∞ A month with a Verizon iPhone – and why I won't be switching

I’ve spent the past month with a loaner Verizon iPhone 4, and it’s been great: call quality is a bit clearer, fewer calls have been dropped, and the Personal Hotpsot feature has been a life saver. But I’m not planning on switching from AT&T any time soon.

[ad#Google Adsense 300×250 in story]Obviously I’d get penalized with early termination fees on my phone and my wife’s phone if we switched today. And I’d have to go through the hassle of getting new iPhones designed to work on Verizon’s network, and the burden of new two-year contracts. But those are actually pretty minor reasons, in the larger scheme of things. There are other practical considerations for why I’m not interested in switching to a Verizon iPhone yet.

The Verizon version of the iPhone 4 is functionally identical to its AT&T counterpart, now even more so following iOS 4.3’s release, since AT&T iPhone 4s now have a Personal Hotspot function that enables them to act as Wi-Fi base stations.

The only real difference between the two phones is the carrier, and the technology used to transmit and receive voice and data communication. Verizon relies on CDMA technology, while AT&T uses GSM.

Walking and chewing gum at the same time

The big difference comes when you need to access data over your cell connection. GSM phones like AT&T’s can communicate simultaneously with voice and data – so when you’re on a call, you can still pull up a Web page or access Google Maps. You can’t do that on your Verizon iPhone 4.

This becomes especially apparently if you’re using your Verizon iPhone 4 as a personal hotspot, which I found myself doing frequently while I had the device. Make or receive a call and your Internet connection is paused. Your Mac or Wi-Fi only iPad will time out, as if someone’s disconnected your home router from its Internet connection. As soon as the call ends, you can get back online.

This problem isn’t apparent on the AT&T iPhone 4. And it’s one of several show stoppers that’s keeping me from switching.

World travel

CDMA’s relative absence in Europe is another problem. I don’t travel frequently to Europe, but I have had cause to make and receive calls on GSM networks in non US-countries since I switched to the iPhone, and it’s not a problem (I do routinely shut off my phone’s data connection when I’m travelling internationally, of course).

I’d hate to think I’d have to go through the hassle of picking up a throwaway cell phone just to make and receive calls the next time I’m there.

And with all of my contact and calendar information on my iPhone, that would mean having to jockey two phones everywhere I go. I’ve done that. It gets tiresome quickly.

The next generation, and the next, and the one after that too

LTE is another reason I’m reluctant to get a Verizon iPhone today.

LTE – short for Long Term Evolution – is Verizon’s next-generation networking protocol. Verizon’s “4G” service is already available in about three dozen urban markets throughout the US, and the company is committed to expanding LTE throughout its already spectacular nationwide network until it’s ubiquitous. But that’s going to take until some time in 2013.

In cell phone life cycle terms, that’s three generations away.

And today, Apple’s iPhone 4 for Verizon uses the older CDMA technology, not LTE. Apple COO Tim Cook told press at the Verizon iPhone 4 rollout in New York City earlier this year that the LTE chips Apple looked at just weren’t up to snuff.

Most of us expect Apple to release a new iPhone this year, just as they have every year since the iPhone was introduced. And there’s no reason to think they won’t do the same in 2012 and 2013 as well.

I’m certain that Apple will have an LTE iPhone for Verizon. At some point. But not today.

Given that Verizon’s staking its bet on LTE, why should I jump now? Shouldn’t I wait and see how AT&T stacks up at that point?

Of course, if I was a Verizon customer today, stuck with a lousy phone, I wouldn’t hesitate to get an iPhone. But for me as an AT&T customer, I’m just not convinced that I need to switch yet. I’d be trading the devil I know for the devil I don’t know.


Of course, sticking with AT&T means having to put up with problems of a different sort.

I live in a fringe service area for AT&T. There’s no question that my calls drop more frequently on my AT&T iPhone 4, and that people can hear me better on the Verizon iPhone 4 I’ve been using.

For example, last night I upgraded my AT&T iPhone 4 to iOS 4.3. I picked up the phone and dialed 611 to speak with an AT&T customer service agent about switching from my (grandfathered) unlimited data plan to the tethered 4GB plan, so I could use the Personal Hotspot feature.

The customer service agent asked me several times to repeat myself, and finally gave up and called me back on my land line so we could continue the discussion.

The problems with the call quality reminded me of some of the issues I’ve been having with AT&T, and gave me enough pause that I didn’t ditch my data plan after all.

On second thought, how much is that early termination fee?