"The odds are extremely good that Apple will launch an iPhone this spring in tandem with Helio's launch in the US," says Pam Duffey, telecoms analyst at visiongain.
"There exists a relationship between Apple and Helio management that goes back to the ROKR iTunes phone, and Helio has declared a target audience identical to iPod's existing market. Helio's top rank executives have also publicly voiced frustration with mainstream carriers and appear to be on a crusade to radically shake-up the industry," adds Duffey.
EarthLink and SK Telecom have partnered to form Helio, a US mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), at an estimated cost of $440 million. Recently, Helio Chief Financial Officer Todd Tappin said Helio plans to sign about three million customers and generate more than $2 billion in revenue by 2009. He also said that Helio would subsidise its handsets, and its target demographic is both willing and able to pay for high-end phones. This is a sharp departure from MVNO trends, which lean heavily on prepaid or very narrow specialty niches.
"The iPhone will most likely be produced in South Korea by an existing handset maker, and made available exclusively through Helio. The iPhone will likely be as disruptive to the existing carrier market as the iPod was to the mobile music industry. When the iPhone adds VoIP capability, it will be even more disruptive to carriers," concludes Duffey.
The iPhone, iPod and Apple's role in shaping the digital content landscape are analysed in detail in visiongain's upcoming report, Apple in Wireless.