Verizon iPhone handsets would sell by the bucketload, one analyst has predicted. And yes – it's almost certain that a Verizon iPhone is the real thing. At left, an AT&T-powered iPhone.

Verizon iPhone: Analyst expects 9 million units to sell in 2011

A Verizon iPhone would attract millions of consumers, one analyst says – and that's bad news for AT&T.

The Verizon iPhone – and yes, it's looking like more and more of a sure thing – will sell 9 million units in 2011, stealing a good deal of thunder from AT&T, which currently holds an exclusive contract with Apple. That's the word today from Gene Munster, an analyst at the investment firm Piper Jaffray, and an expert on the smartphone market.

Over at Apple Insider, Munster crunches the numbers this way: In the third quarter of 2010, AT&T sold 5.2 million iPhones, or about 80 percent of all smartphones sold by the carrier. Verizon, Munster predicts, will sell 25 million smartphones in 2011, 36 percent of which – the aforementioned 9 million – will be Apple iPhones. The Verizon iPhone, in other words, will comprise a lesser portion of overall Verizon sales, but still enough to put the hurt on AT&T.

So how accurate are Munster's prognostications?

IN PICTURES: Apple's iCandy

Well, according to Jay Yarow of Business Insider, that depends on when the Verizon iPhone is launched. "If it's available January 1st, then Apple could arguably sell 15-20 million," Yarow writes. "If it doesn't come out until the middle of the year, then 9 million seems reasonable. Basically, the iPhone Verizon sales come down to how bullish you are about the iPhone's prospects against other smartphones and timing."

Business Insider has released its own Verizon iPhone sales estimate of 10 million units, which Yarow says would be "$6 billion or more in incremental revenue for Apple."

Earlier this week, MacDailyNews reported that an iPhone 4 had been spotted at a Verizon training event, bolstering hopes that the long rumored Verizon iPhone will hit store shelves in the next few months. An anonymous Verizon employee, told MacDailyNews that a Verizon iPhone had been "100 percent cooked for quite a while," and should be officially unveiled sometime after the holiday season has subsided.

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