Article: Verizon, AT&T, and Apple

by on April 29, 2009

You can tell things are boring in the world of Apple products. Usually this means random speculation, arguments, and nothing that is really that useful to the average consumer. This time, everyone seems to be weighing in on the iPhone becoming available to Verizon Wireless customers in the near future. Not to beat a dead horse, but there’s some reasons why it won’t happen.


The biggest hurdle for Apple is the technology that actually connects the iPhone to AT&T’s network. Currently, the iPhone operates using GSM technology, common to AT&T, T-Mobile, and almost all the international carriers. This technology usually involves a SIM card (the little card that lets you transfer your service from device to device without having to go to a certain provider’s store). Furthermore, with it being used almost everywhere, it makes sense for Apple to make one product.

Verizon Wireless, US Cellular, and Sprint all use CDMA, which operates a bit different. Unfortunately, it is incompatible with GSM devices, and also have the identity of a user tied to a particular device. The other hurdle is that CDMA is licensed from Qualcomm, and we know that Apple generally doesn’t like dealing with other companies unless they have to.

Still, making one device for most carriers makes the most sense and engineering a device for a few carriers in the US and Canada (and a few other select countries) may not be worth it in the long run.

Verizon Wireless

I think nobody out there really likes their cellular provider. It’s a necessary evil, you play the pricing and contract games and whatnot, and then you have the ability to call whomever you want. With carriers putting restrictions in place, customers often are at the mercy of their provider. Case in point—Verizon often sells phones crippled in various ways, such as replacing the normal firmware with a universal Verizon menu (essentially a Motorola, LG, Samsung, and Nokia all work the same). Although this is good from a learning curve standpoint, it also makes choosing a device less worthwhile. Additionally, Verizon has been known to disable things such as file transfers via Bluetooth, something others enjoy for sending their own images and ringtones from their computer for free.

Verizon has been getting a bit more relaxed in this area, and most of their smartphones have very little extra clutters, but you still have to wonder what they’d want Apple to do with their iPhone. The nice thing about Apple and AT&T is that AT&T has been surprisingly restriction-free with the iPhone (with the exception of the SIM-lock, preventing people from taking the iPhone to T-Mobile). Compare that with even other phones from AT&T where half of the menus are changed to link you to things that they are trying to sell you.

Apple tends to be a company that does not want to be told what to do. This could be the toughest part of any negotiations.


Eventually, Verizon, AT&T, and others will move to a technology known as “Long-Term Evolution” (LTE). This will actually allow interoperability between America’s two biggest carriers and will mean that Apple could produce one phone for both. AT&T plans to overlay their current network with this eventually (no plans have been discussed yet), allowing compatibility with the current iPhones. Verizon, on the other hand will be “switching” to something that resembles the current GSM networks, bringing almost everyone worldwide under the same technology. What this means is that once these networks are in place, Apple could make one iPhone. These plans also seem to be about the time that the iPhone will lose its AT&T exclusivity. Coincidence? Who knows.

A New Model

Currently, when someone signs up for phone service, the “free” phones usually are free because they are paid through a subsidy. After your two-year contract runs out, most carriers want you to re-sign and offer another free phone. This model works pretty well, since most phones eventually wear out or become outdated. However, with the iPhone being a pretty solid device, what if someone was able to buy an iPhone from Apple and then take it to whatever carrier they want? Think about your computer—you buy it, keep it for a few years, and you can take it to any Internet provider you want.

Although this would mean that iPhones are more expensive up-front, people could have the option of either getting an iPhone with strings attached through their carrier or buying one from Apple and doing what they want with it. Right now, Sony Ericsson does offer this, but it seems like many don’t take advantage of this. Additionally, the only carrier choices for those would be T-Mobile or AT&T, and some models don’t work on the frequencies AT&T uses.

Rumors and More

I think that we’ll eventually see iPhones on other carriers in the US, but the question is when and with whom. It’s pretty obvious that we’ll see some new hardware on the iPhone front this summer (since that has been the pattern). Additionally, there are rumors of a Verizon/Microsoft device to fight the iPhone. As for the iPhone being sold with a red checkmark on it, I’m doubting we’ll see that for awhile…but stranger things have happened.

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