It was only a month ago that mobile carrier U.S. Cellular made headlines by calling Apple's terms for selling the iPhone "unacceptable from a risk and profitability standpoint."
Now U.S. Cellular is back in the news with a different, more pointed explanation for why they don't carry the iPhone: It's not technologically advanced enough.
Here's Ted Carlson, CEO of U.S. Wireless' parent company TDS, speaking at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, about why his company does not sell Apple's iPhone (as reported by Phil Goldstein at Fierce Wireless):
We’re never going to say never about the iPhone. The iPhone for us would need to be at the cutting edge of where we’re going, and then there might be an opportunity to consider it.
Carlson and U.S. Cellular feel that the iPhone 4S is not "cutting edge" because it lacks capability for 4G LTE, a faster network that U.S. Cellular is investing heavily in for the future. Many expected the next-gen iPhone to add 4G in the run-up to Apple's announcement, though obviously that never happened. In February 2011 then-Apple COO Tim Cook explained that "LTE would force design compromises we're not willing to make"; that commitment to design apparently held true and cost Apple a customer in U.S. Cellular, the sixth-largest mobile carrier in the United States, serving a hair under 6 million people.
The story of carriers negotiating for the iPhone has come with strange twists, billion dollar gambles and noted disappointment. Sprint supposedly "bet the company" on the Apple device, per a Wall Street Journal story, spending a reported $20 billion for the rights to sell iPhones; eyebrows were raised in late October when tiny regional carrier C-Spire announced that it would become the fourth firm to offer the iPhone. T-Mobile, which is the fourth-largest carrier in the U.S., meanwhile, has had fruitless negotiations with Apple about obtaining the iPhone for themselves; during a conference call this November, a T-Mobile exec warned investors to expect losses due to the company's non-acquisition of the iPhone. T-Mobile is also apparently awaiting an iPhone more compatible with its network.
Like T-Mo, U.S. Cellular has not ruled out carrying future iPhones, either, as long as they have 4G; for what it's worth, the next iPhone is already rumored to be a 4G LTE device. Never say never, indeed.