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Wednesday, September 08, 2010, 07:55 am PT (10:55 am ET)

T-Mobile US rumored to get Apple's iPhone 3GS, but not iPhone 4

A new rumor shared by the editor-in-chief of Wired suggests that T-Mobile, the smallest of the four major cell phone carriers in the U.S., will offer the iPhone 3GS later this year, but not the iPhone 4.

"A T-Mobile manager casually mentioned to me that they're going to get the iPhone 3GS (but not 4, oddly) later this year," Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, posted on his Twitter account this week. "Common knowledge?"

As noted by Silicon Alley Insider, the posting is curious because Anderson opted to turn to Twitter rather than have one of his reporters file a story for the magazine. The approach would suggest that the editor's confidence in the rumor is questionable.

However, rumors of a partnership between Apple and T-Mobile are nothing new. In July, it was alleged that the two companies were in "advanced talks" to bring the iPhone to T-Mobile this fall.

Anderson's rumor implies that those talks are only for last year's iPhone model, and not the newly released iPhone 4. Rival carrier AT&T still sells an 8GB iPhone 3GS at an entry-level $99 price with a two-year contract.

T-Mobile U.S. is owned by Germany's Deutsche Telekom, which is expected to lose exclusivity of the iPhone in its native country by October. Currently, AT&T is the sole carrier of the iPhone in the U.S., but rumors of a jump to other carriers have persisted for years.

One major hurdle preventing a multi-carrier iPhone in the U.S. is the technical limitation of a SIM card-based iPhone, the only model Apple currently produces. The existing iPhone hardware is not compatible with carriers who rely on CDMA wireless technology, like Verizon and Sprint.

T-Mobile U.S., however, uses the same UMTS/HSPA technology as AT&T, though it relies on different frequencies. T-Mobile's 3G service supports the 1700MHz and 2100MHz bands, while AT&T supports 850MHz and 1900MHz. The current iPhone hardware does not support the 1700MHz frequency, meaning a modification of the hardware would be necessary.

That technical limitation, however, is minor compared to the major overhaul that would be required to produce a CDMA-compatible iPhone. Because of this, some Wall Street analysts believe a deal with T-Mobile is a more likely option for Apple as it looks to expand carriers in the U.S.