Apple will release the iPhone on Verizon in early 2011

Apple will release the iPhone on Verizon in early 2011, according to Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, who decided to fully incorporate the device on its new carrier into his predictive model.

"Our model assumes Verizon launches the iPhone in early- or mid-[2011]," Munster wrote in his analysis, as quoted Dec. 15 by The Wall Street Journal. "While we do not know the timing of the launch, we have modeled it to occur midway through the Mar-11 quarter."

Munster joins a growing chorus that declares the iPhone on Verizon virtually a done deal. An October report in The Wall Street Journal, quoting people "briefed by Apple," suggested that Apple had slated a late-2010 production start for iPhones capable of running on Verizon's CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) network. Before that, sources told the blog TechCrunch in August that Apple had ordered millions of Qualcomm CDMA chipsets for the upcoming smartphone.

Other publications have also confirmed that a Verizon iPhone is in the works. "Fortune has confirmed that a Verizon iPhone will be released in early 2011," reads an Oct. 29 article in that publication by Sarah Ellison, who paraphrases "people familiar" with the situation as terming the device "a fait accompli." The New York Times has also insisted that the Verizon iPhone will appear within the next few months, citing unnamed sources.

This summer, Barclays Capital analyst James Ratcliffe suggested that a Verizon iPhone wouldn't necessarily cannibalize customers from AT&T, which, for the moment, has a lock on the device in the U.S.

The "iPhone would be a plus for Verizon, but not a seismic industry change, given the relative stickiness of smartphone customers," Ratcliffe wrote in that June 22 research note. "[The] primary source of Verizon iPhone [subscribers] would be pent-up demand by existing Verizon [subscribers]." He predicted that, while between 500,000 and 1 million AT&T customers would switch to Verizon's iPhone, the net total of Verizon subscribers would only increase by 900,000 in 2011.

Documents indicate that AT&T is resigned to losing its grip on the iPhone. "We believe offering a wide variety of handsets reduces the dependence on any single handset as these products evolve," the carrier wrote in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing for the quarter ended June 30. "In addition, offering a number of attractive handsets on an exclusive basis distinguishes us from our competitors."

The reference to "any single handset" was seen by some analysts as a reference to the iPhone. A recent research note from Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu suggests that, as a Verizon iPhone comes "closer to reality," the carrier may be negotiating to prevent competitors Sprint and T-Mobile from obtaining iPhones of their own.

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