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No, Apple Won’t Become a Wireless Carrier

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Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple David Paul Morris — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Apple won’t be competing with its carrier partners anytime soon.

Speaking at Startup Fest Europe in Amsterdam during an interview on Tuesday, Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook squashed rumors that his company is planning to eventually get into the cellular market to compete with the likes of AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ).

“Our expertise doesn’t extend to the network,” Cook said, according to a transcript obtained by Apple-tracking site 9to5 Mac. “We’ve worked with AT&T in the U.S., O2 in the U.K., as well as T-Mobile (TMUS) and Orange, and we expanded as we learned more. But generally, the things Apple likes to do, are things we can do globally. We don’t have the network skill. We’ll do some things along the way with e-SIMs along the way, but in general, I like the things carriers do.”

Cook’s comments come after several reports cropped up last year that Apple was considering becoming its own wireless carrier. Rather than start its own network, however, Apple would instead jump on network infrastructure already installed by companies like AT&T and Verizon. The move would have made Apple an MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator. While there are many MVNOs operating around the U.S., including Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS, they’re in many cases owned by major network operators.

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The rumors that Apple was considering getting into the carrier business were based in the idea that the iPhone maker wanted to provide the best possible network experience to its customers. Its devices would be able to hop from one network to another, based on where the user was, to ensure the strongest connection.

In that scenario, customers would pay Apple rather than AT&T or another carrier for wireless access. Apple would then pay a fee to the carriers to use their network.

The reports last year came just months after Google (GOOGL) announced ProjectFi, a service that relies on both Wi-Fi as well as wireless networks from Sprint (S) and T-Mobile.

Apple’s idea wouldn’t be so far-fetched. While in years past, Apple built different iPhone versions based on the carrier, its current devices can be unlocked and work across networks without needing to buy another handset. So, if a customer wants to use the iPhone on T-Mobile, he or she can use the same device on AT&T networks.

In Apple’s case, it would have simply sold the same iPhone and automatically switched the device between networks whenever it registered a better signal from another company.

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But all that now appears to be moot. Cook’s comments are the strongest stance he’s taken yet on whether Apple should venture into the carrier business, and the very fact that he says he’s pleased with what “carriers do” suggests he won’t be changing his mind anytime soon.

That said, he’s unafraid to compete with carriers where necessary. Last year, Apple launched its own iPhone Upgrade Program, designed for customers who want to pay Apple a monthly fee to get a new iPhone each year. The program is a direct shot over the bows of similar programs offered by carriers, and it could be cutting carriers out of selling some of the company’s iPhones. It’s unclear, however, how much of an impact Apple’s program has had on carrier iPhone sales.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Cook’s statements.