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(Reuters) – Verizon Wireless will join rival carrier AT&T Inc in selling Apple Inc’s iPad later this month as it moves closer to disrupting the exclusive relationship between the device maker and AT&T.

Apple’s surprise announcement on Thursday comes weeks ahead of the holiday shopping season, with the company positioning the iPad touchscreen tablet as a must-have device.

There is speculation that Verizon, the No. 1 U.S. wireless carrier, will soon sell Apple’s iPhone. AT&T has been the sole carrier for the phone in the United States.

Shares of Verizon Communications Inc rose less than 1 percent in midday trading. AT&T shares were unchanged, and Apple shares were up less than 1 percent.

"We think the move nicely sets the stage for a wider and deeper relationship with Verizon," JP Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz said in a research note.

Verizon Wireless stores will sell three Wi-Fi models of the iPad starting October 28. It will provide a mobile high-speed connection by bundling the iPad with its portable hotspot, with prices ranging from $629 for the 16-gigabyte (GB) iPad to $829 for the 64 GB model.

In six months, the iPad has eaten into PC sales and spurred a slew of copycat devices.

Apple sold more than 3 million iPads in the June quarter, and might outpace that in the September quarter. Analysts expect the company to sell more than 20 million next year.

Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon and Vodafone, will offer an iPad monthly data plan for $20 a month, which would allow 1 GB of data usage.

The iPad runs on AT&T’s 3G network, and the carrier’s retail stores will sell the device starting October 28. It will offer models that include Wi-Fi and 3G which start at $629.

AT&T said it will offer a 250-megabyte plan for $14.99 a month, and a 2 GB plan for $25.

The iPad is available at Apple stores and big box retailers like Best Buy.

(Reporting by Gabriel Madway and Ritsuko Ando. Editing by Robert MacMillan)