Sprint Damn Well Better Get the iPhone 5—So Should T-Mobile

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The Wall Street Journal is reporting that “people familiar with the matter” say that Sprint will be getting the iPhone 5. The article is behind the WSJ’s paywall and without having even seen it, I can assure you there are some analyst quotes in there, some backstory of how the iPhone’s done on Verizon, and how the iPhone is losing market share to Android.

Here’s the deal. Apple needs to bring the iPhone to all four major U.S. carriers. It’s on AT&T, which uses technology similar to T-Mobile; and it’s on Verizon, which uses technology similar to Sprint. So making an iPhone that works on T-Mobile and Sprint is a relatively trivial undertaking.

(MORE: Will T-Mobile Get the iPhone? If So, What About Sprint?)

And now the cat’s out of the bag as far as how AT&T’s exclusivity deal with Apple worked. It’s over. There’s no mystery anymore and, more importantly, there’s no reason to restrict the iPhone to just two networks now. Apple needs its iPhones in as many hands as possible, and there are plenty of Sprint and T-Mobile subscribers who would gladly scoop up an iPhone.

There’s no (good) reason for Apple to be exclusive to just Verizon and AT&T, with the possible exception of colluding with Verizon and AT&T—and, by extension, T-Mobile—to screw Sprint into oblivion (considering AT&T and T-Mobile will be the same company, assuming the merger goes through). And I could see Apple skipping a T-Mobile iPhone in anticipation of the T-Mobile/AT&T merger, I suppose.

But Sprint still offers truly unlimited data plans which, if you’re Apple, helps sell your phone. And if you’re Apple, why kill Sprint? You sell phones, not phone service. If you want to start selling service, too, why not just buy Sprint and have your own iPhone-only network all to yourself? Better do it before Google does, right? Android plus Motorola plus Sprint? Whuh-oh!

(MORE: Google to Acquire Motorola Mobility)

So consider the original iPhone through iPhone 4 a dry run on AT&T for a T-Mobile version of the iPhone 5, and consider the Verizon iPhone 4 a dry run for a Sprint version of the iPhone 5. The iPhone 4 should have been the last iPhone to launch exclusively on a single network. Now that it’s available on both AT&T and Verizon, there’s no reason to restrict it to just those two networks. Apple would be leaving piles of money on the table otherwise.

MORE: Why Wait for the iPhone 5? The ‘HiPhone 5’ Is Already Here!