The iPhone is finally available at a regional U.S. operator.
C Spire Wireless, formerly Cellular South, said today it would launch the iPhone 4S in the coming weeks.
C Spire declined to comment on specific pricing and availability.
The arrival of the iPhone at C Spire marks the first time the iconic device has broken ranks with Tier 1 operators like AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint.
Steve Berry, head of the Rural Cellular Association, said in an interview that C Spire may not be the last smaller operator to get the iPhone.
“My understanding is there are a few other [RCA members] that may get access to the device in the immediate future,” he said. RCA’s members include U.S. Cellular, MetroPCS and Cincinnati Bell. Sprint and C Spire are the first RCA members to get the iPhone.
Berry said he knows from internal discussions at the RCA that “Apple has had a very difficult time figuring out how to do business with smaller carriers and maintain their perception of a consumer-experience level of involvement.”
That now appears to be changing, he said. “I think they’re finally figuring out how you make a device like that available to multiple carriers.”
Apple did not immediately return requests for additional information on the C Spire news or Berry’s comments about possible deals with other RCA members.
The iPhone has been at the center of debate over handset exclusivity deals, which the RCA and many smaller operators say shut them out of the market as potential customers flock to larger competitors with trendier devices they don’t have access to.
Berry conceded that today’s announcement marks progress on handset exclusivity, but that the RCA would not back off its efforts on the issue.
“Handset exclusivity is still an impediment,” Berry said, adding the RCA would “put the pedal to the metal” on the issue now that it has made some progress. “This gives me hope we’ll have some positive breakthroughs. We’re not going to give up one iota.”