Tiny phone company sells iPhone at discount

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By PETER SVENSSON, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — A small Virginia-based cellphone company said Wednesday that it will start selling the iPhone, at prices that undercut the big carriers.

Ntelos Holdings Corp. will sell the basic model of the latest iPhone, the 4S, for $150 on April 20. That's $49 less than what AT&T, Verizon and Sprint charge. Versions with more storage sell for $250 and $350, also $49 cheaper than the rivals. A two-year contract is required, with monthly service fees of $80 or $100, comparable to fees charged by others.

Ntelos is based in Waynesboro and has about 421,000 subscribers in Virginia, West Virginia and portions of Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky under the nTelos Wireless brand.

It's the fifth U.S. phone company to get the iPhone, after the big three and Mississippi-based regional carrier C Spire Wireless, which started selling it late last year.

Phone companies subsidize the iPhone, which costs about $600 wholesale. Selling it means shouldering a big upfront cost. Ntelos Chief Financial Officer Stebbins Chandor said the phone would start paying off in 2014.

A bigger regional phone company, U.S. Cellular, has said it turned down the iPhone because it was too expensive.

Ntelos CEO James Hyde said it needed the iPhone to fill a gap in its smartphone lineup and compete with other carriers. In the first quarter, the company lost about 5,000 subscribers from its contract-based plans, which are the most lucrative, while adding subscribers to cheaper prepaid services.

Ntelos shares fell 30 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $20.35 in midday trading.

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