HotHardware reports that AT&T’s exclusivity on the iPhone is a mere three days from being over.   That would mean the announcement on Wednesday might not only be about Tabletmania, it might also be the ushering in of new mobile carrier partner(s) in the US.  The report stopped short of naming Verizon, but it did mention that AT&T was sick of having the iPhone “hurt its image”:

Inside of AT&T, we are hearing that the iPhone is causing more trouble than ever before. On some level, having the iPhone is hurting AT&T’s image. Because they are the only company to carry it, and it’s such a data hog, it’s largely to blame for AT&T’s network troubles. We don’t remember hearing about AT&T’s “horrible network” before the iPhone–do you? The iPhone itself doesn’t really handle the switch from 3G to EDGE very well, so calls that are in-progress tend to fail whenever the 3G bands aren’t optimal and the phone attempts to step down to EDGE. It seems that AT&T is tired of taking the heat for this, and at this point, they may be smart to just let another carrier take some of those customers who are most inclined to complain.

Obviously, if Verizon or Sprint get the iPhone you won’t be able to just take your business over there.  You’ll need a new CDMA iPhone as part of the deal and likely pay a hefty early termination fee to leave AT&T.  Even on Tmobile, you won’t be able to get beyond EDGE speed on your current iPhone because of the difference in 3G radio frequency.  

If true, the January 27th date may also prove to be the reason Apple chose to have its event then, instead of its usual Tuesday announcements.

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