Verizon’s iPhone: Some Things to Think About Before February 10

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The day millions have waited for finally arrived Tuesday when Verizon announced it would begin offering customers Apple’s iPhone.

Well, perhaps more accurately, the day millions have waited for will finally arrive on February 10, when Apple iPhone users in the US get their first opportunity to sample the services of a network other than at&t, which has enjoyed the longest reign of exclusivity on the planet as the sole US carrier for iPhone since its launch in the summer of 2007.

Some say pent-up demand for iPhone on Verizon could “demolish” at&t’s business.

“I can tell you that the number one question I’ve gotten is ‘when will the iPhone work on Verizon’,” Apple COO Tim Cook said Tuesday at the launch announcement in New York — and some have predicted the boon to Verizon’s bottom line from iPhone sales will be massive.

But with nearly a month to think about it there are good reasons to wonder if disgruntled customers will indeed abandon at&t and whether this iPhone will give Verizon much of an edge in its neverending battle with at&t for wireless supremacy in the US.

Given the device Verizon will offer is nearly identical to the iPhone 4 at&t customers have been able to buy since last summer — aside from technical differences in their innards and a couple of minute distinctions in hardware exterior, both phones are functionally the same — the primary deciding factor consumers should consider is service.

Which wireless telephone service works best in the area where you live?

If it’s Sprint, you’re still out of luck.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area or in New York City, both densely populated areas where at&t service is roundly criticized and Verizon’s is purportedly better, then you still have a couple of things to think about, no matter how much you might hate at&t.

For one, plenty of people believe at&t’s problems with the iPhone stem from network congestion in places such as New York and San Francisco and it’s possible Verizon could struggle similarly in the wake of trying to bring millions of new customers on line.

Verizon officials are well aware of such a possibility and addressed it directly at Tuesday’s launch, saying network capacity is “advanced” with built-in margin. Only time will tell on that score and those pondering a switch may be well-served to wait and see if Verizon can handle the huge spike in demand iPhone users are likely to put on its network.

Similarly, should the expected droves abandon at&t, lessened demand on its network could provide some relief to those customers who decide for other reasons to stick around.

Which flavor of 3G data tastes better to you?

Another service-related consideration goes to the difference in technologies underlying the two networks. Both at&t and Verizon offer 3G data but use different technology platforms to do it.

Verizon’s CDMA platform has been around longer than at&t’s GSM, which allows Verizon to claim better 3G coverage in the US. But 3G over CDMA is also slightly slower than 3G over GSM. iPhone data hogs may or may not be able to tell the difference in real world use scenarios.

It really doesn’t matter which platform is faster if you can’t connect to the network in the first place — and those customers who have consistently had difficulty connecting to or staying connected to at&t’s technically faster data network would seem to have plenty of incentive to give Verizon a try.

Likewise, many loyal Verizon customers who are already pleased with their service will find it difficult to resist the draw of iPhone’s cultural panache, but that in itself won’t bring Verizon the millions of new customers Tuesday’s announcement would seem to portend.

How do you use your ‘smartphone’?

Frequent international travelers should make note of the fact that only at&t’s GSM iPhone operates consistently beyond US borders because the preponderance of international cellular networks have been moving away from CDMA for years. Using an at&t iPhone internationally can be an expensive proposition though, given the company’s high roaming tariffs, and the only other option (aside from having a second phone for international travel) is to jailbreak the iPhone, which at&t and Apple of course discourage, and some refuse to contemplate anyhow.

And what about simultaneous voice and data use? CDMA doesn’t support it. So you won’t be able to keep a data connection alive when you want to take a voice call on your Verizon iPhone, a feature that diminishes the value of Verizon’s free tethering offer. On the other hand, how often do you use your phone as a data hot-spot and how often do you need to access data through your browser or another app while you’re on a phone call?

Current Verizon customers already deal with such limitations but potential at&t switchers and those who have held off getting an iPhone at all will want to think carefully about how they use a smartphone before taking the plunge with the red team.

Other considerations dictate caution

Some people hate at&t so much by now their rage at the company will likely drive them into Verizon’s arms no matter what. Some people have been waiting so long for the iPhone to become available on Verizon they will jump at the opportunity to enter into a two year contract now that it’s finally (almost) here.

But anyone who’s paid attention to Apple and the iPhone’s development cycle knows a new phone is coming soon, most likely this summer. Odds are, both US networks will get it and its functional differences will, like those with the iPhone 4, be negligible.

Those at&t customers who are already out of contract on their iPhone are probably best served waiting to see what happens with reports about Verizon’s network capabilities over the next six months, while those who remain in contract could see their cost to switch diminish over that same time.

Verizon customers contemplating the iPhone might benefit similarly by hesitating at the company’s first offer, given Apple’s proven record of sweetening the pie with each revision of its game-changing creation.

The best thing about Tuesday’s announcement, on balance, is that US iPhone users will finally have a choice of cellular providers, something almost all international iPhone users have had from nearly the very beginning.

Then the discussion can get back to where it belongs, which is the one about operating systems and whether iOS is better than Android is better than Symbian is better than Windows is better than … Palm?