iPhone: Verizon vs. AT&T

The “new” iPhone 4 for Verizon is finally here. So do we jump on the bandwagon and abandon AT&T? Not so fast. For those of us with AT&T iPhones, there are several things to consider. For current Verizon customers, the following article won’t apply. They have already ordered their iPhones. First, let’s outline the key differences between the two services.

AT&T uses the GSM network. What this means is that you can use the iPhone in the States, and in Europe. This is no small matter for folks who travel for business and pleasure. The Verizon iPhone is outfitted with the CDMA chip, which means it will not work in most parts of Europe. Because of the CDMA technology, (which has been around for quite awhile and will soon be obsolete, by the way), one cannot make a call and surf the web on the phone at the same time.

Why would surfing the web be necessary during a call, you ask? Consider looking up a webpage of a restaurant, or a map for directions, while you’re on the phone. Or perhaps you’re waiting for an important email, but are on hold with someone for 30 minutes. Also, certain apps may depend on internet connectivity to function. According to Verizon, this “feature” accounts for the call reliability. Less calls are dropped. If you place a call on the Verizon iPhone, that app functionality may be on hold during the call. With all of it’s well-documented faults (mostly in cellular service and connectivity), the AT&T iphone is more of a multi-tasker. One can be on the phone and send a text message, or email, or search the web at the same time. For those of us who live on the phone, that’s important.

For some, all that matters is reliable phone service. And if that’s your main criterion, the Verizon version of the iPhone wins hands down. David Pogue, the Mac Guru and tech columnist of the New York Times, conducted his own scientific test recently. He carried an AT&T iphone, and a Verizon iPhone around with him for a week. He reports that his AT&T phone consistently dropped calls, while the Verizon iPhone consistently did not.

There are many current Verizon customers who were only too happy to finally get their mitts on an iPhone. The AT&T customers looking to jump ship and go to Verizon, however, have other factors to consider. One is the early termination fees on their AT&T contracts, if their two-year commitment hasn’t expired yet. The other is data usage. Early adopters on AT&T still enjoy unlimited data plans (it is no longer offered for new customers), while Verizon states it will offer unlimited data plans on the iphone “for now”. Eventually Verizon plans to throttle down that offer to 2Gb per month for $25. For power smartphone users, overage charges will add up quickly.

The next item to consider is roll-over minutes – a feature only offered on AT&T. If we switch to Verizon, those roll-over minutes will disappear, the data usage will eventually be capped at 2Gigs per month, and the phone will not work when we travel to our Chalet in the Alps, our favorite restaurant in Rome, or museum in Paris.

And finally, the Verizon iPhone 4 is older technology. In a few months, the next version of the iPhone should become available from Apple and AT&T. Do we really want to abandon AT&T in spite, and adopt the CDMA iphone 4 just to be locked in to that older technology for the next two years? The trend is towards 4G cellular service. What if the next generation of iPhone, which would most likely be introduced in June, were 4-G capable? (For an explanation of the difference between the 3G network, and 4G network, please see the article “iPhone 4 and 4G Cellular Networks – Apples and Oranges”.

In our opinion, Apple should have incorporated the 4G cellular technology into the Verizon iPhone from the start. Verizon stated they would have liked that. But then EVERYONE, especially AT&T customers, would have flocked to Verizon en masse, which would have devastated AT&T in many different ways.

In short, we believe the argument to switch from AT&T to Verizon is, at least at present, weak. Within a few months there will be a new version of the iPhone, and we don’t like the idea of locking ourselves into a two-year contract on a CDMA version of last year’s iPhone 4. Who knows? Perhaps the iPhone “5” will be smaller, cooler, faster . . . 4G COMPLIANT. Live video streaming and Face Time (the video conferencing feature) via the cellular network is VERY attractive. Currently Face Time and video streaming only works via WIFI connection, not via the 3G cellular network. That is of course unless you hack your phone. But with the data limits on the “Verizon”, who wants that?

Nope. For now at least, we’re going to stick with AT&T. We’ve suffered through the poor connectivity this long, a few more months won’t kill us. Besides, we’ve accumulated so many roll-over minutes that we need some time to take advantage of them. And, if the “iPhone 5” continues the trend of fabulous improvements, and even sports 4G connectivity, then the wait will have been worth it.

If, on the other hand, the faster 4G network does not become part of the equation with AT&T by June, 2011, then all bets are off. By then Verizon will surely have adapted its iPhone to the faster and more reliable 4G network. At that point, no manner of roll-over minutes will keep us from finally walking away from AT&T and embracing Verizon’s superior network.