This has been a good year for AT&T. By the end of their last quarter they'd added a staggering 1.4 million customers. Since the ink on the Apple exclusivity agreement dried, AT&T's enjoyed the substantial benefits of selling the world's hottest smartphone. But those good times won't last much longer. Rumors have already started to spread that Apple plans to allow Verizon to start selling iPhones too, once their exclusivity agreement ends in 2010.
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As a carrier, VZW has a lot more on the ball than AT&T, and analysts expect that many users will flock to a new carrier the first chance they get. One estimate states that as many as one-third of ATT's post-paid customers are only sticking with the carrier because of iPhone exclusivity. Outside of the iPhone, AT&T doesn't have very much to offer, especially since Verizon allows tethering at no additional cost.
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Everyone who follows smartphones knows that AT&T's loss of exclusivity is coming fast, but a lot of people were surprised when, during the Fortune Brainstorm conference, CEO Randall Stephenson admitted that iPhone exclusivity will not be permanent. He didn't elaborate on that point, or say when AT&T was going to lose sole access, which may mean that he is still lobbying for an extension. I doubt we'll see Apple give him one. Their phone has outgrown needing to pander to any carrier. AT&T is just holding the iPhone back.