Apple, T-Mobile announce vague 'product' alliance

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Here’s what we know about a new alliance between Apple and T-Mobile: Not much.

Yes, T-Mobile is the last major wireless carrier that doesn’t carry iPhones and iPads in its product line, and yes, T-Mobile has spent recent months trying to make that not matter with special appeals to the owners of unlocked iPhones. And yes, something is up between T-Mobile and Apple.

But that news broke Thursday with the simplest and vaguest of statements, to be attributed only to an anonymous T-Mobile spokesman: “T-Mobile has entered into an agreement with Apple to bring products to market together next year. Additional details will be made available at a later date.”

That’s it. No press releases came from Apple, T-Mobile, nor T-Mobile’s parent company, Deutsche Telekom, to flesh out the announcement. It doesn’t seem to be an elaborate prank, but you’d be excused for thinking that.

The most obvious news would be that T-Mobile will finally carry the iPhone next year. The carrier has certainly made aggressive moves to get into the iPhone market even without an official partnership with Apple: In September, the company said it would make a play for owners of unlocked iPhones by offering in-store assistance to help get those phones onto the company’s network.

Additionally, the company said at the time it was “turning up” its HSPA+ service in the 1900MHz spectrum in the Seattle, Las Vegas, Washington DC, and New York City metro markets, with more areas scheduled to see the upgrade over time. That move seemed aimed at improving T-Mobile’s appeal to iPhone customers, because the new network will finally be able to offer iPhone owners data speeds comparable to those offered by AT&T and Verizon. While T-Mobile uses the same GSM standard as AT&T, it previously relied on a radio frequency not supported by the iPhone, limiting users of the handset to the much slower EDGE speeds.

The company estimated at the time that there were already 1 million unlocked iPhones on its network. But in quarterly financial statements released in November, T-Mobile also acknowledged that the release of the iPhone 5 caused it to see a increase in the loss of customer contracts over the year before. A report from The Verge about Thursday’s press conference said that the number of iPhones on the carrier's network is now at 1.7 million.

All Things Digital said T-Mobile’s infrastructure upgrade—along with the company’s acquisition of Metro PCS wireless service—is turning out to be very pricey.

“Hesitation now means playing catch-up later,” Deutsche Telekom Chairman René Obermann said in a Thursday press statement, quoted by All Things Digital. “We are investing in the future–with resolve and a clear strategy.”

The Verge also reported on Thursday that Deutsche Telekom executives said that the company is planning a large ad campaign next year, the gist of which is “You love your iPhone, but you hate AT&T.” 

But though the iPhone 5, or its successor, would be the logical product in question, there are other possibilities. The iPad and iPad mini both boast LTE connectivity with AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint; it wouldn’t be surprising if T-Mobile wanted a piece of that pie as well. The carrier hasn’t yet rolled out its LTE network, but it’s scheduled for 2013 and should use the same Band 4 as AT&T. That could open the door for both the iPhone and the iPad to come to T-Mobile.

And of course, there’s always the chance that the plans revolve around or include some as-yet unreleased product or products.

Of course, T-Mobile playing coy could serve a variety of rationales, including not spilling the beans on whatever Apple’s working on, as well as stemming any tide of customers jumping ship to other carriers for iPhone compatibility. But one way or another, 2013’s sure to bring some changes.

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