So what’s an iPhone 4X4? If you’re at Verizon Wireless, it’s not the latest SUV, but instead is the iPhone 4 with 4G data communications. Verizon has been building out its 4G LTE test network for some time now, and is reportedly already testing a version of the iPhone in its test environment.
What’s more important is that LTE handsets are already on their way to market, meaning that an iPhone 4G device would be an important early introduction for a device that might otherwise be starting to lose its luster under the onslaught of Android smartphones.
According to an article in ARS Technica, on July 30, the Federal Communications Commission has just approved the first LTE handset, a Samsung SCH-r900, which will run on MetroPCS, possibly in Las Vegas to start. If the version of LTE being built out by MetroPCS meets the expected 4G standards, it’ll be the fastest and highest capacity wireless network in the United States, at least until Verizon Wireless goes public.
Right now the only 4G network operating commercially in the United States is Sprint’s WiMax service, and while it’s called 4G, it certainly doesn’t provide the speeds that are normally associated with a 4G service. In fact, T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 3G network is about twice as fast as Sprint’s 4G. Furthermore, even though Sprint is currently riding on Clear’s network, it’s also working on creating its own, much faster 4G network using LTE. T-Mobile is also working on an LTE 4G network, although it’s unclear how far along those plans are.
Currently, there’s not a great deal of information available about the SCH-r900. We do know that it’s a CDMA device, that it has a full touch screen, and of course that it will support very fast data transfer. However, MetroPCS is not a major carrier, so it’s tough to know whether this is an effort to gain a bigger national profile, or a way to differentiate itself in the prepaid markets it already serves. The indications are that this will be an Android device as has been the case with other recently released smartphones from Samsung.
The Conditions Are Right for a Verizon 4G iPhone
Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, is testing its LTE network in Boston and Seattle, and is planning to introduce the 4G technology to about 30 more markets by the end of CY2010. As the company rolls out its LTE network this year, it’s still not certain exactly what the first 4G devices will be. It’s possible that it will get its own version of the same Samsung device, and it’s likely that the company will launch LTE data cards that will likely work with 3G and WiFi in addition to LTE.
But the next step could very well be the long-awaited iPhone 4. Such an introduction would make a lot of sense both for Verizon Wireless’ build-out plans and for its version of the iPhone. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to introduce a version of the iPhone 4 that’s essentially the same as the AT&T version. While this would give customers a much better network than they’re getting from AT&T, the 3G speeds from Verizon Wireless aren’t exactly setting records. But to take the next leap and launch the iPhone 4 from Verizon Wireless as a 4G device would have a huge impact on the device’s place in the market.
And ultimately, that’s what Verizon needs to do. After all, there are already millions of AT&T iPhone 4s out there in the world. The market is only so large. In spite of the fact that Verizon Wireless has a significantly more robust network, introducing just another iPhone isn’t going to make very many people switch. So Verizon needs something that provides a compelling reason to eschew AT&T and look at the Verizon solution. An LTE 4G network would provide just that reason.
But whether this will actually happen remains to be seen. The conditions are certainly right. The network will be built-out enough by the rumored January ship date to make an iPhone 4X4 viable. While it would be a little unusual, Apple could announce the new version of the iPhone 4 at the iPod event in the second week of September. Normally, of course, new iPhone models must wait for the World Wide Developers Conference that happens during the summer, but in this case, it’s not a new phone, just a new version. More important, the timing fits what Verizon Wireless needs for a January launch.
So will there be a 4G iPhone 4 for Verizon Wireless announced this year? No doubt someone at Verizon knows, and of course Steve Jobs knows. The rest of us will have to put up with rumors, but in this case, the rumors are so persistent, and the information so broadly based that it sure seems possible. But of course that could just be feeding into a rumor too.