It's not clear yet whether AT&T's recent missteps
have Apple reconsidering their iPhone exclusivity arrangement, but judging from AT&T's earnings
, there's no doubt AT&T would like to extend the deal, which expires next year. That said, CEO Randall Stephenson was realistic today that the deal may be nearing its end, telling conference attendees
at Fortune's Brainstorm: Tech conference in Pasadena that he at least acknowledges the deal won't last forever.
"On balance, I think it works really, really well--maybe as well as any strategic partnership we have," Stephenson said. Asked by Fortune's Stephanie Mehta whether he is completely satisfied with the nature of the relationship, Stephenson quipped: "I don't know if I could get my wife to say that about me, so I don't think I could say that about a business partner."
Highlighting the lowest churn rate in company history, Stephenson crowed to attendees that "there's no greater cause of churn than network quality." In reality, the reduced network churn is largely thanks to the use of long-term contracts and ETFs to keep customers, and the fact that the Apple brand has a loyal following that would follow Apple through pretty much any pasture -- including AT&T's -- no matter what they were stepping in.
Stephenson's facing denial if he thinks AT&T network reliability is the cornerstone of the company's low customer defection rate, given the fact you can't retain an AT&T 3G connection while walking down Fifth Avenue. It's really in Apple's court as to whether the deal gets extended, but with the amount of griping among Apple fans about AT&T's network, Apple may not want to risk tarnishing its brand among members of the cult of Mac.
No matter how it's spun by the faithful and the technorati, Apple extending the deal would send a very clear message to Apple fans that the company places cold hard cash above a high-quality user experience.