The iPhone Cometh

It would be understandable if you were under the impression that nothing at all happened this week except for the unveiling of the long-rumored Verizon iPhone.  The launch has been hyped and anticipated for several years, in part because it would be the moment when AT&T would lose its exclusivity death grip on what has become perhaps the most iconic mobile phone ever.

So what did actually happen?  Well, for those hoping for a slew of new features, or an LTE-powered world phone, not much.  The iPhone 4 that Verizon Wireless will be offering is similar to the iPhone 4 that AT&T offers with a few exceptions.  The phone and its antenna have been redesigned to work with Verizon’s CDMA network, and there is hope that this will result in a solution to the “antenna-gate” problem, whereby users of the AT&T iPhone 4 lost calls when holding the phone in a certain way.  In addition, the Verizon version of the iPhone will be able to serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five Wi-Fi enabled devices.

So now that iPhone customers have a choice in terms of a mobile operator, which network should they choose?  While the accepted wisdom is that AT&T’s 3G network is actually faster than Verizon’s, its coverage is not nearly as broad.  If you spend most of your time in a major city and currently do not have many problems with your connection, then leaving AT&T for Verizon might be a bit hasty.  If you travel around the country, and find yourself on rural back roads, away from major metropolitan areas, Verizon will be the more attractive operator.

Verizon released the iPhone on its 3G CDMA network instead of on its new 4G LTE network.  According to Apple COO Tim Cook the official reason for this is that Verizon customers “wanted the iPhone now” and that the LTE technology would have forced design compromises that Apple was not willing to make.

While the Verizon iPhone gains a feature (Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities) compared to AT&T’s it also loses some capabilities, namely support for GSM and the ability to work in most countries around the world.  While other Verizon smartphones including almost all those from Research in Motion support CDMA for Verizon Wireless’s network and GSM for roaming, the iPhone does not.  This may be a deal killer for users who travel frequently.

Because of limitations on CDMA networks the iPhone loses one additional feature, the ability of to be on a phone call and maintain a data connection at the same time.  Verizon may address this in the future, but for now, users will have to choose if they want to look up locations on Google maps or talk on the phone.

The new enhancements and limitations on the Verizon iPhone may make choosing a mobile operator for your iPhone easier than originally thought.  For current AT&T iPhone customers, moving to Verizon will require the purchase of a new iPhone (one that runs on Verizon’s CDMA network) and a possible cancellation fee (AT&T raised its cancellation fees in 2010 in anticipation of Verizon’s announcement).  But iPhone fans will have to choose between simultaneous voice and data and Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities not to mention the ability to roam internationally.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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