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The Verizon iPhone omits some features and capabilities that are present in other iPhones.

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The Verizon iPhone 4 - Strengths and Weaknesses part 2 of 2

Is it better than the regular/AT&T iPhone?
 

The Verizon iPhone looks very similar to regular iPhones, other than by showing the Verizon service on the top of its screen.

Part of a series on the Apple iPhone - please also visit the other articles listed on the right.

 

 

Many people will be delighted to see a Verizon iPhone finally released.  But many people will also be disappointed at the features that are omitted from the new Verizon iPhone.

Indeed, although the phone is new to Verizon, it is a nine month old model with barely three months left until it is expected to be replaced and superseded by a greatly improved/enhanced model.

So should you rush to buy a Verizon iPhone now, or is it better to wait until June and the expected new iPhones that will be released then?

Not Included on the Verizon iPhone

Many people had been hoping that a new iPhone released now would not just be a reworked 'old' iPhone 4, but a precursor to the new model iPhone 5 expected to come out in June for AT&T.  Alas, that was not the case.

In addition to the nice 'bonus' feature of allowing for rebroadcasting the 3G data service as a Wi-Fi hotspot, there are some omissions on the Verizon iPhone too.

No GSM - No International Roaming

A disappointment – and a surprise – is that the Verizon phone appears to only work on Verizon’s US network and on CDMA networks in the few other countries in the world which also support this relatively non-standard technology.

Whereas Verizon has in the past brought out 'world phones' that have a combination of both CDMA and also the GSM type service, allowing the phone to truly work everywhere in the world, it seems it has not done so for the iPhone.

This is a serious omission for anyone anticipating travel outside of the US, Canada, Mexico, and a small selection of other mainly minor countries.  If your travels take you to Europe, Australia, or over 150 other countries, your Verizon iPhone will not work (whereas your AT&T iPhone would work perfectly).

Note that at the time of writing, Verizon's own website seems to have an error on it.  It seems someone simply cut and pasted data about the iPhone from Apple's site (even including AT&T iPhone images!) and so Verizon's site currently claims their iPhone does have GSM service.

This is almost certainly an error, because if Verizon's website specifications are to be believed, although their phone does have GSM, it does not have CDMA!  At the release event they were clearer at explaining their phone does not have GSM service, and their FCC filing also omits any mention of GSM capability.

The lack of GSM capabilities and international roaming of course won't matter if you never travel out of North America, but if you do, then you need to consider AT&T, or buying/borrowing/renting a second phone for when you travel internationally.

No 4G or other enhancements

If you regularly see your glass as half empty rather than half full, you might seize on the fact that the Verizon iPhone 4 is generally the same as the AT&T iPhone 4 as a disappointment.

For example, it does not support Verizon's growing 4G network (much faster data speeds than 3G).

It also has nothing 'new' compared to the now nine month old iPhone 4 being sold by AT&T.  It is generally expected that Apple will release a new model iPhone in about June (the same as they do every year) so if you buy an iPhone 4 now from either carrier, you risk it becoming technologically superseded in June.

Will Verizon get future iPhones at the same time as AT&T

There is also a slight worry as to if the new iPhone 5 (or whatever it is called when it is released) will be available at the same time for Verizon as for AT&T, or if there might be a delay of some months until the new technology is then married into Verizon's unique CDMA service.

Some industry commentators feel certain that Verizon will get new models at the same time as AT&T.  Others are less certain.  We'll not know the real answer to this question until June.

It is worth noting that although Verizon is a major carrier in the US, from Apple's perspective, Verizon's one-off CDMA requirements are much less important to them than the generic 'one size fits all' GSM alternative that they sell everywhere else in the world.  Which leads to :

What about Sprint?  MetroPCS?

Sprint also uses CDMA, and so in theory the Verizon CDMA iPhone could also become a Sprint iPhone too.

Apple has confirmed that their agreement with Verizon is non-exclusive, which causes one to speculate that it is entirely foreseeable that Sprint too may get an iPhone product in the next few months.

