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Tuesday, September 06, 2011, 01:53 pm PT (04:53 pm ET)

Sprint court filing against AT&T merger suggests it will get iPhone

A court filing in Sprint's lawsuit to block AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile lauds Apple's iPhone as "iconic" and suggests that the third place US carrier's inability to carry the iPhone is about to end.

The comment, published by Nilay Patel of This is my next, argues that the existing scale of AT&T and Verizon Wireless caused Apple to first forge an exclusive partnership with AT&T and then add Verizon.

This provided the two largest carriers with a "time to market advantage for the iPhone," and Sprint notes that it "has had to compete without access to the iPhone for nearly five years."

Sprint calls the top two carriers the "Twin Bells," and says they "had had a tremendous time to market advantage with the iPhone, and have been able to lock many customers into two year contracts with the iconic device."



Credible rumors have been swirling around Sprint's ability to carry the next generation of Apple's iPhones later this fall when the new iPhone 5 and what is believed to be a revamped, cost effective version of iPhone 4 are expected to ship.

Sprint is seeking to block the AT&T / T-Mobile deal now, and is using the iPhone as an example of how scale could hold back smaller players from competing nationally. Fourth place carrier T-Mobile's patent company Deutsche Telecom similarly noted that the minor US carrier's inability to sell the iPhone has hampered its ability to retain customers.

The German firm's chief executive Rene Obermann said T-Mobile's customer churn rate in the US is being driven by iPhone defectors. "Consumers like T-Mobile but they also want to have the iPhone," which T-Mobile USA "has no chance of getting in the short term."

Once Sprint gets the iPhone, its argument blocking AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile on the basis of access to the iPhone would fall flat, as it would essentially be preventing T-Mobile's customers from getting the iPhone, too. AT&T is arguing in favor of its proposed acquisition in a federal case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as in the Sprint case that is also seeking to block the deal.