Verizon iPhone 4 - Strengths and Weaknesses part 1 of 2
Is it better than the regular/AT&T
Externally, Verizon's model
of the iPhone is almost
indistinguishable from the model sold by everyone else.
But there are important differences 'under the hood'.
Part of a series on the Apple iPhone - please
also visit the other articles listed on the right.
After years of rumors and wild
hopes, Apple's revolutionary iPhone has now been released in a
version compatible with Verizon's different CDMA type phone
network in the US.
The Verizon version of Apple's
iPhone 4 looks very similar externally to the AT&T/GSM/global
version of the iPhone 4, and the pricing is very similar too.
But these appearances can be deceiving.
There are important differences
internally, making the two phones different in capabilities.
You need to consider not just your preferred wireless service
provider, but also the uses you plan for your iPhone before
choosing the AT&T or Verizon version.
Verizon Finally Releases an
The original iPhone first
went on sale in 2007, and for the last three and a half years,
there have been nonstop rumors (aka wishful thinking) that
Verizon would be bringing out a version of the iPhone too.
Urban legend (which actually
might be true) has it that Apple first approached Verizon asking
them to partner with them for the development and sale of the
iPhone, and Verizon turned them down, causing Apple to then work
with AT&T instead.
Although it might seem to be
a simple issue to simply agree with Verizon and allow them to
also sell iPhones, this is not the case. Verizon uses an
uncommon type of wireless service - CDMA. AT&T and most of
the rest of the world use GSM wireless service, and the two
methods are completely incompatible (similar to how an FM radio
can't receive AM and vice versa).
So for Apple to release a
CDMA version of the iPhone, they would need to completely
replace the GSM circuitry with a CDMA equivalent - a non-trivial
process. In addition, even if they wanted to, it appears
they signed an exclusive agreement with AT&T preventing them
from releasing iPhone models to other wireless services in the
US for the first few years the iPhone was available.
The situation was different
in other countries for two reasons. Apple didn't so much
need a launch partner, and so did not need to give exclusive
rights to their phone to only one carrier. Secondly, because in most
other countries, all the wireless providers use the same GSM
type of service, no changes to the phone itself needed to be
made to allow multiple companies to sell it.
Problems Releasing Competing
iPhone Models in the US
The situation in the US is
more complex than in other countries.
Not only are there two
completely different types of wireless service - GSM and CDMA -
but the two companies that provide GSM service (AT&T and
T-Mobile) offer their 3G data service on different frequencies.
This meant that even if Apple would agree to allow T-Mobile to
sell iPhones, they wouldn't work on T-Mobile's fast 3G data
network, only on their voice service (and the related, very slow,
EDGE and GPRS data services that use the voice service for
So there the situation
languished for several years, with the US uniquely being the one
country where iPhones were only available from a single source.
Behind the scenes, from 2008
forward, it seems that Apple and Verizon were secretly working
on developing a CDMA version of the iPhone. Occasional
leaks filtered out causing bursts of intense excitement (among
Verizon customers), only to die away again when nothing further
transpired. It also seems that the model iPhone now being
released by Verizon was in testing for the better part of a
year, which hopefully suggests the technology has any bugs well
shaken out of it.
And so, and at last,
effective as of 11 January, Verizon has now officially announced
that they are about to start selling a CDMA version of the
iPhone, with effect from Thursday 10 February.
External Appearance and
The Verizon iPhone is a
model iPhone 4, appearing very similar externally to the
AT&T/global version of the iPhone 4.
As with all other
iPhones, there is no external branding or logo showing the
Verizon name (although when the phone is on, the top of the
screen will show in tiny letters 'Verizon' as the name of the
wireless provider it is connected to.
There is one subtle but
significant difference. Due to the Verizon iPhone working
on different CDMA frequencies to the AT&T/rest of the world
iPhone which uses GSM frequencies, it has slightly different
external antennas around the edge.
This resulted in a very
slight repositioning of the mute switch and two volume buttons
on the left hand side, meaning that most wrap-around ‘bumper’
protective cases that are already available for regular iPhones
will not fit the new Verizon iPhone.
The cost to buy a Verizon
style iPhone is the same as to buy an AT&T style one - $200 for
the 16GB version or $300 for the 32GB version, with a
requirement to sign up for a standard two year contract with
But AT&T also offer the
earlier model 3GS for a mere $49, and have refurbished iPhone 4
models on sale for a $100 or better discount compared to new
In terms of purchase price,
this gives perhaps a very slight advantage to AT&T for having more models
including discounted refurbished ones.