MetroPCS is the other CDMA provider of note in the US.  It too might end up getting an iPhone.

Internationally, China Telecom (in China) is a huge possible customer for CDMA iPhones also.

A Limitation of the Verizon iPhone

Unfortunately, with the CDMA type service, you can’t simultaneously be on a voice phone call and also using the data service.

This is no big deal if you are holding the phone to your ear and talking – how could you be simultaneously checking your email, looking for a restaurant, or whatever?  But if you’re using a wired earpiece or a Bluetooth headset, it definitely would be possible to do two things at once (maybe in the car where the phone is using its GPS feature to map you to your destination) and so this is a small but real limitation.

Similarly, if you're sharing the data service through the personal hotspot feature, this would presumably pause during the duration of the phone call too.

Battery Life - Slightly Shorter?

The CDMA type of wireless service is typically harder on battery usage than GSM, and so perhaps it is not surprising that Verizon hasn’t yet released any battery life data for how many hours of voice calling the phone will support.  Regular iPhones have a claimed 14 hour capability for voice calls and up to 300 hours on standby, we would expect lower numbers for the Verizon iPhone.

The battery life for Wi-fi usage or 3G service would probably be the same for either phone.

You might think that 14 hours of calling and/or 300 hours of standby are more than enough to get you through a single day, but if you start using the phone for Wi-Fi or 3G data, then the battery life reduces down to as little as 6 hours, and when you have a GPS/mapping program running, the battery life seems to become even shorter still.  A day of mixed use can end up nearly exhausting your battery, even in a best case scenario.

Quality of Service Issues - AT&T's Undeserved Albatross?

The unexpected explosion of data usage that AT&T experienced when it first started selling iPhones has been a legendary problem associated with iPhones and AT&T’s service for some years.

But, like most legends, the reality is somewhat different, and it continues to be my perception, backed by some (but not all) user surveys and tests of real world phone call quality/reliability/speed, that AT&T unfairly suffers from an undeservedly bad reputation, with the reality being that most of the time their service is as good or better than that offered by the other wireless companies in the US.

Some of AT&T's past problems are also the result of unavoidable growing pains as it struggled to keep up with the rapidly escalating demands placed on its network by the ever increasing number of iPhones (and other smart phones) being sold.  Neither AT&T nor Apple expected iPhones (and their users) to become such great consumers of data services as they showed themselves to be, and for an extended time, AT&T struggled to build up/out its network to keep up and get ahead of the demands being placed on it.

But the period of explosive growth is now largely over, and it seems that AT&T service is generally good, most of the time, in most places, and certainly comparable to the always slightly less than fully perfect service offered by other wireless companies.

Verizon, on the other hand, has generally had a much better reputation in terms of unofficial perceptions of network quality and reliability. Perhaps this is partially due to its network never being as stressed by the release of a runaway best selling phone the way that AT&T’s network has been in the past.

Will iPhones impact the same - or worse - on Verizon's network?

One has to wonder what the impact on Verizon's 3G network will be if it sells a significant number of iPhones.  And whereas, several years ago, the 3G network was AT&T's key strategic product to invest in and build out, Verizon has now switched focus to its new 4G network.

If iPhone sales start to overload Verizon's 3G network the same way they did AT&T's network almost three years ago, how willing will Verizon be to invest further in a now obsolete technology?

To put it bluntly, the iPhone 4 is already obsolete in terms of where Verizon's future network dollars are going.

All wireless data services are disappointing

Furthermore, it seems some people have unrealistic expectations about the type of internet speed available on a cell phone.

As our computers get more powerful at home and work, and as our home/work internet connections grow in speed, our expectations have also grown.  But any phone is not nearly as powerful as any computer (so it can’t display pages once they have been downloaded as quickly), and we'll always be disappointed if we compare phones to computers, even if the data access speeds are the same.

In addition, all phones share data connectivity with all other phones using the same cell tower.  Even the very theoretically best internet service on a phone will be slower than at home/work, and sometimes, there just will be too many other users all sharing the one cell tower, making for a slow experience for everyone.

