The launch of the iPhone X on Tuesday presents the wireless carriers with a bezel-free, button-free bludgeon to beat each other with as promotional campaigns kick off in the second half of the year.
Promotional discounts on the iPhone X, which starts at $999, will be welcome. Shoppers could always go down market for the less expensive iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus, which cost $699 and $799, respectively. If history is a guide, T-Mobile (TMUS) , Sprint (S) , Verizon (VZ) and possibly AT&T (T) will offer deals after the launch and make another round of offers as the Black Friday shopping weekend approaches.
Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure tweeted that the carrier will give a 50% discount on an iPhone 8 if consumers trade in an iPhone 7.
Meanwhile, T-Mobile's CEO offered a $300 discount on any new iPhone with a trade in. T-Mobile already ratcheted up competition last week by offering free subscriptions to Netflix (NFLX) , which cost $9.99 per month, to customers of its family plan with at least two phones.
Sprint fell 0.44% to $7.86 at midday on Wednesday, while T-Mobile was down 0.24% to $62.83. AT&T gained 0.57% to $36.47, and Verizon rose 0.37% to $46.97.
After the iPhone 7 launch the carriers offered trade-ins of variants of the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6, Jeff Moore of mobile analysis group Wave7 Research said.
"T-Mobile and Sprint instigated the heavy competition by announcing such offers on September 8 and Verizon and AT&T followed up with comparable offers," he said, noting that the free iPhone offers generally expired in early October.
T-Mobile USA reignited competition by offering two free lines the Friday before Black Friday last year, potentially establishing a new battleground day for mobile deals. Moore said he'll be looking for new promos a week ahead of the Black Friday surge this year.
When Thanksgiving weekend came, T-Mobile launched another round of deals that included an iPhone trade in offer. Sprint and Verizon changed their plans in response, though AT&T did not make a Black Friday iPhone offer.
"T-Mobile sort of upended everything by launching a very aggressive array of promotions," Moore said.
So far this year, unlimited wireless service has been the competitive focus for the carriers, but Jefferies analyst Mike McCormack suggested in an August report that the new iPhone will trigger a shift in tactics.
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"As we look into 2H17, our estimates assume some continued handset momentum, a key swing factor in 2H trends will be the 3Q launch of the iPhone 8," McCormack wrote. "We expect to see an uptick in upgrade and switching activity throughout the back half of the year, and keep an eye out for aggressive handsets promotions."
The next few months could be brutal for the carriers who want to lure new subscribers with shiny new devices. Last year, consumers made more than half of holiday mobile phone purchases by cyber Monday, according to Nielsen, with 25% buying a device before Thanksgiving weekend and 29% targeting deals between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
"I expect T-Mobile and Sprint, in that order, to be the aggressors," Moore said regarding deals on the iPhone 8 and Samsung (SSNLF) Note 8 as we head to the holiday shopping season.
AT&T has begun to see itself as more of an entertainment company than a mobile carrier, Moore added, and could take a lighter touch with device promotions.
The telecom has bundled its DirecTV service and HBO to Go with its wireless packages. The company could soon own HBO parent Time Warner Inc. (TWX) , giving it more incentive to offer promotions that feature its own content over expensive mobile phones.
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Editors' pick: Originally published Aug. 30.