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AT&T activates record 5.2 million iPhones, promotes non-Apple devices

AT&T on Thursday reported a record third quarter, posting revenue of $31.58 billion, thanks in large part to its best-ever total of 5.2 million iPhone activations. But the company also made it a point to specifically promote other, non-Apple handsets in its lineup as rumors of a Verizon iPhone swirl.

The totals reported Thursday handily bested the 3.2 million iPhones AT&T activated in the previous quarter, when the iPhone 4 first went on sale. AT&T's sales of 5.2 million iPhones should come as no surprise to anyone who followed Apple's earnings report on Monday, when the handset maker revealed it had sold 14.1 million iPhones in the same time period.

The iPhone also helped to drive new customers to AT&T, as 24 percent of those who bought an Apple handset during the quarter were new to the carrier. In all, AT&T sold 8 million postpaid "integrated" devices, or smartphones.

"This was a terrific mobile broadband quarter," said Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and chief executive officer. "A record number of customers signed new two-year contracts and integrated device sales outpaced our previous best by a wide margin. Wireless revenues continue to grow, churn is reaching record low levels, and postpaid ARPU increased for the seventh straight quarter."

But as noted by John Paczkowski of Digital Daily, AT&T also excluded the iPhone, by far its best-selling product, from a presentation slide touting the company's "Mobile Broadband Leadership." Products from Google Android, Research in Motion BlackBerry, HP webOS, Microsoft Windows Phone 7, and Nokia Symbian were shown, as well as an Amazon Kindle.

While the exclusion of the iPhone may have simply been done in an effort to promote the carrier's other devices, the timing is suspect, as Apple is strongly rumored to release a Verizon-compatible iPhone early next year. Verizon is AT&T's chief rival and is also the largest wireless carrier in the U.S.

Because of those widespread and recurring reports, many believe that it is now an inevitability that AT&T will lose exclusivity of the iPhone. The carrier has been Apple's sole wireless partner in the U.S. since the handset launched in 2007.