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Verizon’s iPhone Gamble

How will Verizon’s network stand up under iPhone usage?
January 11, 2011

Apple’s iPhone has already redefined the computing and phone industries, and forced abrupt changes in strategy from companies like Google and Microsoft. Now it will become available on the Verizon network, not just AT&T’s, setting up a mass experiment that has the tech world at the edge of its seat.

The iPhone will be available to preorder from Verizon in early February. The big question is: will users of it suffer the dropped calls and slow data rates experienced by AT&T iPhone users in places densely populated with early adopters, such as San Francisco and New York.

The two networks have been trading verbal blows on the question since Sunday, when AT&T’s PR chief Larry Solomon fired the first shot, saying “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.” Solomon is right that the CDMA wireless standard used by Verizon is in many ways less powerful than the GSM one used by AT&T, but Verizon claims it’s iPhone will be faster.

“We’re ready for this launch,” Verizon CEO Dan Mead is quoted saying by the New York Times, “we have more than enough capacity on our network.”

The one feature of Verizon’s iPhone (absent from that offered by AT&T) suggest’s the company is very confident. A Verizon iPhone can become a wireless hotspot that up to five laptops or other devices connect to for internet data. That feature could place considerable a lot of load on the network, for example if people connect up iPads and laptops to stream music and watch high quality video.

When MobileCrunch’s John Biggs put Verizon and AT&T iPhone’s head to head at Verizon’s launch event in New York, he got downloads at 1.5mbps on the new device, compared to 0.1mbps on the AT&T model. However, it’s hardly a fair test since there were likely many more AT&T iPhones in the neighbourhood than Verizon ones.

Ultimately, though, the “ViPhone” may not have much time left as the newest Apple phone on the block. In a bluntly-titled post – Don’t Buy the Verizon iPhone 4 – Gizmodo cites Apple’s habit of announcing an improved iPhone every summer since 2007. Anyone signing up for a Verizon iPhone in February may find their handset outdated just a few months into their 2 year contract.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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