Dec 13

Verizon’s smartphone Wikileaks

The data that surfaced last week, if accurate, show how badly the carrier needs the iPhone

Click to enlarge. Source: Asymco

Most of the analysts who looked at the Verizon (VZ) sales data that All Things Digital‘s John Paczkowski published Friday picked up his story line: Thanks to Google’s (GOOG) Android, Research in Motion’s (RIMM) BlackBerry has gone, in Paczkowski’s words, “from a flagship to a johnboat.”

But Asymco‘s Horace Dediu has a different take. The sales numbers, if they are to be believed, show that Google has let the carrier down. Despite the explosion of Android phone sales, the iPhone has stolen Verizon’s growth and forced it to make a deal with Apple (AAPL) on Steve Jobs’ terms.

This assumes that the data can be believed. The numbers that Paczkowski obtained from ITG Investment Research look to Dediu like an unauthorized leak — one that he describes as being, for mobile analysts, “as big as a Wikileaks release of diplomatic chitchat is to‚Ķdiplomats. Bigger, actually.”

Click to enlarge. Source: Asymco

That’s because they show monthly sales numbers by individual vendor with precision down to 1,000 units per month — which Dediu has represented in the color-code chart above. Note the fall-off after August, when the iPhone 4 became widely available.

Now compare Verizon’s smartphone sales with Apple’s quarterly iPhone sales at ATT (T), as shown at left.

Dediu has looked at the leaked data five different ways, and in a detailed analysis posted Monday he concludes that Verizon had no choice but to cut the deal with Apple that it resisted three years earlier.

“By 2009,” he writes, “Verizon was probably optimistic that they could head off ATT (and Apple) at the pass. With the vast array of vendor Android roadmaps laid out in front of them they saw a way to stem the flood of defections. I think that optimism dissipated sometime this year and was replaced by a more dreadful prospect than what iPhone presented in 2007.

“It is perhaps coincidental that the rumors of a Verizon deal with Apple seem to have started in earnest right after August. It’s thin, circumstantial evidence, but the only evidence we have to corroborate the data above is that Verizon has been signaling more desperation.

“Reading further into the data, I would say Verizon faced these problems and decided that they had to throw in the towel. Apple may be the devil, but so could be Google. Apple was predictably evil. But Google? The devil you know is perhaps better than the one you can’t predict.”

You can read Dediu’s full analysis here.

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]