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Friday, October 22, 2010, 11:10 pm PT (02:10 am ET)

Verizon hiring hundreds ahead of iPhone launch - rumor

Verizon is reportedly hiring hundreds of call center staff through third-party hiring companies, stoking speculation that the largest wireless carrier in the U.S. is preparing to launch the iPhone, a new report claims.

Customer service call center staffing companies Teleperformance and Ryla are looking for thousands of customer service representatives to field calls for a "major wireless cell phone service retailer," according to a report by CNET. Posts to the Careerbuilder website as well as the companies' own websites reveal that the positions will be dedicated to "either a wireless, cell phone, or communications company," with additional positions offering technical support for "personal computers and portable devices like MP3 players and smartphones."

One Teleperformance call center in Augusta, Georgia, will double its employees through the hiring campaign. "It is for a major wireless company that we have secured a new line of business, one of our existing clients," Marcie Ballard, vice president of recruiting for Teleperformance, told the Augusta Chronicle, although she declined to say which provider.

Both companies have prior experience supporting Verizon. Teleperformance also works with Apple, in addition to Verizon Wireless and the other major cell phone carriers in the past, the report notes. Ryla has worked with Verizon for over 10 years, a source told CNET.

While the connection between a flurry of call center recruiting and a Verizon iPhone is tenuous at best, the rumor was bolstered by Friday's news that Verizon had lost more ground to rival AT&T than expected in the third quarter. Third-quarter earnings reports from Verizon and At&T this week show that Verizon netted 584,000 new monthly-bill paying customers during the quarter, compared to AT&T's 745,000 additions, Reuters reports.

Verizon CFO John Killian told Reuters that Verizon expects to add 550,000 to 600,000 new monthly-bill paying customers in the fourth quarter, less than half of last years' number. Killian also stressed the importance of converting standard users into smartphone users in order to increase revenue through sales of data plans.

Though Verizon Wireless still holds the No. 1 spot as the largest telecommunications network in the U.S. with 93.2 million subscribers as of October, AT&T is close to overtaking the provider with 92.8 million subscribers of its own.

AT&T announced Thursday that it had activated a record 5.2 million iPhones in the September quarter. AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson called it a "terrific quarter," with a record number of customers signing new two-year contracts. Based on the numbers, more than three years of AT&T iPhone exclusivity have taken its toll on Verizon.

Rumors of a 2011 Verizon iPhone gained credence this month when The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple is prepping a CDMA, Verizon-compatible iPhone for production by the end of the year. Some analysts believe Verizon could sell as many as 12 million iPhones in its first year of availability. Responding to the report from the Journal, Verizon COO Lowell McAdam told the press earlier this month that news of a Verizon iPhone would have to come from Apple.