Amherst Bytes:The VeriPhone 4: An End to Exclusivity
By Dylan Herts ’13, Staff Writer
After four years of speculation, Big Red finally has the iPhone. On Jan. 11, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam announced that Apple’s iPhone 4 will be available on the Code division multiple access (CDMA) network, confirming rumors that Apple’s exclusivity agreement with AT&T had expired.

The Verizon iPhone 4 is almost identical to the original handset. For the same purchase price, you get the same processor, same screen and same amount of flash storage. The sole external distinction is the Verizon iPhone 4’s additional antennas, a change imposed by CDMA network specifications rather than any revisions compelled by Antennagate.

The substantive differences are slight and network-imposed. Verizon’s iPhone, because it runs on the CDMA standard, will not offer simultaneous voice and data. It will, however, offer Wi-Fi hotspot tethering, with an additional fee probable, for up to five devices. Judging by hands-on previews, Verizon’s hotspot option scores a win over the limited tethering capabilities on AT&T but no one has had enough time with the device to review the new feature in full or to examine whether, given the lack of simultaneous voice and data, using hotspot interferes with receiving phone calls. And that’s all there is to the VeriPhone 4.

That’s because the VeriPhone 4 is just a start. It’s a six-month-old product released on a different carrier with slight modifications for compatibility’s sake. Wi-Fi hotspots aside, it brings nothing new to the table in features or capabilities. Unless you’re a loyal Verizon user who just can’t wait, you shouldn’t buy it: like clockwork, Apple will release another iPhone in June and your tech toy will be relatively obsolete. Instead, wait a bit longer for the iPhone 5 or 4G and watch what happens.

Verizon’s iPhone is going to unleash competition between handset manufacturers. Until now, Google’s Android phones were just a non-AT&T alternative to the iPhone, and their rapid market growth reflected the combination of customers’ satisfaction with Verizon with their desire for an app phone. Comparing iOS to Android was comparing apples to oranges (pun intended) if you weren’t willing to switch networks, and the iPhone 4’s glowing reviews all seem to add the same qualifier to their assessment that it is the best phone on the AT&T network.

With the iPhone available on Verizon, Android and iOS can go head-to-head. Network speeds and coverage are no longer the differentiating factors, and OS market share will come down to who has the better phone rather than who has the better network. Consistent software and hardware updates will follow and, with luck, we’ll start to see some competitive pricing from both Apple and Google on handsets. If Research In Motion wants to keep up, it’s going to have to produce more exciting, more successful Blackberry updates than the recent Torch or OS 6 releases.

Verizon’s iPhone should also spur some serious competition between carriers. The iPhone 4 is no longer an exclusive product. AT&T will now have to compete with Verizon’s network and data plan pricing if it wants to remain the primary purveyor. Whether Verizon’s network can withstand an increasing number of iPhone users, however, will not be apparent for a few months as the phones are sold. Either way, both carriers will need to offer competitive data pricing along with network-side features (like Verizon’s hotspot and whatever AT&T conjures in response) in order to differentiate themselves from the other carrier.

Some of this, however, will be put on hold until the 4G debate is resolved. As much as Sprint and T-Mobile advertise it, no carrier offers a truly 4G network right now. That’s because the International Telecommunications Union (a United Nations regulatory agency) has rated the two current “4G” technologies, LTE and WiMax, as mere stopgap revisions on the way to a true 4G network which have failed to meet the specifications and speeds demanded of a 4G network by the ITU. Without such standardization, carriers are hesitant to pursue infrastructure overhauls and have chosen instead to implement 3.5G coverage in select cities and call it 4G. Any carrier (we’re lookin’ at you, Verizon/Sprint/T-Mobile) advertising a 4G network is, to some extent, engaging in false advertising.

Whether Apple will embrace 3.5G and LTE will remain uncertain until June brings the next iPhone. AT&T will not launch its 3.5G network until late this year, but both AT&T and Verizon have chosen LTE as their 3.5G tech so network compatibility should be less of an issue for subsequent iPhone releases. However, given that 3.5G tech is only a revision on the way to 4G, some phone manufacturers have refused to add 3.5G compatibility into their handsets. Apple has been known for its hesitance in adopting standards early (see lack of Blu-Ray) and it might wait another whole year before it jumps on the LTE/3.5G bandwagon.

The TL; DR version is this: unless you can’t wait, don’t buy the VeriPhone 4. Per Apple’s release calendar, there will be a new iPhone in June. For the market, however, the VeriPhone 4 represents an end to exclusivity and should throw the doors wide open for competition between AT&T/Verizon and Apple/Google. The mobile wars can now begin in earnest, and consumers have a lot to gain.

Issue 12, Submitted 2011-01-26 01:25:03