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Due to both marketing and practical reasons, Apple's much desired iPhone has only been available with AT&T service in the US.

In most other countries, you can buy iPhones from multiple wireless providers.

A contractual period of exclusivity with AT&T in the US has now expired, and on January 11, 2011, Verizon announced they would start selling iPhones too, effective February 10.

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The Verizon iPhone 4 - Strengths and Weaknesses part 1 of 2

Is it better than the regular/AT&T iPhone?

Externally, Verizon's model of the iPhone is almost indistinguishable from the model sold by everyone else.  But there are important differences 'under the hood'.

Part of a series on the Apple iPhone - please also visit the other articles listed on the right.



After years of rumors and wild hopes, Apple's revolutionary iPhone has now been released in a version compatible with Verizon's different CDMA type phone network in the US.

The Verizon version of Apple's iPhone 4 looks very similar externally to the AT&T/GSM/global version of the iPhone 4, and the pricing is very similar too.  But these appearances can be deceiving.

There are important differences internally, making the two phones different in capabilities.  You need to consider not just your preferred wireless service provider, but also the uses you plan for your iPhone before choosing the AT&T or Verizon version.

Verizon Finally Releases an iPhone Too

The original iPhone first went on sale in 2007, and for the last three and a half years, there have been nonstop rumors (aka wishful thinking) that Verizon would be bringing out a version of the iPhone too.

Urban legend (which actually might be true) has it that Apple first approached Verizon asking them to partner with them for the development and sale of the iPhone, and Verizon turned them down, causing Apple to then work with AT&T instead.

Although it might seem to be a simple issue to simply agree with Verizon and allow them to also sell iPhones, this is not the case.  Verizon uses an uncommon type of wireless service - CDMA.  AT&T and most of the rest of the world use GSM wireless service, and the two methods are completely incompatible (similar to how an FM radio can't receive AM and vice versa).

So for Apple to release a CDMA version of the iPhone, they would need to completely replace the GSM circuitry with a CDMA equivalent - a non-trivial process.  In addition, even if they wanted to, it appears they signed an exclusive agreement with AT&T preventing them from releasing iPhone models to other wireless services in the US for the first few years the iPhone was available.

The situation was different in other countries for two reasons.  Apple didn't so much need a launch partner, and so did not need to give exclusive rights to their phone to only one carrier.  Secondly, because in most other countries, all the wireless providers use the same GSM type of service, no changes to the phone itself needed to be made to allow multiple companies to sell it.

Problems Releasing Competing iPhone Models in the US

The situation in the US is more complex than in other countries.

Not only are there two completely different types of wireless service - GSM and CDMA - but the two companies that provide GSM service (AT&T and T-Mobile) offer their 3G data service on different frequencies.  This meant that even if Apple would agree to allow T-Mobile to sell iPhones, they wouldn't work on T-Mobile's fast 3G data network, only on their voice service (and the related, very slow, EDGE and GPRS data services that use the voice service for connection).

So there the situation languished for several years, with the US uniquely being the one country where iPhones were only available from a single source.

Behind the scenes, from 2008 forward, it seems that Apple and Verizon were secretly working on developing a CDMA version of the iPhone.  Occasional leaks filtered out causing bursts of intense excitement (among Verizon customers), only to die away again when nothing further transpired.  It also seems that the model iPhone now being released by Verizon was in testing for the better part of a year, which hopefully suggests the technology has any bugs well shaken out of it.

And so, and at last, effective as of 11 January, Verizon has now officially announced that they are about to start selling a CDMA version of the iPhone, with effect from Thursday 10 February.

External Appearance and Differences

The Verizon iPhone is a model iPhone 4, appearing very similar externally to the AT&T/global version of the iPhone 4.

As with all other iPhones, there is no external branding or logo showing the Verizon name (although when the phone is on, the top of the screen will show in tiny letters 'Verizon' as the name of the wireless provider it is connected to.

There is one subtle but significant difference.  Due to the Verizon iPhone working on different CDMA frequencies to the AT&T/rest of the world iPhone which uses GSM frequencies, it has slightly different external antennas around the edge.

This resulted in a very slight repositioning of the mute switch and two volume buttons on the left hand side, meaning that most wrap-around ‘bumper’ protective cases that are already available for regular iPhones will not fit the new Verizon iPhone.


The cost to buy a Verizon style iPhone is the same as to buy an AT&T style one - $200 for the 16GB version or $300 for the 32GB version, with a requirement to sign up for a standard two year contract with Verizon.

