Many of our readers rejoiced over the idea that AT&T’s exclusive deal to sell Apple’s iPhone could end next year — excited that it could mean that Verizon Wireless, the biggest U.S. carrier, could sell iPhones as soon as next summer. (An easy way to boost iPhone sales, for sure.) But that’s probably far-fetched: 2011 is more likely.
Beyond AT&T’s attempts to extend their exclusive deal, Verizon is in the middle of a network technology change, upgrading from its current 3G network to a new 4G network. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Verizon (VZ) CEO Ivan Seidenberg said he thought it was more likely that Apple would be willing to work with Verizon Wireless on a 4G phone than a 3G phone.
That’s because Verizon’s 4G network will be based on a technology called LTE — the same technology that AT&T (and T-Mobile, and most international carriers) will be using for their 4G networks. Meanwhile, Verizon’s 3G network uses technologies called CDMA and EVDO, neither of which is popular outside the U.S. (Verizon and Sprint, pretty much.)
If Apple made a 3G phone for Verizon, it would have to design a special iPhone to work on Verizon’s network for probably one year of sales. That seems unlikely. Anyway, Verizon’s Seidenberg said Apple never seriously considered making a CDMA iPhone, according to the WSJ. (At least after Verizon foolishly balked on being the first iPhone carrier. Oops!)
So what’s the schedule for Verizon’s 4G network? The telco plans to roll out 4G wireless service in two cities by the end of this year, and 25 to 30 markets by the end of 2010. That suggests it could potentially cover 100 million people by the end of 2010. But that’s the end of 2010 — who knows where it’ll be in June or July, when Apple usually rolls out new iPhones. (And that assumes a perfect rollout schedule. When’s the last time a major telecom project was finished on time?)
Moreover, any 4G phone rolled out at Verizon in the first year or so of service would probably have to be backward-compatible with its 3G network, so that people could use it in areas where 4G service hasn’t been built out yet. And if Apple doesn’t plan to build a CDMA-compatible phone now — as Seidenberg suggests — it doesn’t seem likely that it would want to build one then.
So it’s most likely that Apple will wait until Verizon’s 4G network is in enough cities to be useful before it starts selling an iPhone for it. That looks like 2011.