I’ve never had any real, serious, or extended problems using AT&T’s service around the US, but I’ve not traveled widely enough to be able to make any meaningful evaluation.

From my perspective, I have been totally happy with AT&T’s service.  But if you are in a truly bad area for AT&T service, with dropped calls and non-existent 3G data, maybe the Verizon alternative might be better.

But, beware, if you’re in a country area, it might be that Verizon has no better 3G data service than does AT&T (and might not even have any at all – both companies offer fairly good connectivity in the cities, but much poorer as you get progressively more rural).

Don't expect a switch to Verizon will transform your phone data experience.  Yes, it might improve it perceptibly if you' are having problems with AT&T at present, but it also might not make any difference at all.

Initial testing of sample Verizon iPhones at their launch event in New York, doing website page loads side by side with AT&T iPhones showed no relevant or meaningful difference in network speeds.

What About 4G Data

Both Verizon and AT&T are developing new networks with even faster data speeds than their current networks - what they are terming 4G (fourth generation) networks.

Verizon already has 4G service in 38 areas and 60 airports (as of 11 Jan 2011), and is growing its national footprint as quickly as it can.  Here is their website coverage map.

AT&T does not yet have any 4G operational, but expects to release it during this year.  Here is their website coverage map.

But who really cares about 4G, because at present neither iPhone supports 4G - and never will.  Some people think the new iPhone 5, when it comes out in probably June, might add 4G service, but that is not an issue that is relevant to your interest in an iPhone 4 at present - indeed, if anything, it is a reason to delay buying either an AT&T or a Verizon iPhone and waiting to see what happens in June.

Unlocking iPhones and Using Them On Different Networks

It is possible to unlock most models and software versions of GSM (ie AT&T) iPhones, and then to use them with different SIMs and on different networks.  We can unlock iPhones ourselves.

But CDMA phones don't use the same concept of a replaceable account card/user identifier (which is essentially what a SIM is) so the unlocking concept doesn't apply to Verizon phones.

And because of the underlying incompatibility between CDMA/Verizon and GSM/everyone else, an unlocked Verizon iPhone, even if such a thing were possible, would still not work with other carriers, and similarly, an unlocked regular iPhone will never work with Verizon.

Summary

The Verizon iPhone 4 is very similar to the current AT&T iPhone 4.  It costs the same to purchase on a new contract, and will probably have similar but not exactly identical voice and data plans for you to choose from.

On the positive side, the Verizon iPhone will appeal if you are in an area where AT&T has poor coverage and Verizon has good coverage.  The Verizon version of the iPhone also has a wonderful new feature not yet available on the AT&T iPhones - the ability to share your 3G data connection by creating a Wi-Fi network to connect other devices to (this feature may well be added to existing AT&T iPhones in the next few months).

On the negative side, the Verizon iPhone will probably have slightly poorer battery life, does not allow you to simultaneously talk and use the data services, and is not compatible with phone service in most other countries, including all countries in Europe.

With a new iPhone 5 (or whatever it will be called) expected to be released for AT&T in June, it might pay to wait until then to see how the new iPhone 5 from AT&T (and possibly a similar new iPhone 5 from Verizon) compares to the present iPhone 4.

Overall, there is nothing compellingly better about Verizon's iPhone compared to AT&T's, and in several respects, the Verizon product is appreciably inferior.

This is the second part of a two part article about Verizon's new iPhone.  Please click to go to the first part introducing Verizon's iPhone, what it can do, and how it is better than an AT&T iPhone.

It is also, together, part 6 of a series on the Apple iPhone - please also visit

1.  About the iPhone in General
2.  Using the iPhone
3.  iPhone limitations and should you buy one

4.  The iPhone 3G - what's new and what's different
5
Competitors to the iPhone

6.  Verizon's iPhone 4

 

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Originally published 11 Jan 2011, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
Related Articles
About the Apple iPhone in general
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Verizon's iPhone 4 part 2
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