But AT&T also offer the earlier model 3GS for a mere $49, and have refurbished iPhone 4 models on sale for a $100 or better discount compared to new ones, too.

In terms of purchase price, this gives perhaps a very slight advantage to AT&T for having more models including discounted refurbished ones.

Voice Service Costs

It is not known if the voice plans will be the same as Verizon offers for their other phones, or different; but currently the Verizon website seems to imply that voice plans will be the same as available for regular phones, and this seems a reasonable assumption to accept.

This means you have a choice between $40, $60 or $70 a month for a single line of service, giving you either 450, 900 or unlimited minutes of talk time. Adding a package of 250 messages (SMS, MMS or voicemail) is an extra $5/month.

This compares with AT&T which offers almost identical voice service pricing (what a surprise!) with the main difference being that AT&T has roll-over minutes, allowing minutes unused one month to be carried forward to the next month.

AT&T’s message package contains 200 messages (rather than 250) for $5.  Both companies also offer options for greatly increased numbers of messages if you should wish them.

In terms of voice plan costs, maybe AT&T has a very slight advantage due to its roll-over minutes feature.

Data Service Costs

Verizon, the same as AT&T, insists that you must sign up for both a voice and a data package when buying an iPhone.

Verizon hasn’t yet released any iPhone specific service packages and whereas it is reasonable to assume their voice packages will be the same as for other phones, it is not quite such a certainty that their data packages will be identical.

It is possible that their current $30/month for unlimited data option (the amounts for data service are of course additional to the amounts you pay for voice service) offered on most other phones will not be made available for the iPhone, due to people with iPhones typically using more data than people with other phones.  But if it was retained, that would be better than AT&T’s $25/month for 2GB of data.

At the low end of the usage scale, AT&T offers a $15/month plan for 200MB of data usage – which is often enough for most users, especially if you have Wi-Fi at home and work – whereas Verizon charges the same $15 for a lesser 150MB on its present data plans, which is more likely to be sometimes insufficient.

Until Verizon announce the exact details of the data plans they will offer for iPhones, we can't rate them compared to AT&T.

Upgrading to an iPhone Now

AT&T had offered an early upgrade feature allowing clients who were one year in their two year contract the option to upgrade to the iPhone 4 at no cost penalty when they released their iPhone 4 last year.

Alas, Verizon is not offering this same 12 month option (they are thought to offer this to people who are 20 months in to the contract).

So if you are already a Verizon customer, you’ll either have to wait until you’ve finished your present two year contract, or alternatively, buy a new iPhone at full retail price (believed to be a staggering $450 more than the subsidized $200/$300 price with a new two year contract) to substitute for your present phone, or pay an early termination fee to break your present contract and start a new contract.

Depending on how far into your two year contract you are, it will probably be better to pay the early termination fee than to buy a phone at the ridiculous 'full retail price' of $650 or $750.

An Extra Feature on Verizon iPhones

The Verizon version of the iPhone has one very appealing new feature – the ability to create a ‘personal hot spot’ – a small Wi-Fi network, which rebroadcasts the 3G data signal onto a Wi-Fi signal.  This allows you to share your phone’s 3G data service with up to five users and devices (such as an iPad, for example, or a laptop/netbook/whatever else - even another phone).

This feature is simply a software upgrade which is expected to be released for all regular iPhones too when the new version 4.3 of iOS is released.  But that is not the same as confirming that AT&T will support this function - AT&T say they are currently 'evaluating' the feature (which probably means it is waiting to see how much Verizon will charge for it).

So, until iOS 4.3 comes out and AT&T completes its 'evaluation', AT&T iPhones are limited to a single wired ('tethered') connection to a single computer, which is not nearly as flexible as being able to rebroadcast the data through a personal Wi-Fi hotspot to multiple devices.

One almost certain issue with running this personal hotspot service is that it will drain the battery quickly.  No information has been offered, but we'll guess that it will drain the battery twice as quickly than being connected to 3G data, because you are simultaneously sending/receiving 3G data and also sending/receiving Wi-Fi signals.  We'd expect less than 3 hours of battery life while using the phone in this mode.

By the way - this extra feature will almost certainly cost you extra money if you wish to avail yourself of it.

Please read on to part two of this article for details of what is omitted from Verizon's iPhone and other limitations of the Verizon iPhone, and the future of iPhones for Verizon, AT&T, and possibly other companies too.

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Originally published 11 Jan 2011, last update 21 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

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