Verizon iPhone: What Do We Actually Know?

Despite official confirmation, some think new phone could arrive in early 2011.

November 5, 2010, 6:00 PM

Nov. 8, 2010— -- The mythical Verizon iPhone. Though no official will confirm that it exists, it's still one of the most buzzed about topics in the blogosphere.

In late September, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg downplayed the possibility of an iPhone joining his network anytime soon, suggesting the company would wait for an iPhone that could run on its new fourth-generation network. But in recent weeks, the reports of a near-term fantasy phone have returned to center stage.

Citing anonymous sources, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reported in early October that Apple would release a Verizon-compatible version of the iPhone in early 2011. About a week later, the tech companies added more fuel to the fire when they announced that Verizon would start selling Apple's iPad. Since then, the rumors have continued to roll out.

But without official confirmation from either company (Verizon declined to comment for this story and Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment), what can we actually believe to be true?

Sascha Segan, an analyst for PCMag, warned that when it comes to the Web's most storied cell phone, no one knows anything about anything.

"Nobody really knows when -- or even if -- it is coming or what it will look like or what it will do. It's all speculation," he said. "So take everything anyone says with a grain of salt because we're all guessing."

That said, he added, industry insiders aren't entirely without clues about what's in store for the iPhone's future and when it might join the Verizon family.

"Most of the smart guesses are on early 2011," Segan said.

In the past year, a healthy crop of Android phones have hit the market, placing pressure on Apple to get more of its iPhones in customers' hands.

"The reason Apple is probably more aggressive about getting the iPhone on to other carriers than they used to be is because of the massive sales of Android phones over the past year," he said.

Verizon Presents Big Opportunity for Apple

Analysts expect Verizon to announce a new class of phones at the Consumer Electronics Show in early January, that can run on its new fourth-generation network. But Segan said Verizon will likely not introduce an iPhone then, as a third-generation iPhone might look less impressive next to the other 4G phones.

He added that Verizon could announce the iPhone in December and then make it available after the new year or wait until later in January.

Gene Munster, an analyst for Piper Jaffray, said he feels certain that the iPhone will move to other carriers in 2011, but said he'd expected it to emerge a little later in the year.

"[There's a] 75 percent chance that it comes in June and a 25 percent chance that it comes in January," he said, adding that, if he were a betting man, he'd say that there's a 100 percent chance of a new carrier offering the iPhone by the end of June.

While he doesn't know for sure that Verizon will be that new carrier, he said that given the size of the opportunity Verizon presents, Verizon is the likely candidate.

"Apple is elephant hunting and Verizon is the elephant," he said.

Munster said that if the new iPhone emerges in June it would be Apple's upcoming iPhone 5 (Apple traditionally announces iPhones in June and analysts don't expect next year to be any different).

But if Verizon offered an iPhone earlier in 2011, it could be a modified version of the 3GS or the iPhone 4.

Regardless of which version of the iPhone Verizon makes available on its network, some say the experience on the Verizon iPhone could be slightly different from the experience on the AT&T network.

Verizon's network uses CDMA (code division multiple access) technology and AT&T uses GSM (global system for mobile communications). While both kinds of technology connect a wireless device to applications that reside in a wired world, the current CDMA network does not allow a user to simultaneously use voice and data services.

As Apple and AT&T commercials like to tout, on an AT&T smartphone, over the cellular network, you can talk on the phone while surfing the net, checking e-mail, using a mapping service or accessing countless other data applications.

Will iPhone Crush Verizon's Network?

Analysts say an upgrade is on the way in a few months that would enable simultaneous service on the Verizon network, but, until then, Verizon iPhone would go without unless Apple comes up with a suitable workaround.

As the CDMA system doesn't have the same global support as GSM, it's possible that Verizon iPhone users might also have fewer international options.

But otherwise, analysts say the two carriers would offer near-identical phones. And, given that Verizon already knows how much pressure smartphone users place on a wireless network, many expect Verizon to be well prepared for the potentially millions of new iPhone users.

"The key question has been, will they be crushed by the iPhone?," said Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin.

The answer, according to Galvin, is no.

"It's not a question of network superiority it's a question of experience and timing," he said. "Now with the droid devices and other things, that Verizon has …[been] flexing its network in terms of data usage, they have the experience under their belt now to be able to contend with the challenges that the iPhone is going to bring. I think if Verizon had been first, they would have had the same problems that AT&T had."

While the speed of the network may be slower than AT&T's, he said that's "largely irrelevant" to the customers, as it may not affect how fast the device feels (in terms of how quickly pages load, etc.).

Still, others say that though Verizon might have boosted its network in anticipation of an iPhone, it still might not be enough.

"I think there are going to be issues," said Munster. "The amount of smartphones is going to skyrocket in the U.S. and the bottom line is as much as you prepare for it, you probably aren't prepared for it."

But, he added, we'll just have to wait and see.

"People are most focused on just getting the call right," Munster said. "Who knows how it plays out but something tells me Verizon will do a better job with that but have some problems with data speed."

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