Verizon Executive Calls CDMA iPhone Inevitable

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2010-06-14

Verizon Executive Calls CDMA iPhone Inevitable

WASHINGTON-The introduction of a version of the Apple iPhone for the Verizon Wireless network is not only possible, it is "inevitable," according to a Verizon regional president.

In an interview with eWEEK at the National Press Club on June 14, Michael Maiorana, Verizon president for the Washington-Baltimore-Virginia region, said it was a matter of when, not if, Apple would release a version of the iPhone for the Verizon network.

However, Maiorana declined to predict when a CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) version of the iPhone suitable for the Verizon network would be ready for the market, saying he didn't want such speculation to hurt Motorola Droid sales during the summer.

Maiorana's comments come as rumors continue to arrive from sources far afield that the companies that manufacture the subassemblies for Apple iPhones are acquiring the chips and other support hardware required to create a CDMA version of the iPhone. Some of these rumors indicate that a CDMA iPhone will be ready for shipment in November. However, Maiorana declined to confirm or deny that November was a target release date.

While most of these rumors are third- and fourth-hand, there are enough of them that they can't be ignored. If these stories are true, and if they mean what they seem to mean, Verizon Wireless could be getting its own version of the iPhone in a few months.

Meanwhile, there are analysts, such as Shaw Wu from Kaufman Bros., who suggest that T-Mobile could bring the iPhone to market this year or in early 2011. It could easily be that both T-Mobile and Verizon will carry iPhones. In fact, T-Mobile could bring the iPhone to the United States in a matter of weeks, assuming that an agreement could be reached with Apple. 

The reason T-Mobile could move so quickly is that the company already sells the iPhone, just not in the United States. You can buy a T-Mobile iPhone in Europe easily, and it'll work just fine in the United States. In fact, calls to T-Mobile tech support managers have confirmed that the company will happily provision your European iPhone for U.S. use, and include all of the various features and applications that you'd normally get from any other T-Mobile phone in service here. T-Mobile will also provision your AT&T iPhone to run on T-Mobile as well, but that's another story. 

Verizon, T-Mobile Beckon as iPhone Alternatives

With Verizon, the process is more complex. There currently are no CDMA versions of the iPhone, so there's some necessary engineering that's involved. There will need to be FCC filings, tests, leaks to the media. And there needs to be time to make sure that the Verizon network will support the iPhone's voracious appetite for bandwidth.

Adding to the complexity is the relatively limited availability of CDMA networks worldwide. A Verizon iPhone might not be able to take advantage of the other existing CDMA networks out there, primarily in Iraq, South America and southern India. Furthermore, 3G coverage is also not a given in those areas. 

So why would Apple consider expanding to other carriers after tenaciously maintaining an exclusive deal with AT&T? Mostly because Android phones are starting to eat up market share that Apple wants. The Android phones might not have exactly the same coolness factor that the iPhone has (although some people would say they're cooler), but there's no question that these devices offer capabilities that the iPhone simply can't deliver. Worse, they're selling by the gazillion. This must be driving Apple nuts. 

Adding to the exclusivity problem is that AT&T doesn't have the best reputation as a carrier. Despite the AT&T commercials claiming more 3G coverage than Verizon, the fact is, Verizon still has a substantially larger 3G network. In addition, there's also a belief among some iPhone users that AT&T's service isn't up to par, and iPhone users have long been plagued by dropped calls and poor signal quality. While much of this may not be AT&T's fault, that doesn't matter to users. 

Ultimately, bandwidth is what matters to iPhone buyers. Now that AT&T has imposed bandwidth limits on iPhone users with new accounts, there's a significant disincentive for would-be buyers. Why saddle yourself with an extra hundred bucks or so of broadband fees just to use the device in the manner in which it was intended?

Neither Verizon, which has widespread, but not very fast, 3G nor T-Mobile, which has 3G that's as fast as or faster than Sprint's 4G, but which isn't as widespread, have usage limits. In addition, Verizon is well along with its LTE (Long Term Evolution) implementation, which could bring broadband speeds triple those of Sprint's network.

But really, could it happen? Yes. And it could happen before the end of the year. This is especially true for T-Mobile, where all that's required is an agreement with Apple. T-Mobile, after all, is really just a trade name for Deutsche Telekom, the German carrier that's far larger than either AT&T or Verizon, has a global presence and already carries the iPhone. It would be very difficult for Apple to say no. 

And Verizon has both the reach and the existing bandwidth in the United States to give the iPhone room to grow, something that AT&T really doesn't have now. In addition, both T-Mobile and Verizon are hotbeds of Android activity. Where better to put an iPhone?

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