With Apple’s iPhone now on the Verizon network, all eyes are on Sprint Nextel, the nation’s third-largest wireless provider. They are running the CDMA network like Verizon Wireless, so bringing the CDMA iPhone to Sprint should just be a matter of business and politics, not engineering. The business side of it is apparently coming into full view and some analysts now think the Sprint iPhone will be a reality by this coming Christmas. From the Barron’s blog:

Citadel Securities analyst Shing Yin this morning writes that it is increasingly likely that there will be an iPhone from Apple (AAPL) for Sprint-Nextel (S), especially considering that with the inauguration of Verizon Communications (VZ) tiered pricing for data tomorrow, Sprint will be the sole remaining national carrier with an unlimited data plan offering, something desirable to Apple, he believes.

He sees “little reason for Apple to hold back” and says neither Verizon nor AT&T would leverage their distribution deals with Apple to delay the iPhone launch on the Sprint network.

Bringing iPhone to Sprint will no doubt help accelerate iPhone sales: Sprint has 51 million customers as of this month and Apple’s handset is the #2 smartphone platform, but Android is still gaining ground faster in the United States. That said, any expansion of the addressable market will help Apple keep pace in the smartphone race. The iPhone will be a boon to Sprint’s failing fortunes attributed to the Verizon iPhone launch. Another thing:

Sprint also has best pre-paid customers and Apple’s operations chief Tim Cook told Wall Street analysts that Apple doesn’t want the iPhone to be “only for the rich”, meaning perhaps Sprint will get an inexpensive iPhone 4 for pre-paid customers while AT&T and Verizon battle it out for the post-paid market. Cheap hardware should tie nicely with the fact that Sprint is now the only major unlimited data provider in the US. Sources told 9to5Mac earlier this month that a version of the iPhone for Sprint’s network is currently in advanced testing. We also learned that the next iPhone might feature T-Mobile, Sprint, and China Mobile compatibility and some of Apple’s job postings certainly point to the Sprint iPhone.

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