Apple, Verizon Hammer Out Possible 2011 iPhone Launch

Shaw Wu, an investor with Kaufman Bros., said in a note Monday that he expects Apple to grow its user base by opening up its iPhone to additional carriers within a year. The addition of an alternative network, such as Verizon, would help Apple meet future growth goals after reaching a saturation point on AT&T's network.

"From our checks with industry and supply chain sources and a recent SEC 10-Q filing by AT&T mentioning that exclusivity with 'a number of attractive handsets could end,' we have conviction that the iPhone could likely finally be at another carrier besides AT&T here in the U.S. in 2011 and potentially at Verizon in 2011 or 2012," Wu wrote.

Thus far Verizon, with 93 million users, seems to be the strongest contender, Wu said. Rumors are that Apple is currently negotiating a deal for an SVDO iPhone that would enable both voice and data simultaneously -- a feature that current versions of Verizon smartphones, such as the Google Android, lack.

One possible strategy is that Apple and Verizon would tentatively launch an SVDO iPhone that would serve as an interim device until both companies debut a comprehensive 4G phone down the road.

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"From AAPL's perspective, the debate is whether it makes sense to roll out an interim CDMA iPhone sometime in 2011 or perhaps wait until LTE becomes more available in 2012," Wu wrote.

Among other reasons, Verizon seems to be a strong candidate due to its significant user base. With 93 million users, the wireless giant has significantly more customers than both T-Mobile, at 34 million, and Sprint, at 48 million.

Both T-Mobile and Sprint could still be in the running, Wu said, as Apple has not confirmed that it has ruled out either carrier.

"From our understanding, the Verizon negotiations are not finalized with important details still being ironed out, including technology and economics," Wu wrote. "We think it is premature to rule out T-Mobile or Sprint (who also users CDMA but WiMAX for 4G). In addition, there is the possibility of multiple U.S. carriers being signed."

In addition, Wu acknowledged that Apple is also facing a formidable competitor in the Droid smartphone, which has experienced the most growth on the Verizon network. A Verizon SVDO iPhone would give Apple a leg up in the race with the Google Android smartphone. "We believe the argument for AAPL to pursue Verizon sooner than later is to address the growing presence of Android. What better way to do that than where Android has seen the majority of its success?"