AT&T activates a record 5.2 million iPhones

With Verizon expecting to start selling its own iPhone any day now, the effect on AT&T won’t be a gradual slowdown, it’ll be more like a massive cliff dive.

AT&T just posted its quarterly earnings and noted that new iPhone activations totaled 5.2 million during the third quarter of the year. That’s more than any other quarter since the first iPhone went on sale in 2007.

And it will probably stand as the most AT&T iPhone activations in one quarter for the rest of eternity. It’s all but confirmed now that Apple has decided not to extend its exclusivity arrangement with AT&T, and that’s going to lead to massively falling numbers for the provider next year.

Nearly a quarter of all iPhone customers became new AT&T subscribers during the quarter, an adoption rate that’s practically unheard of in the mobile phone sector.

AT&T is now trying to shift the focus away from the iPhone and let consumers know it has other quality handsets exclusive to its service. It recently launched the new Blackberry Torch, the first device to run on the new Blackberry operating system. No one’s really taking to that, however. And AT&T still ranks lowest among the five major US carriers in dropped calls, service problems, and lack of customer satisfaction.

It is widely rumored that a Verizon iPhone will be available pretty much right after everyone switches to their 2011 calendars. Nothing has been made official because Apple doesn’t like to announce any new product until it’s finished. But this is one secret that was too big to keep hidden.

It has been a stellar year for AT&T, one of its best in years, but the company can’t do much with all the excess money. It needs to play safe because next year will pale in comparison.