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iPhone on T-Mobile US seen as a 'big deal' that will help Apple's June quarter

Though T-Mobile is the fourth-largest carrier in the U.S., Apple's new iPhone agreement with the wireless provider has been viewed as a "big deal" that will serve as an additional sales catalyst.

Analyst Shaw Wu of Sterne Agee noted that when T-Mobile's merger with MetroPCS concludes, the new carrier will grow from 33 million to 42 million subscribers. T-Mobile announced this week it would begin selling the iPhone on April 12, a launch date that will benefit Apple's June quarter.

That's particularly important because current consensus on Wall Street anticipates conservative June quarter guidance from Apple. Those expectations have been guided by a variety of rumors out of Apple's supply chain, which have suggested that the company has drawn down its iPhone build order plans.

Because of the timing, Wu believes Apple's deal with T-Mobile is a "big deal" that could have a greater effect than some market watchers anticipate.

"While T-Mobile USA has lost customers, its core customer base remains loyal to its lower cost and unlimited data plans," he said. "We believe this will help Apple capture incremental customers and strengthen its position against (Google's) Android, which got its start on T-Mobile USA."

Android got off to a slow start on T-Mobile with Google's first handset, the G1, which launched in late 2008. Since then, Android has expanded to a number of handset manufacturers and virtually all carriers, and is the dominant mobile platform in terms of market share worldwide.

Beyond T-Mobile, Wu sees a number of other catalysts for Apple in the second half of 2013, including potential iPhone launches on carriers China Mobile, which is the world's largest carrier with 703 million subscribers, and NTT Docomo, which has 61 million subscribers, or more than half of Japan's cellular market.

Other potential catalysts for Apple this year cited by Wu include a next-generation "iPhone 5S," a rumored low-cost iPhone, and new iPad models. Sterne Agee has maintained its "buy" rating for AAPL stock with a price target of $630.