Kevin Tofel on Why Verizon Needs the iPhone…Now

With no iPhone to offer customers, Verizon has turned largely to Google Android smartphones. On the surface, that strategy has paid off as Verizon continues to hold the top spot for mobile subscribers in the U.S., although AT&T is nipping on its heels. But detailed data showing Verizon’s smartphone sales surfaced this weekend, and if the information is accurate, paints a different picture: Verizon needs Apple’s iPhone, or else it risks losing its biggest carrier status.

Asymco’s Horace Dediu took the sales data a step further by comparing Verizon’s smartphone sales against those of AT&T’s iPhone. Assuming the ITG data is correct, Verizon’s strategy to offer several Android phones actually hasn’t competed well: add up the total number of Android phones Verizon has sold in the last few quarters and AT&T has still sold more iPhones. Even with a multi-device strategy based around Google Android, Verizon is losing sales ground to a device on a single platform.

In all likelihood, Verizon will indeed get the iPhone some time in early 2011. So, while these numbers are troubling right now, the tide could quickly turn when the iPhone is launched.

Whereas Verizon has invested in Android, AT&T really hasn’t. Although the network issues are not quite at the same fever pitch as they use to be, AT&T’s single defining phone will then be available on its biggest competitor. These numbers indicate that they won’t necessarily have an incentive to invest in Android but there aren’t many other options.

Overall, these numbers reveal that 2011 could be a tough year for AT&T, should Verizon finally get the iPhone. That would especially be true if it were an iPhone that also happened to run on a 4G network.