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  • So Do You Really Need a Verizon iPhone?

    February 4th, 2011

    The reviews are in, and, to nobody’s surprise, it does appear that Verizon Wireless is quite doing well with preorders of the iPhone, although there appear to have been some glitches in the ordering process. The real test will come next week when the unit actually goes on sale. Then we’ll be able to separate the adults from the children, assuming they do any better than AT&T during an iPhone rollout.

    As to the initial reviews themselves, most follow a predictable trend. Other than the required hardware modifications to support CDMA, the iPhone 4 that you buy from Verizon Wireless will be basically the same as the one you buy from AT&T. But there are important differences, and whether they mean anything to you depends on where you live and, perhaps, where you intend to travel.

    The main reason why you’d want a Verizon iPhone, other than being an existing customer of course, is the fact that AT&T has serious network quality issues in some parts of the U.S. This includes such major cities as New York and San Francisco. Testers have found that, in such key locations, the Verizon iPhone is far more capable of sustaining a good connection than the AT&T version. In other words, fewer dropped calls. If that’s your problem on AT&T, the story ends there, assuming your contract is nearly up, or you’re willing to the pay a hefty early termination fee, and perhaps make up all or most of the difference by selling your iPhone on eBay. Verizon will also give you a trade-in that might also cover a good portion of your loss.

    Actual voice quality may favor the GSM technology employed on AT&T and other carriers around the world in over 220 countries. The audio is warmer, more pleasing. Reports about the Verizon iPhone describe a crisper, but tinnier sound, typical of an audible digital artifact. But if you have fewer dropped calls, it won’t matter. Because of the stronger signal, the first batch of reviews don’t report success in reproducing the alleged Death Grip on the Verizon iPhone. Yes, the antenna is in a different location, apparently because of network considerations, but it may also resolve signal loss issues if you hold it the wrong way. But don’t forget that the Antennagate problem mostly appeared in places where signal strength was marginal. The jury is still out on that question.

    On AT&T’s side of the ledger, world travelers will find far more countries support GSM, and, where a good signal is present (very important), data transfer speeds are measurably faster than on Verizon’s network. You can also use voice and data at the same time. On CDMA networks, there’s a separate pipe for each, and data is suspended soon as you make a call. That really hurts if someone calls you while you’re browsing the Internet, or using your Verizon iPhone as a Wi-Fi hot spot. Suddenly, the connection is halted. Well, it’s halted unless the data can instead be funneled through Wi-Fi.

    The CDMA powers-that-be are reportedly readying the ability to allow simultaneous voice and data transmissions later this year, but whether that can be done without a hardware change on the iPhone isn’t certain. The problem will ultimately be solved when Verizon transitions to the 4G or LTE network, which is just where AT&T is going.

    Around the world, you’ll also chafe over the fact that CDMA is limited to about 40 countries, and, since there’s no replaceable SIM card, you won’t be able to swap accounts with another cellular network even if Verizon lets you unlock your phone. However, AT&T probably wouldn’t either, even though popping and replacing a SIM card is a simple process that takes about a minute to do. Now I know AT&T let my son unlock his Motorola RAZR when he moved to Europe. I don’t know if they would have done the same with an iPhone, and I welcome your personal experiences in making that sort of request.

    Remember that, either way, overseas roaming charges are simply horrendous. So long as you’re still paying the same monthly fee, AT&T shouldn’t care if you set up a temporary account with an oversea’s provider for trips, so you don’t bust your budget or credit card. In practice, you can also jailbreak your iPhone and do whatever you want, even though that practice can create potential security problems. Remember that jailbreaking itself is a process that may be considered equivalent to a hacker taking control of your phone.

    There’s one more key consideration: Even though the early evaluations of the Verizon iPhone demonstrate that you’re on a superior network and won’t suffer from the ills that plague AT&T users, once a few million of them are using up bandwidth, those advantages may disappear. Verizon claims they can handle the expected load. AT&T said that too, and you shouldn’t believe anyone until large numbers of new Verizon iPhones have been activated.

    As far as I’m concerned, AT&T treats me right, at least so far. My advice applies to anyone: If AT&T is good for you, don’t worry about the Verizon iPhone. If not, then at least you now have a choice, one that, I hope, will be better for your needs.

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    6 Responses to “So Do You Really Need a Verizon iPhone?”

    1. Hairy Goomer says:

      As I’ve stated previously, have had iPhones since day one, and I don’t have any complaints about AT&T’s service where I live. Like you say, Gene, let’s wait and see how Verizon holds up once millions of iPhone users flood their network.

    2. Andrew says:

      I have a three-line family contract on Verizon, which is the only carrier with reliable service in three places that I visit regularly (all carriers work fine where I live and work). For that reason, switching to AT&T was never an option, so iPhone on VZW is HUGE for me.

      I’ve put up with BlackBerry’s horrible browser for years, but it got much more painful as I watched iPhone and Android users enjoy desktop browsing speed (and even BB Torch users), while my only VZW options were the old BlackBerry models I used, or Android, which I did try, but promptly returned.

      I pre-ordered at 12:00 AM Thursday and have never waited more anxiously for a product delivery than I am waiting for my VZW iPhone. I could care less that an iPhone 5 will come out in July as I just cannot wait any longer to have a working phone with a fast browser and compatibility with my DayLite business management software (iOS only).

      • Hairy Goomer says:

        @Andrew, I’m excited for you. I’ve had the luxury of using the first generation iPhone and the iPhone 4 now for almost four years. They are truly marvels of engineering.

        I hope the Verizon network is able to handle the crush that awaits them. Good luck and congratulations on your iPhone.

    3. Peter says:

      Actually, you missed the other comment that I saw in most reviews: Verizon’s 3G network is visibly slower than AT&Ts.

      So if you use your phone as phone (how quaint!), Verizon seems like the way to go. If you tend to use the “Internet Communicator” portion of your phone, you may be happier sticking with AT&T.

      • @Peter, Unless you’re downloading something fairly large, I don’t think the difference is truly significant. In the end, if you can’t sustain a phone call, you probably won’t get a reliable data connection either. That said, as you know, I’m still with AT&T.


    4. Andrew says:

      The VZW iPhone will favor a call over data, so if someone calls during a browser session, the data will pause and the phone will ring, with the data to resume immediately after hanging up the phone. The only possible downside is that you can’t Google something while talking on the phone, and of course any computer connected via the hotspot will lose its data while you talk. I can live with that, and have had exactly that behavior on my VZW BlackBerry for years with tethering.

      The VZW iPhone will NOT lose its data connection if it is connected to wifi, and will continue to use wifi for data and CDMA for voice. In wifi browsing, it should have the exact same performance as the AT&T iPhone.

      Personally, I do use my smartphone as a phone, so this is huge. I don’t want to carry around a phone AND an iPhone.

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