T-Mobile shrugs off obvious Verizon product placement during Apple keynote

CEO Michael Sievert said promotional pricing will eventually come for T-Mobile and Sprint customers who want an iPhone 12.

The head of America’s largest wireless phone company T-Mobile is shrugging off what came across as a significant amount of product placement for rival Verizon during Apple’s latest product unveiling.

On Tuesday, Apple announced four new versions of its iPhone, all of which will support the next generation wireless standard known as 5G when they roll out to customers between this month and next month.

During the keynote, Apple invited Verizon’s chief executive Hans Vestberg to speak about 5G developments at his company and included other mentions of Verizon’s wireless service throughout its video presentation.

The heavy emphasis on Verizon as a wireless partner came across as unusual to viewers: Apple had not touted a partnership with a wireless company since the launch of the original iPhone in 2007, which was exclusive to AT&T (then Cingular Wireless) for several years.

But Michael Sievert, the chief executive of T-Mobile, shrugged off Verizon’s product placement in Apple’s keynote on Tuesday, telling CNBC the markets eventually picked the winner of the day because T-Mobile’s stock price jumped while AT&T and Verizon’s stock slid.

“Verizon talked today about millimeter wave for a reason: They’re talking out of their book,” Sievert said during the television interview. “That’s all they’ve got.”

Sievert said T-Mobile’s 5G strategy encompasses all aspects of 5G, a wireless standard that is spread across three different sets of radio frequencies known as low-band, mid-band and millimeter wave. Millimeter wave, which is heavily promoted by Verizon in its marketing materials, offers the fastest speeds across the three sets of radio frequencies but also has the shortest distance of travel from a transmission tower to a handset.

Low-band and mid-band 5G frequencies, on the other hand, are able to travel farther, and while speeds are reduced compared to millimeter wave, 5G data speeds are still significantly faster than the preceding 4G LTE standard.

“We cover 260 million people with 5G,” Sievert said. “The mid-band, which is really transformational…we’ve got that covered for 25 million people and are on our way to 100 million people by the end of the year.”

During the keynote, Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook specifically mentioned a special subsidized purchase price for Verizon customers who traded in an eligible device, which reduced the retail price of each iPhone 12 model from around $30. (The cheapest iPhone 12 announced will cost $600.) Special pricing for AT&T customers was also reflected on Apple’s website later in the day. Versions of the iPhone 12 that come pre-loaded with T-Mobile or Sprint SIM cards displayed at full price on Apple’s website as of Tuesday afternoon. Sprint is a subsidiary of T-Mobile.

When asked about the price discrepancy, Sievert said promotional pricing is coming for T-Mobile customers in the future.

“They don’t have our promotions loaded yet,” Sievert said, referring to Apple.

Prior to Apple’s announcement, Sievert said customers had largely been ignoring the rollout of 5G wireless services throughout the United States despite significant marketing pushes by T-Mobile and its two rivals.

“Today changes things,” Sievert said. “This is just a huge day for our company and our industry.”

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