) will lose its U.S. exclusive distribution
rights for the Apple (AAPL
) iPhone on Wednesday, according to a report published at tech blog Hot Hardware, which claims to have an inside source. That's the same day that Apple is holding a special press event at which it is expected to launch its new tablet computer. By contract, AT&T has an exclusive relationship with Apple until later this year, but that wouldn't prevent Apple from revealing its plans for the iPhone when that exclusive is over.Rumors about Apple inking a deal with Verizon (VZ
) have been in the media for months. Such an agreement would require some changes in the iPhone's configuration, because AT&T and Verizon run on different systems: Verizon's is called CDMA and AT&T's is called GSM. But Apple would almost certainly be willing to support both systems to get access to Verizon's approximately 90 million subscribers.
Apple has to be concerned about customer dissatisfaction due to problems with the AT&T 3G network, which appears to be unable to handle the heavy data traffic generated by millions of bandwidth-hungry iPhones. AT&T's iPhone troubles have given rise to articles in tech news reports on a near-daily basis, and those stories have begun to make it to the front pages of newspapers and the larger news websites.
Apple, which prides itself on its customer satisfaction, may simply believe that it cannot rely on AT&T as its sole U.S. carrier any longer.