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Sprint reportedly bet $20 billion to score iPhone deal, may carry iPhone 5 exclusively

Sprint iPhone4

Sprint paid Apple $20 billion for 30.5 million iPhone units over the next four years as part of its deal with Apple to carry the coveted smartphone, reports the Wall Street Journal. It’s a massive gamble for Sprint, which sits in a precarious third place behind AT&T and Verizon Wireless, as the company will not turn a profit on the deal for years, even if things go as well as possible.

Rumors have long pointed to Sprint landing the iPhone this year, but few details about the deal have leaked into the press.

As if a $20 billion payment to Apple isn’t enough Sprint-iPhone news, a new rumor pushes the possibilities even further. According to BGR‘s Jonathan Gellar, Sprint may be the exclusive carrier of the iPhone 5, until next year. No, not the iPhone 4S, which is also said to be announced on Tuesday, but the actual iPhone 5, the “tear drop” device that will run on Sprint’s 4G WiMax network. AT&T and Verizon will carry the iPhone 4S immediately, and begin to carry an 4G LTE-compatible iPhone 5 early in 2012, Gellar speculates.

Gellar’s assessment is based upon information from a source he describes as “incredibly solid.” An iPhone 5 exclusivity deal would explain not only the reason why Sprint agreed to pay Apple $20 billion, he says, but also the reason why Apple would allow only Sprint to carry the iPhone 5 during the lucrative holiday season.

If you ask us, a Sprint-exclusive iPhone 5 seems incredibly unlikely. Of course, anything’s possible. But it would be very un-Apple-like to release its most-sought after iPhone ever only on Sprint (for now). There could easily be information to which we aren’t yet privy that could better explain why this deal would make sense for Apple. For now, however, we’re going to have to take this rumor with a hefty helping of salt. Fortunately, we’ll be able to wash it all down with the full scoop tomorrow, when Apple reveals its actual plans.