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At a recent presentation in front of international wireless operators at the Informa MVNO Industry Summit in Barcelona, wireless industry analyst Whitey Bluestein claimed Apple will soon move to provide wireless service directly to users of its iOS devices. Specifically, he said Apple will beat Google to become a mobile virtual network operator. While noting Apple’s distribution through retail stores and the 250 million iTunes accounts with credit cards, Bluestein said Apple’s biggest barrier is the subsidies paid by carriers to offer consumers iPhones at their current prices on contract. We already know former Apple CEO Steve Jobs wanted to “replace carriers” and worked on it leading up to the iPhone launch, but Bluestein said Apple would soon be the “first mover” as Google struggles to compete with the iTunes ecosystem.

Here are the main points:

  • Apple will in the near future begin providing cellular service, data, voice and roaming, directly to its customers.
  • Apple will begin by offering mobile data plans bundled with iPads (vs. current practice of selling GSM iPads with AT&T data and CDMA iPads with Verizon data plans).
  • Apple will then offer iPhone customers activation, data and international roaming plans through the iTunes Store.
  • Apple will provide voice, data and messaging plans directly to its iPhone customers, on an ala carte basis as an alternative to their current mobile operator and then as wireless service provider directly to customers.
  • Google, while behind Apple in technology, distribution and back-office capabilities, will nevertheless follow in lock-step behind Apple and provide wireless data services directly to its Google Tablet customers.

The big problems obviously include the mobile industry’s resistance to Apple becoming an MVNO. Also, Apple becoming a carrier would be a difficult transition and would leave customers with two-year contracts stranded on previous carriers.