By Alexandra Burlacu | May 06, 2013 09:18 AM EDT
U.S. Cellular is finally adding "Apple products" to its lineup this year, which makes it one of the last companies to start selling the iPhone.
While the company did not specify exactly which products it plans to sell, the iPhone 5 is likely among the guests of honor.
U.S. Cellular made the announcement during its quarterly earnings report, without mentioning any specific hardware other than the vague "Apple products." The carrier will likely offer the iPhone and cellular-enabled versions of the iPad, just as other carriers do.
"We have a number of strategies in progress to increase loyalty and attract more customers, including our announcement today that we will begin offering Apple products later this year," U.S. Cellular CEO Mary Dillon said in a statement. "By further strengthening our device portfolio, we'll give consumers another great reason to switch to U.S. Cellular, and enable our existing customers to choose from an even wider variety of iconic smartphones, and enjoy the outstanding U.S. Cellular customer experiences they deserve."
Adding Apple products to its lineup is a major move for U.S. Cellular, especially since Dillon said at the end of 2011 that the company chose not to carry Apple's iPhone because of its upfront cost. As AppleInsider points out, the CEO described the investment at the time as "unacceptable from a risk and profitability standpoint."
Ted Carlson, the CEO of U.S. Cellular's parent company TDS, clarified a month later that the company was focused on building its 4G LTE service first before thinking about carrying the iPhone.
Now, the move to add iGadgets to its lineup appears as a move to appeal to both new and loyal customers. Verizon went through a similar process, as it announced at one point that it rejected Apple as a launch partner at first. The reasons behind Verizon's initial decision were also similar to U.S. Cellular's.
The iPhone is still very popular, however, and not offering it means losing customers to rival carriers. U.S. Cellular is the sixth-largest wireless provider in the U.S., serving roughly 5.8 million customers in 126 markets in 26 states, as of 2012. The top five carriers in terms of size are Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and MetroPCS. The latter duo just made their merger plans official.
U.S. Cellular, meanwhile, is working on rolling out its own high-speed 4G LTE network to better compete with rivals, and Apple's iPhone will likely hit the network later this year. Apple's current iPhone 5 flagship has 4G LTE compatibility, but it would be useless without an actual 4G network.
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