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Apple and Verizon Wireless Revisited

The iPhone on Verizon du jour report this week comes to you courtesy of Bloomberg News. Yes, that’s the company owned by the same guy who is now mayor of New York City.

Now this has been an ongoing rumor for months now, that once Apple’s exclusive deal with AT&T expires, the iPhone will be available to other carriers in the U.S. However, the real question has always been not if but when, because nobody outside of Apple, AT&T, their lawyers and a few others under deep cover or an ironclad DNA can give you an accurate answer.

It is understandable that a lot of people would like to see Apple expand your purchase options. AT&T doesn’t get good marks for connection quality in many of the larger cities, despite claims that they are spending billions of dollars to enhance their networks. Yes, there are reports that network reliability is now much better in New York City, and they’re working on Chicago, San Francisco and other trouble spots, but I’d rather hear confirmation from you. I don’t just accept corporate spin without some confirmation.

The usual problems from saturated networks include dropped calls and subpar Internet download speeds. Supposedly, AT&T was caught flat-footed when they embraced the iPhone, not anticipating how fast it would take off, nor the amount of data customers would consume.

The skeptical minded among us might mention that AT&T has long been cursed with bad ratings for their network, so they should have anticipated that there was trouble afoot from this move. It may also be that AT&T was the only major cell carrier to accede to Apple’s penchant for ironclad control, at a time when few expected the iPhone to take off as quickly as it did. Verizon Wireless allegedly insisted that the iPhone become just another commodity product in their smartphone lineup.

This is not to say that a Verizon version of the iPhone wouldn’t have some shortcomings. For one thing, AT&T touts the ability to take a phone call and do something else, such as checking your email, at the same time. Verizon’s CDMA network doesn’t allow for that form of multitasking, even though the Android phones they offer tout the ability to run more than one app at the same time. I don’t pretend to know if this limitation can be addressed with firmware or cheap hardware upgrades to the network, or they have to wait for the rollout of LTE, the next generation system that will also be embraced by AT&T and other carriers.

With LTE, Apple wouldn’t even have to build separate versions of the iPhone in the U.S. They could survive with just one.

But even if Apple doesn’t wait for LTE, which Verizon is expected to begin to deploy next year, I suppose millions of potential customers will survive the lack of simultaneous telephone call and email functionality. There is, of course, Verizon’s fabulous network, which is supposedly freer of dropped calls and other problems.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t be tempted to switch after my AT&T contract expires. My experience with Verizon customer service has been totally unfavorable. Yes, the surveys give them good marks, but I have rarely seen such a collection of uninformed, ill-mannered support people anywhere.

Even though I’m not a Verizon customer, my sister-in-law is, and, being the technical expert in the family, I’m often called upon to help when they encounter problems. On several occasions, after trying to deal with a niggling billing problem, I was promised by a supervisor that a manager would call back “within 48 hours.” That promise was repeated over four telephone calls, and it never happened. The fifth attempt was a charm, but that’s no excuse.

I also recall one instance where I talked to an ill-tempered billing rep who, after being asked why I hadn’t gotten a callback from management, pronounced me deluded. Two days later, they disconnected my sister-in-law’s service not over of a billing issue, but because of a single employee’s nasty disposition. Yes, folks, I did get my sister-in-law a month’s credit for her misery. So even if Verizon Wireless has the better network, their toxic customer support more than convinces me not to become one of their customers.

Oh well, I guess I just lost a potential advertiser, but those are the breaks.

Of course, when Apple finally makes that deal with Verizon, it’s likely they will insist on a certain level of customer support. As it stands now, when you call AT&T about a number for which you’re using an iPhone, you have the option of talking with Apple about your handset, or AT&T about the network and billing. I expect the same will be true for Verizon.

In the end, yes, I believe the deal will happen. It may already be set in stone, becoming effective at the conclusion of the AT&T exclusive. But don’t assume that jumping ship will give you a better experience. Once Verizon is saturated with iPhone traffic, they may have problems too.