Verizon iPhone 4: it’s official. Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam announced that the CDMA version of the iPhone 4 will be coming to Verizon Wireless on February 10th. Apple and Verizon have been working on the Verizon iPhone 4 since 2008 and it has been tested for a year already. Current Verizon customers get first dibs and can pre-order on February 3rd. The rest of us will have to wait until the 10th.
The Verizon iPhone 4 works on Verizon’s CDMA network that makes use of EV-DO 3G data networks. Unfortunately, Verizon’s next-generation LTE network isn’t supported with the current version of the Verizon iPhone 4. (I’ve been using Pantech’s UML290VW USB LTE modem on my MacBook Pro for the last couple of weeks and let me just say this: LTE is fast.) Apple COO Tim Cook on why the Verizon iPhone isn’t LTE via Cult of Mac:
Two reasons: the first gen LTE chipsets force design changes we wouldn’t make. And Verizon customers told us they want the iPhone now. I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve been asked, “When will it work on Verizon?”
Soon after the iPhone was first introduced, AT&T’s network buckled. Many have complained bitterly about their iPhone experiences on AT&T’s networks, especially from those living in New York and San Francisco. Some expect Verizon’s reliable network to undergo growing pains like AT&T did. Others disagree. According to Gartner analyst Phil Redman as quoted on Gizmodo:
[Verizon has] had more time to plan than anybody else and knows the repercussions of not preparing enough [and] put in more work than AT&T did at the start of their venture. [Verizon has] increased their CDMA capacity over the last 12-18 months [and are] more aggressive than others increasing their backhaul capacity.
Will that be enough? AT&T also added considerable capacity to its networks but a 5000% growth in data usage since the launch of the iPhone brought it down. That kind of growth probably won’t happen when the Verizon iPhone 4 gets in the hands of users and Verizon is known to have the most reliable cellular network in the US. Here’s hoping that Verizon iPhone 4 users will experience impeccable connectivity for voice as well as data, but of course not both at the same time.
So, what is the difference between an AT&T iPhone 4 and a Verizon iPhone 4?
First, let’s look at what didn’t change. Both iPhone 4s get the same talk times: 7 hours for 3G voice, 6 hours for 3G web, and 10 hours for WiFi web. The overall design as well as the size of the display is the same. The front and back are made of glass. The display is the same 3.5-inch Retina Display. Pricing is the same: $199 for the 16GB version and $299 for the 32GB. Just like the AT&T iPhone 4 there are no additional carrier logos. Five physical buttons remain the same: one home button on the front face, power/sleep button on top, one mute lever, and two volume buttons. And this leads to the first thing that’s changed.
The antenna separator next to the headphone jack moved to the side pushing down the mute lever and volume buttons just a bit. And that means some cases will not work on the Verizon iPhone 4, including Apple’s Bumpers. There is an additional notch on the top right corner and the SIM slot is gone.
Apple COO Tim Cook confirmed the antenna design was optimized for the CDMA baseband chips leading to this change. These changes seem to have improved signal retention: initial death-grip results are positive.
Ars contributor Chris Foresman reported that bridging the remaining gap on the Verizon iPhone (using the “death grip,” he says) did not result in any kind of CDMA signal attenuation. He also placed a call while death gripping and said that there was no noticeable signal loss.
Sitting at the demo bar, I managed to knock one bar off of the phone’s signal indicator by tightly gripping the phone with both hands, covering all four antenna marks. Just covering the bottom of the phone didn’t do it. But the demo room has excellent signal, and attenuation problems really show themselves in fringe signal areas. It’ll take a real lab test to see how much Apple has improved the antenna here.
Keep in mind there are few areas where Verizon signals don’t reach while there are many fringe signal areas for AT&T. Ultimately we will find out when Verizon iPhone 4 users from all over the country report on any connectivity issues.
We put our hand in the standard “death grip” location, making sure that we covered up all of the right spots, and held onto the device for up to a minute. When we started the test, the device was at four bars. It should be noted that full service is represented on the iPhone 4 with 5 bars. So, the test started with only four bars being shown. As we held the device, and we timed it at a minute, we watched as only one bar disappeared.
We then put our fingers over certain points on the device. Making sure to cover up the “new” top portion of the antenna, and we still couldn’t reproduce the “death grip” symptoms that plagued the initial launch of the iPhone 4. You can check out the images from our test below, but it looks like Verizon’s confidence in the iPhone 4 on their network seem to be pretty sound.
I’m quite excited. An iPhone on Verizon means no more dropped calls and excellent data connectivity no matter where you are. It would have been fantastic to have had a Verizon iPhone 4 during CES: AT&T 3G signals at the Las Vegas Convention Center were terrible. 2G didn’t work that well either.
Mobile Hotspot: The AT&T iPhone 4 doesn’t have it; the Verizon iPhone 4 does. The mobile hotspot is optional and if current pricing for other smartphones on Verizon is any indication, it will cost $20 per month with a data cap. Exact pricing and data limitations have not been announced. Five devices can connect to the WiFi mobile hotspot, which is built right into the Verizon iPhone 4 running on iOS 4.2.5, a more advanced version compared to the version currently on AT&T iPhone 4s: 4.2.1. Just note that when a voice call comes through the data connection might be terminated.
Data network connectivity is the name of the game and there are rumors that suggest Verizon iPhone 4 customers might be offered the option of an unlimited data plan for $50 per month.
The AT&T iPhone 4 is better than the Verizon iPhone 4 in three fronts: global roaming capability, faster Internet connectivity, and being able to talk while accessing data. Of course, all of this doesn’t matter if you’re not able to get a robust voice or data connection in the first place. That last bit about being able to talk while you do other stuff using the data connection may be critical to some: most expect your data connection on the Verizon iPhone 4 to disconnect when a call comes through.
AT&T is fighting back. AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega in an interview with The Wall Street Journal:
We are ready for it. The short- and long-term viability of AT&T will be good whether we have exclusivity or not. We are much bigger than this.
AT&T PR boss Larry Solomon via Business Insider:
The iPhone is built for speed, but that’s not what you get with a CDMA phone. I’m not sure iPhone users are ready for life in the slow lane.
A slow and reliable lane is better than one filled with potholes. Credit Suisse analyst Jonathan Chaplin estimates 1.3 million iPhone users will defect from AT&T to Verizon through 2012. Those 1.3 million iPhone 4 users are those who no longer want to tolerate sub-standard voice and data connectivity by AT&T. Most probably live in New York and San Francisco. For those that have excellent AT&T signals there really is no reason to jump to Verizon. But if you simply must get out of your AT&T contract and get a Verizon iPhone 4, Lifehacker has some good tips on how you can do that.
Finally, if you can wait, wait. All indications are Apple will be unveiling a brand new iPhone later on. My bet is that it will be an iPhone that runs on new LTE networks. There will be a single model that runs on both AT&T and Verizon. Verizon has a head start on LTE deployments, but AT&T will be lighting up LTE signals by mid-2011, about the time the new iPhone will be announced.