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The Apple Inc. (AAPL) iPhone Can’t Fix T MOBILE US INC (TMUS)’s Identity Crisis

Getting the right to offer the iPhone no longer has the power to lift a mobile carrier above the rest of the field. Despite making their pacts with Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Nos. 3 and 4 U.S. mobile carriers Sprint Nextel Corporation (NYSE:S) and T MOBILE US INC (NYSE:TMUS), respectively, are still being surprassed by the top two, AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ).

Apple Inc. (AAPL)And nowhere is the lost luster of the iPhone missed more than it is with T MOBILE US INC (NYSE:TMUS).

As usual, the real beneficiary of iPhone sales is not the carrier, but Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL). The irony in the T MOBILE US INC (NYSE:TMUS)/iPhone relationship — as shown by the latest figures from market research company Kantar Worldpanel — is that while the iPhone on the T MOBILE US INC (NYSE:TMUS) network has helped boost the iPhone’s share of smartphone sales, T MOBILE US INC (NYSE:TMUS) has actually seen its smartphone share of sales fall.

For the three-month period ending in May, in the U.S. market, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) saw its share of smartphones sales rise from 38.4% to 41.9% over the same period last year. T MOBILE US INC (NYSE:TMUS)’s smartphone sales share fell from 13.5% to 10.1%.

Of course, T-Mobile didn’t get the iPhone until halfway through the period looked at, and we won’t get a more accurate picture until we can look at their sales figures for a full three months.

But even with a shortened selling period, the iPhone 5 was the top-selling T-Mobile smartphone. Those iPhone sales were mostly to first-time smartphone buyers, 53% coming from feature phone owners. For the iPhone market as a whole, 45% of iOS buyers came from a feature phone.

T-Mobile realizes that having the 4G LTE-capable iPhone 5 alone isn’t going to attract customers away from AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), especially with those carriers’ considerable edge in number of 4G LTE markets. T-Mobile has only just started powering up its 4G wireless networks in a handful of cities. AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) is already in 300 or so markets, and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) is serving about 500 markets .

Instead, T-Mobile is attempting to differentiate itself by posing as the “uncarrier.” Where the Nos. 1, 2, and 3 carriers push for their customers to sign two-year contracts in return for a subsidized phone, T-Mobile touts its no-contract plans.

An iPhone 5 on AT&T and Verizon costs a two-year plans subscriber a subsidized $200.

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