NEW YORK -- Verizon Wireless and Apple Jan. 11 said they will launch a CDMA version of Apple's iPhone 4, confirming what the mobile tech world has been speculating about since AT&T launched the iPhone in 2007.
The multiyear deal is non-exclusive. Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead said at a launch event here that existing Verizon Wireless customers will be able to preorder the Verizon iPhone 4 exclusively online Feb. 3. Verizon's 3G network will power the handset.
New customers will be able to purchase the device Feb. 10 online and in stores from Verizon Wireless, and Apple. With new contracts, the device will cost $199.99 for the 16GB model and $299.99 for the 32GB model.
"It's been the worst kept secret that wireless customers have been asking for the iPhone on Verizon," Mead said.
Apple COO Tim Cook acknowledged the Verizon iPhone 4 handset is similar to the AT&T iPhone 4, from the FaceTime video chat application to the crisp Retina display.
The handset also sports the original iPhone 4's LED flash, HD video recording, 5 megapixel camera and Apple's signature glass and stainless steel design.
However, Cook said Verizon iPhone 4 offers one key feature difference: access to Verizon's Personal Hotspot WiFi node capability, which connects up to five WiFi-enabled devices.
There is another big difference that may put off some more discerning consumers. Verizon's iPhone 4 runs on CDMA technology, which does not allow simultaneous voice and data performance.
For example, users accessing an application who receive a phone call will find their application interrupted. Some people consider this a significant tradeoff compared to AT&T's UMTS network-based iPhone 4, which does allow concurrent voice and data access.
Cook acknowledged the disparity between AT&T's UMTS and Verizon CDMA handsets, noting:
"People place emphasis on different things. I can tell you that the No. 1 question I've gotten despite selling tens of millions of iPhones and billions of applications is 'When will the iPhone come on VZW's network?' They will make those sorts of tradeoffs."
Soon, we will see if the market will bear this out. Neither Cook nor Mead would reveal the companies' unit shipment expectations for the Verizon iPhone 4. Mead cited the companies "quiet period" for declining to provide this information.
Analysts such as Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster expects no fewer than 9 million Verizon iPhone 4s to ship in 2011, though he acknowledged Jan. 10 that that number could be as high as 15 million. Gleacher & Co's Brian Marshall expects no fewer than 12 million Verizon units.
One of major unanswered questions during the event was if and when Apple planned to launch an iPhone geared for Verizon's 4G LTE network, which the carrier claims is 10 times as fast as its existing 3G network and cuts data latency in half.
Cook and Mead declined to provide more color to this question, refusing to comment on "announced products."
Another question mark is what this move means for Verizon rival AT&T, which began taking potshots at Verizon's CDMA network this week when rumors of the iPhone 4 on Verizon leaked.
Analysts vary in their opinion. Munster expects some cannibalization of AT&T's iPhone sales -- with Verizon selling 9 million and AT&T selling 11 million units in 2011. Marshall thinks the damage could be more than that.