Verizon Might Dance to Apple’s iPhone Fiddle

Verizon may be willing to play Apple’s game when it comes to the iPhone, according to Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu. A deal between the two companies is “closer to reality,” and Verizon may be more willing to pay what Apple wants under Apple’s terms as Android “starts losing some of its luster (at least at Verizon).”

This would mark a shift in the rumored negotiations between the two companies, as Verizon previously hadn’t wanted to pay the same stratospheric subsidies AT&T pays for each iPhone signed up on its network. The telecom has also been unhappy with the notion of leaving Apple in charge of the customer experience, as it is with almost all of its carrier partners.

“Times have changed,” wrote Mr. Wu in a research note to clients obtained by The Mac Observer. “Apple is back in the driver’s seat with a record 14.1 million iPhone shipments in the September quarter helping AT&T gain share against VZ over the last two quarters as Android starts to lose some of its luster (at least at VZ). In addition, our sources indicate that VZ does not believe the pending launch of BlackBerry 6 on its network is likely to have a material impact.”

Another factor playing into the negotiations, according to industry and supply chain checks conducted by Kaufman Bros., is that Verizon may be willing to pay more than (i.e. what AT&T pays) to keep the device exclusive to AT&T and Verizon in the U.S., and off of Sprint and T-Mobile.

The iPhone has been the single biggest drive in customer growth for AT&T, helping Ma Bell to close much of the distance between itself and Big Red. AT&T has enjoyed an exclusive five year deal on the iPhone, but that five year contract will be up as soon sometime-in-2011, according to a variety of reported leaks and informed speculation (the smart money is on the summer of 2011).

While Verizon wants to end AT&T’s exclusivity on the device, the company doesn’t necessarily want every other carrier to get it, too, according to the reasoning laid out by Mr. Wu.

Apple makes a lot of money from carrier subsidies on the iPhone, and many analysts have worried that once the five year deal with AT&T ended, Apple wouldn’t be able to sustain those subsidy levels. If Verizon is willing to dance to Apple’s fiddle, however, those concerns will not be borne out.

It’s also why a Verizon iPhone is much less likely to look like this:

The Verizon iPhone We Hope Not to See

The analyst maintained his “Buy” rating on Apple’s stock, and a price target of US$380.

Shares in Apple traded higher Monday, edging back towards record territory (the stock hit an intra-day record high of $322.33 during the morning session), to close at $320.15, a gain of $2.71 (+0.85%), on moderate volume of 15.9 million hands trading hands.

*In the interest of full disclosure, the author holds a small share in AAPL stock that was not an influence in the creation of this article.