Voice Service Costs
It is not known if the voice
plans will be the same as Verizon offers for their other phones,
or different; but currently the Verizon website seems to imply
that voice plans will be the same as available for regular
phones, and this seems a reasonable assumption to accept.
This means you have a choice
between $40, $60 or $70 a month for a single line of service,
giving you either 450, 900 or unlimited minutes of talk time.
Adding a package of 250 messages (SMS, MMS or voicemail) is an
This compares with AT&T
which offers almost identical voice service pricing (what a
surprise!) with the main difference being that AT&T has
roll-over minutes, allowing minutes unused one month to be
carried forward to the next month.
AT&T’s message package
contains 200 messages (rather than 250) for $5. Both
companies also offer options for greatly increased numbers of
messages if you should wish them.
In terms of voice plan
costs, maybe AT&T has a very slight advantage due to its
roll-over minutes feature.
Data Service Costs
Verizon, the same as AT&T,
insists that you must sign up for both a voice and a data
package when buying an iPhone.
Verizon hasn’t yet released
any iPhone specific service packages and whereas it is
reasonable to assume their voice packages will be the same as
for other phones, it is not quite such a certainty that their
data packages will be identical.
It is possible that their
current $30/month for
unlimited data option (the amounts for data service are of
course additional to the amounts you pay for voice service) offered on most other phones will not be
made available for the iPhone, due to people with iPhones
typically using more data than people with other phones.
But if it was retained, that would be better than AT&T’s
$25/month for 2GB of data.
At the low end of the usage
scale, AT&T offers a $15/month plan for 200MB of data usage –
which is often enough for most users, especially if you
have Wi-Fi at home and work – whereas Verizon charges the same
$15 for a lesser 150MB on its present data plans, which is more
likely to be sometimes insufficient.
Until Verizon announce the
exact details of the data plans they will offer for iPhones, we
can't rate them compared to AT&T.
Upgrading to an iPhone Now
AT&T had offered an early
upgrade feature allowing clients who were one year in their two
year contract the option to upgrade to the iPhone 4 at no cost
penalty when they released their iPhone 4 last year.
Alas, Verizon is not
offering this same 12 month option (they are thought to offer
this to people who are 20 months in to the contract).
So if you are already a Verizon
customer, you’ll either have to wait until you’ve finished your
present two year contract, or alternatively, buy a new iPhone at
full retail price (believed to be a staggering $450 more than
the subsidized $200/$300 price with a new two year contract) to
substitute for your present phone, or pay an early termination
fee to break your present contract and start a new contract.
Depending on how far into your two year contract you are,
will probably be better to pay the early termination fee than to buy a
phone at the ridiculous 'full retail price' of $650 or $750.
An Extra Feature on Verizon
The Verizon version of the
iPhone has one very appealing new feature – the ability to
create a ‘personal hot spot’ – a small Wi-Fi network, which
rebroadcasts the 3G data signal onto a Wi-Fi signal. This
allows you to share your phone’s 3G data service with up to five
users and devices (such as an iPad, for example, or a laptop/netbook/whatever
else - even another phone).
This feature is simply a software upgrade
which is expected to be released for all regular iPhones too
when the new version 4.3 of iOS is released. But that is
not the same as confirming that AT&T will support this function
- AT&T say they are currently 'evaluating' the feature (which
probably means it is waiting to see how much Verizon will charge
So, until iOS 4.3 comes out
and AT&T completes its 'evaluation', AT&T
iPhones are limited to a single wired ('tethered') connection to
a single computer, which is not nearly as flexible as being able
to rebroadcast the data through a personal Wi-Fi hotspot to
One almost certain issue
with running this personal hotspot service is that it will drain
the battery quickly. No information has been offered, but
we'll guess that it will drain the battery twice as quickly than
being connected to 3G data, because you are simultaneously
sending/receiving 3G data and also sending/receiving Wi-Fi
signals. We'd expect less than 3 hours of battery life
while using the phone in this mode.
By the way - this extra
feature will almost certainly cost you extra money if you wish
to avail yourself of it.
Please read on to part two
of this article for details of
what is omitted from Verizon's iPhone and other limitations
of the Verizon iPhone, and the future of iPhones for
Verizon, AT&T, and possibly other companies too.
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11 Jan 2011, last update
28 Nov 2012
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