What Verizon's network can -- and can't -- give iPhone users

So now that Verizon is reportedly getting its own version of the iPhone, what can Verizon iPhone users expect from their network?

First off, it seems unlikely right now that the new iPhone will have 4G LTE connectivity, as the Wall Street Journal has reported that Verizon will offer iPhone users unlimited data plans, just as it does for all smartphones that operate solely on its 3G network.  ABI Research analyst Phil Solis says it's likely that Apple will want to hold off on releasing an LTE iPhone until LTE services are more widely deployed across the country by both Verizon and AT&T.

COMPETITION: AT&T exec says CDMA iPhone users won't like "life in the slow lane"

At first blush, the unlimited 3G data plans sound like a big plus for Verizon since AT&T has enacted data caps for its own 3G iPhone plans.  After all, as Solis notes, "people don't like having to worry about how much data they're using."  But at the same time, Verizon's CDMA-based network has some limitations that AT&T's GSM-based network doesn't.  The most obvious difference is that AT&T users are able to bring their GSM iPhones abroad and still receive service from other GSM networks, while Verizon CDMA iPhone users won't be able to do the same unless Apple builds in dual radios into the device.  Dan Hays, a director with management consultant PRTM, also notes that CDMA networks don't allow for simultaneous voice and data communications as GSM networks do.

"If you're an iPhone user that travels a lot overseas you won't want a CDMA phone," says Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg.

Similarly, studies have shown that Verizon's CDMA 3G network is on the whole slower than AT&T's network, especially since AT&T started upgrading its 3G network to HSPA+ technology.  So iPhone users who like downloading large files at high speeds might not get the same download speeds on Verizon's network.

Of course, speed isn't the only metric for measuring network quality.  For example, Verizon has persistently scored better than AT&T in all regions of the country in J.D. Power's studies of wireless call quality.  And since Verizon does offer its 3G services in more areas of the country than AT&T does, Verizon iPhone users might find that they get more consistent data service on the whole even if it doesn't match the AT&T iPhone's peak speeds.

And finally, there's the question of whether Verizon will be prepared to handle the additional data traffic on its network generated by the iPhone.  AT&T experienced some growing pains when it first took on the iPhone and users have persistently registered complaints in surveys about AT&T's voice services and pricing plans.  To rectify this, AT&T invested in HSPA+ technology that boosted speeds on its G network and also deployed its network over the 850MHz band to solve capacity and propagation problems.  Hays says that AT&T's long experience with the iPhone will be a benefit since the carrier has learned a lot about "how the device is used, how it interacts with their wireless network, and what the usage dynamics are."

But Solis says that Verizon has put far too much time and capital into ensuring its network quality to get caught flat-footed by the iPhone.  After all, he notes, Verizon's aggressive promotion of its network will likely backfire if it experiences the same problems with the iPhone as AT&T.

"Verizon is really going to sell its network quality with the iPhone," he says.  "AT&T is hoping that Verizon is going to run into the same problems because of unexpected amounts of usage.  But because of how Verizon plans ahead, I'd be surprised to see that happen."

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