits of sticking with a single carrier in the U.S.?" he asked.

In response, Cook avoided any criticism of its U.S. partner.

"First of all, AT&T is a great partner," Cook said. "We've been working with them since well before we announced the first iPhone. It's important to note they have more mobile broadband usage than any carrier in the world."

"We think iPhone customers are having a great experience from the research we've done," Cook added.

"AT&T has acknowledged they're having a few issues in a few cities and they're making plans to address these. We've reviewed these plans and we're confident they'll make significant progress towards fixing them."

AT&T's exclusive mobile partnership with Apple is expected to end this year, with many observers expecting the company to begin working with Verizon Wireless and/or perhaps T-Mobile, either of which would require new iPhone hardware designed for those company's mobile networks.

AT&T itself has regularly announced mobile infrastructure progress and future plans to improve and expand its mobile network in the US in order to better support new and existing iPhone users. It also plans to eventually roll out its 3G MicroCell appliance which will allow customers to set up their own local 3G hotspots by using their existing Internet access, and has met competitive price cuts set by rivals.