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  • So Do You Really Need a Verizon iPhone?

    February 4th, 2011

    The reviews are in, and, to nobody’s surprise, it does appear that Verizon Wireless is quite doing well with preorders of the iPhone, although there appear to have been some glitches in the ordering process. The real test will come next week when the unit actually goes on sale. Then we’ll be able to separate the adults from the children, assuming they do any better than AT&T during an iPhone rollout.

    As to the initial reviews themselves, most follow a predictable trend. Other than the required hardware modifications to support CDMA, the iPhone 4 that you buy from Verizon Wireless will be basically the same as the one you buy from AT&T. But there are important differences, and whether they mean anything to you depends on where you live and, perhaps, where you intend to travel.

    The main reason why you’d want a Verizon iPhone, other than being an existing customer of course, is the fact that AT&T has serious network quality issues in some parts of the U.S. This includes such major cities as New York and San Francisco. Testers have found that, in such key locations, the Verizon iPhone is far more capable of sustaining a good connection than the AT&T version. In other words, fewer dropped calls. If that’s your problem on AT&T, the story ends there, assuming your contract is nearly up, or you’re willing to the pay a hefty early termination fee, and perhaps make up all or most of the difference by selling your iPhone on eBay. Verizon will also give you a trade-in that might also cover a good portion of your loss.

    Actual voice quality may favor the GSM technology employed on AT&T and other carriers around the world in over 220 countries. The audio is warmer, more pleasing. Reports about the Verizon iPhone describe a crisper, but tinnier sound, typical of an audible digital artifact. But if you have fewer dropped calls, it won’t matter. Because of the stronger signal, the first batch of reviews don’t report success in reproducing the alleged Death Grip on the Verizon iPhone. Yes, the antenna is in a different location, apparently because of network considerations, but it may also resolve signal loss issues if you hold it the wrong way. But don’t forget that the Antennagate problem mostly appeared in places where signal strength was marginal. The jury is still out on that question.

    On AT&T’s side of the ledger, world travelers will find far more countries support GSM, and, where a good signal is present (very important), data transfer speeds are measurably faster than on Verizon’s network. You can also use voice and data at the same time. On CDMA networks, there’s a separate pipe for each, and data is suspended soon as you make a call. That really hurts if someone calls you while you’re browsing the Internet, or using your Verizon iPhone as a Wi-Fi hot spot. Suddenly, the connection is halted. Well, it’s halted unless the data can instead be funneled through Wi-Fi.

    The CDMA powers-that-be are reportedly readying the ability to allow simultaneous voice and data transmissions later this year, but whether that can be done without a hardware change on the iPhone isn’t certain. The problem will ultimately be solved when Verizon transitions to the 4G or LTE network, which is just where AT&T is going.

    Around the world, you’ll also chafe over the fact that CDMA is limited to about 40 countries, and, since there’s no replaceable SIM card, you won’t be able to swap accounts with another cellular network even if Verizon lets you unlock your phone. However, AT&T probably wouldn’t either, even though popping and replacing a SIM card is a simple process that takes about a minute to do. Now I know AT&T let my son unlock his Motorola RAZR when he moved to Europe. I don’t know if they would have done the same with an iPhone, and I welcome your personal experiences in making that sort of request.

    Remember that, either way, overseas roaming charges are simply horrendous. So long as you’re still paying the same monthly fee, AT&T shouldn’t care if you set up a temporary account with an oversea’s provider for trips, so you don’t bust your budget or credit card. In practice, you can also jailbreak your iPhone and do whatever you want, even though that practice can create potential security problems. Remember that jailbreaking itself is a process that may be considered equivalent to a hacker taking control of your phone.

    There’s one more key consideration: Even though the early evaluations of the Verizon iPhone demonstrate that you’re on a superior network and won’t suffer from the ills that plague AT&T users, once a few million of them are using up bandwidth, those advantages may disappear. Verizon claims they can handle the expected load. AT&T said that too, and you shouldn’t believe anyone until large numbers of new Verizon iPhones have been activated.

    As far as I’m concerned, AT&T treats me right, at least so far. My advice applies to anyone: If AT&T is good for you, don’t worry about the Verizon iPhone. If not, then at least you now have a choice, one that, I hope, will be better for your needs.

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