The latest wireless operator to land the iPhone isn't T-Mobile USA or U.S. Cellular. It's nTelos Wireless, a regional carrier with less than a half million customers.
The company announced today it would begin selling the iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 on April 20, when it plans to open stores early at 7 a.m. EDT for customers who want to get their hands on the device.
NTelos is the second regional operator to get the iPhone after C Spire Wireless began selling the device last November.
Apple's apparent decision to open the iPhone to smaller operators has been something of a victory for regional carriers, which have argued that exclusivity agreements like AT&T's four-year grip on the iPhone forced their customers to choose between high-profile smartphones and their preferred provider.
Jim Hyde, president and CEO of nTelos, said in a statement that the company was "pleased" to be able to offer the iPhone to its customers.
"iPhone 4S offers an abundance of new features, and with our industry-leading, nationwide smartphone plans, customers can now enjoy the nation’s best networks for less," he said.
The company is selling the iPhone at a $50 discount from its larger competitors. The 16 GB model of the iPhone 4S sells for $150, the 32 GB model goes for $250 and the 64 GB model runs at $350. The iPhone 4 will retail at the cut-rate price of $50.
Customers must sign a new two-year contract and sign up for a smartphone plan, which begin at $80 per month and include unlimited data and messaging.
Financial details of the agreement between nTelos and Apple were not disclosed. Sprint is paying $15.5 billion for the privilege of selling the device, but its sales volumes are expected to dwarf those of a carrier the size of nTelos.
Getting the iPhone onto shelves at regional wireless providers has been a goal of the Rural Cellular Association (RCA). Steve Berry, RCA's president and CEO, said at a conference last week that the trade association has "tried for a long time to get Apple engaged with our members."
If nTelos' iPhone announcement is any indication, those efforts may be paying off. At the same event, Atlantic Tele-Network President and CEO Michael Prior said the iPhone "will continue to make its way through (the RCA's) membership."
NTelos had 414,500 customers at the end of last year. It provides wireless service in Virginia, West Virginia and portions of Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky. It also has a roaming agreement with Sprint to provide wholesale access to its CDMA EV-DO network in some of its markets through mid-2015.