With Apple’s iPhone market share threatened by Android’s growing popularity and by the steadily deteriorating service of AT&T’s overburdened 3G system, Verizon Wireless will finally get a chance to show what the iPhone can do on its network.
The iPhone that the carrier is expected to introduce Jan. 11 in New York after months of speculation and anticipation won’t support Verizon’s LTE, but it will take advantage of the vast spread and capacity of Verizon’s existing 3G network.
There are still a number of questions about exactly what configuration the new Verizon Wireless iPhone will support, but it appears now that the ability to support LTE will have to wait for the iPhone 5, due this summer.
The fact that Verizon Wireless would in fact get the iPhone was originally confirmed to eWEEK in an interview with regional president Michael Maiorana in an exclusive interview in June 2010. At the time, Verizon Wireless had yet to announce its LTE plans.
The announcement of the Verizon Wireless iPhone follows several preliminary moves by Verizon and by AT&T, the carrier that was originally given the exclusive rights to market the iPhone. First, Verizon Wireless has delivered its 4G network on time, and to more cities than originally announced. This means that at least some of the demand for high-speed data on its network is being handled by its LTE network, allowing more capacity for 3G devices.
AT&T, meanwhile, announced a dozen new Android devices at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, it’s started calling its HSPA+ network “4G,” and it’s giving every indication of looking for life beyond the iPhone. A major announcement on new products from Motorola stands out, especially considering that Motorola previously was the near-exclusive home of Verizon Android devices.
It’s also worth noting that Apple has been dismantling exclusivity arrangements globally. When I was in Germany in late November, for example, the iPhone was already available from three carriers. A few months before that, T-Mobile (DE) was the exclusive carrier. This same trend is happening elsewhere in Europe, where rules on competition are a little stricter than in the United States. But it’s clear that once the trend to end exclusivity started, it would continue.
Add to that the juggernaut that the Android device market has become. Lately, Android phones of all sorts are starting to outsell the iPhone, they’re available from a variety of carriers, and for carriers claiming 4G connectivity, they’re basically the only game in town.
Current iPhone Owners Itching to Switch to Verizon
If Apple wants to protect its market share, it really has no choice but to expand the availability of its devices. This is especially true given the poor performance of AT&T’s overburdened 3G network. It was never up to the demands of the data-hungry iPhone population, and it only got worse. There are millions of would-be and current iPhone users out there who will switch in a heartbeat or finally buy one once there’s a choice of carriers.
Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, has built out the most ubiquitous wireless network in the United States. It may not have the fastest 3G coverage on the planet, but it has it in more places by a substantial margin. Likewise, its voice service is available nearly everywhere, including rural areas. This is something that AT&T has yet to accomplish, despite its claims to the contrary.
So Tuesday’s announcement of a Verizon Wireless iPhone is really a must for Apple, and a very nice thing for Verizon, which was already kicking AT&T to the side of the road and now will be able to do it more effectively. When the LTE iPhone 5 is announced this summer, both companies will get the device, but only Verizon Wireless will actually have a network to support it. AT&T’s network will be in its formative stages, but unless you live in one of the lucky areas, you’re going to be stuck with AT&T’s 3G network regardless of your phone’s 4G support.
There’s also some speculation as to the radio support that the Verizon Wireless iPhone will have. Some have suggested that it will be just a CDMA version of the existing iPhone 4, with no other changes. Others have suggested that it will be a dual-mode phone capable of supporting CDMA and GSM, allowing the device to work globally. The latter would simplify the manufacturing process for Apple; the company would only have to make one phone for everyone.
Making a world phone would also fit some of Verizon’s previous smartphone releases. The idea apparently being that if you can sell an executive a single phone that will work anywhere, you’re more likely to keep them as a customer. There’s merit to this argument, but whether it will happen is, at this point, pure speculation.
On the other hand, Apple’s current practice of doing away with exclusive agreements also supports the idea of a dual-mode device. With the right radios, the same phone could also be sold to T-Mobile and Sprint as well as smaller regional carriers, giving the company even more market share, and yet another front in the fight against Android.
Again, some of this is pure speculation. I’m expecting a CDMA phone in the announcement and maybe a dual-mode phone when the iPhone 5 is announced. But I’m prepared to be surprised.