The iPhone, AT&T and Verizon Wireless: What Should You Believe?

January 26th, 2010

Anyone who experiences dropped calls from the wireless carrier that once promised fewer dropped calls must be wondering if AT&T’s exclusive on the iPhone is poised to expire. There are reports now that Apple will announce during their Wednesday morning shindig that the iPhone will become available at more than a single U.S. carrier.

Before the disgruntled AT&T customers in our audience let out a resounding cheer, let me remind you that we don’t know the real details of that exclusive iPhone deal. Other reports suggested a three-year pact that would expire this summer, and that AT&T is striving to extend it. A two-and-a-half year arrangement sounds less sensible, but there’s no real confirmation for either version.

But even if Verizon Wireless does ultimately carry the iPhone, would it make things better? You see, one of the problems with the iPhone is that its easy Internet access means more customers are surfing; hence online data usage has soared to previously unheard of levels. AT&T got the brunt of this traffic and suffered mightily as the result, so maybe Verizon deserves a share of the misery.

Of course, it’s also true that Verizon has gotten far better marks for network quality and customer service than AT&T, and that’s a situation that has prevailed for a number of years. Then again, AT&T is a company cobbled together from several mergers, and finding corporate synergies and blending networks is no easy task. AT&T’s executives claim to be spending billions of dollars to improve network quality, and such changes won’t come overnight.

Even now, I see better call quality in the Phoenix area, where AT&T has traditionally had mediocre scores. And the network congestion in such locales as New York City and San Francisco has supposedly been reduced with the addition of more cell towers and updated network backbones.

Regardless, there’s nothing wrong with having a choice, and the so-called financial experts predict even more iPhone sales, mirroring the situation in other countries. But just how will a Verizon Wireless version of the iPhone impact you?

Before making unreasonable assumptions, don’t forget that Apple is still standing four-square behind AT&T. In the quarterly conference call with financial analysts Monday, Apple said they were assured by AT&T that the carrier has a credible plan to address lingering network issues. On the other hand, business is business.

When it comes to Verizon Wireless, the real question is whether your experience will get better, worse, or not change in any meaningful way. Yes, maybe the reception is superior with one of Verizon’s smartphones, such as a BlackBerry or Droid. But once again, don’t forget they are not making demands on that company’s network near what the iPhone is doing on AT&T.

There’s also the question of how an iPhone reengineered to work on a CDMA network would behave. You see, both Apple and AT&T are making a big deal over the fact that, when connected via the latter’s 3G network, you can make phone calls and, at the same time, perform other functions, such as checking your email or visiting a Web site. Although the iPhone is dinged for lacking multitasking, that situation strictly applies to third-party apps. With Apple’s own software, the iPhone can reliably walk and chew gum at the same time.

So the question is this: Would that sort of multitasking system apply to Verizon’s 3G system? It’s a very different network, and those ads imply this highly important feature won’t function. If true, that could be a significant shortcoming for some of you, but if network quality is more reliable, maybe it won’t make a difference.

However, both AT&T and Verizon are going to ultimately migrate to the so-called 4G or LTE (for Long Term Evolution) network technology. This means that the basic telephone hardware required for both companies, and others that adopt the same system, will be identical. Apple won’t have to build a CDMA version, or a hybrid.

It is inevitable that the iPhone will be available one day from more than a single carrier in the U.S. Whether that will happen this year, or whether Apple will wait for LTE to be deeply deployed is anyone’s guess. Because a contract with one carrier expires doesn’t mean Apple will jump head (or feet) first into the arms of another carrier.

More to the point, what’s there to stop them from signing up the fourth largest carrier in the U.S., T-Mobile? They have a compatible network (although there are some differences in terms of the frequencies used). What’s more, some people who have opted to jailbreak their iPhones are already using T-Mobile. So why not make it official and give them all the features currently available at AT&T, such as visual voicemail?

Regardless of how it all plays out, don’t assume for a moment that switching from AT&T, assuming they let you out of your contract (or you just wait till it’s up), will magically cure all of the iPhone’s problems. Maybe it’ll just create some new ones.

| Print This Article Print This Article

2 Responses to “The iPhone, AT&T and Verizon Wireless: What Should You Believe?”

  1. DaveD says:

    I am very satisfied with my current, regular LG cellphone on Verizon. If the iPhone comes to Verizon this year, I will not upgrade. It just makes more sense to do so after Verizon completes its 4G network. I can wait.

    I rather spend the money and the R&R time with an “Xpad.”

  2. dfs says:

    The key statement in Gene’s peace is “there’s nothing wrong with having a choice. ” The trouble with weighing the pros and cons of different carriers in the abstract, as is done in this article and as the computer press likes to do, is that nobody lives in the abstract, they live and move around in specific places, and what is true for you might not be true for me. What carrier best serves the needs of a farmer in Kansas might be very different from what’s best for an ad exec in San Francisco, somebody who’s job keeps him on the road a lot, or a college kid in Ann Arbor. Result: no “one size fits all“ solution is going to work well for everybody, and as long as Apple goes on cutting deals with single carriers “one size fits all“ is all we’re going to have, so there are going to be a certain number of unhappy campers.

Leave Your Comment