AT&T versus Verizon: Who is Winning the iPhone 5 Launch?

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) introduced the iPhone 5 to the world less than two weeks ago at a special conference in California. However, the thinner, lighter and taller model is already well on its way to becoming the best selling iPhone in Apple history. The popularity is creating renewed interest in major carriers, but which one is winning the battle so far?

In the first 24 hours of pre-orders, Apple sold a record breaking 2 million units, more than double the amount of iPhone 4S units sold a year earlier in the same time span. The strong start has Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster predicting that Apple may sell as many as 49 million iPhones in the December quarter. American Tower (NYSE:AMT) CEO, James Taiclet, recently claimed that the iPhone 5 could be a transformational event for the wireless industry.

Although the fight for wireless dominance is still in the early stages, it appears that AT&T (NYSE:T) is off to the strongest start among the mobile carriers. The company recently announced that the iPhone 5 was the fastest-selling iPhone it has ever offered. Furthermore, comScore reports that AT&T accounted for 68 percent of total U.S. online sales for the first three days of the phone’s release.

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The firm explains, “As the original carrier of the iPhone and the exclusive carrier for several years, it is a safe assumption that AT&T is home to the highest share of iPhone enthusiasts. Further, owners of the iPhone 4 (which was released in June 2010) are now eligible for upgrades, providing an eager base of consumers ready and willing to purchase the iPhone 5 as soon as it was released.” Verizon (NYSE:VZ) received 24 percent of total domestic online sales during the first three days, while Sprint (NYSE:S) logged 8 percent.

While AT&T is winning the battle so far, it does not mean all hope is lost for Verizon. The iPhone 4 was not available through Verizon until February 2011, meaning many consumers are still several months away from their two-year contract upgrade.

History also shows that the carrier share of iPhone sales can change rather quickly. “If we look back at the launch of the iPhone 4S, AT&T led with 48 percent of online sales among the three carriers in the first three days,” explains comScore. “Verizon represented 35 percent of online sales while Sprint, which joined Verizon and AT&T as an official iPhone carrier with the release of the 4S, captured 17 percent. But by the end of the month the story had shifted, with Verizon driving 45 percent of online sales, followed closely by AT&T at 43 percent and Sprint accounting for the remaining 12 percent.”

On Monday, Apple confirmed that it sold more than 5 million iPhone 5 units in its first weekend of actual release, beating the iPhone 4S sales record set in October 2011. “Demand for iPhone 5 has been incredible and we are working hard to get an iPhone 5 into the hands of every customer who wants one as quickly as possible,” says Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “While we have sold out of our initial supply, stores continue to receive iPhone 5 shipments regularly and customers can continue to order online and receive an estimated delivery date. We appreciate everyone’s patience and are working hard to build enough iPhone 5s for everyone.”

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