NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sprint Nextel Corp would need to change its full year guidance for 2011 if the company started selling the Apple Inc iPhone, Chief Executive Dan Hesse said on Wednesday at a conference.
While Hesse declined to comment on whether Sprint will sell the next version of iPhone, he told a Goldman Sachs investor conference the company did not include iPhone sales in its previous guidance for 2011.
Many analysts expect Sprint will become the third U.S. operator to sell the iPhone when the next version is launched.
But all Hesse would say was that, in order to meet full-year targets, Sprint would just need to have a "very strong fourth quarter."
Sprint, which has been struggling to retain customers, said in July it would add subscribers for the full year 2011 and that its profit would remain around the same as 2010.
The Apple iPhone is currently sold by AT&T Inc and Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc.
Sprint, the No. 3 U.S. mobile provider, has been losing out to bigger rivals Verizon and AT&T, as well as smaller operators offering prepaid services for cost-conscious customers.
Hesse also spoke out against bigger rival AT&T Inc's proposed $39 billion purchase of No. 4 U.S. operator T-Mobile USA, a Deutsche Telekom AG unit, saying it would hurt competition.
The U.S. Justice Department's lawsuit to block the deal suggests the market needs four national wireless players, but Hesse said this does not necessarily mean it would block a deal among smaller services. Sprint had been in discussions to buy T-Mobile USA before Deutsche Telekom finalized the deal with AT&T in March, sources have told Reuters.
AT&T shot back at Hesse, arguing his comment showed the operator's real motives for blocking the deal was self-interest rather than any concern about the health of the U.S. wireless industry.
"Now, Mr. Hesse's public musings have made their motives much more clear," said Jim Cicconi, AT&T vice president for legislative affairs. "That they would act in their own economic interest is not surprising. That they would expect the United States Government to be a willing partner certainly is."
A U.S. court set February 13 as the date for a trial of the DoJs case against AT&T. It set an October 24 date for arguments in Sprint case against the deal. It did not consolidate the cases as Sprint had requested.
Sprint shares closed down 8 cents, or 2.4 cents, at $3.25 on New York Stock Exchange. AT&T shares were down 55 cents, or 1.9 percent, at $28.30.
Editing by Andre Grenon