Verizon: 9-12MM iPhones With Unlimited Data Plans?


As speculation builds around an expected iPhone announcement by Verizon on Tuesday, analysts are weighing in with data points, and The Wall Street Journal has pinned them to a range of 9-12 million iPhones sold this year. The newspaper has also cited “a person familiar with the matter” who says the cell carrier will help attract iPhone customers with unlimited data plans, which AT&T no longer offers to new customers, thanks to its well-documented struggles with accommodating heavy data usage on its network.

Apple sold 11.1 million iPhones during the first three quarters of 2010, and the WSJ cited a Piper Jaffray & Co. estimate of 14.5 million sold for the full year. Piper analyst Gene Munster said “there’s so much pent-up demand” that he sees a Verizon iPhone increasing Apple’s revenue by 5%, with that impact potentially doubling if many of those customers are new to the device, as opposed to AT&T defectors.

Mr. Munster was on the low end of the sales expectations range, pegging the Verizon iPhone at 9 million units during 2011. On the other end was Gleacher & Co. analyst Brian Marshall, who is eyeing 12 million Verizon iPhones sold. He said: “There’s probably around 17 million subscribers on AT&T that use the iPhone cumulatively — I think over time Verizon could be even bigger than that.”

Of course, the wild card in the sales estimates is how many iPhone users drop AT&T for Verizon. Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin thinks the initial wave of sales will be Verizon upgrades as well as Sprint and T-Mobile customers who were leery of AT&T. Mr. Golvin pointed to AT&T’s push to upgrade customers to the iPhone 4 last year, noting that it locked enough of them into new two-year deals that “the percentage [of sales] that will come from AT&T escapees is going to be relatively small.”

Meanwhile, the cellular network wars will continue, and the WSJ pointed to quotes from Verizon executives who are obviously prepared to step up the heat on AT&T. For example, CEO Ivan G. Seidenberg said last November: “Whether they are iPhones or Droids, they are smartphones. Regardless of the mix, we are prepared to carry more data.”

An AT&T spokesman noted that customers on its network can, for example, browse the Web while talking on the phone, saying: “We think customers will prefer AT&T’s faster speeds and better functionality.”