Faster Forward: The iPhone probably isn't coming to Verizon just yet

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By Rob Pegoraro
Tuesday, March 30, 2010; 12:31 PM

Here we go again: Somebody runs a story based on unnamed, third-party sources saying that Apple might ship a version of its iPhone compatible with Verizon Wireless--which in Internet retelling, becomes "iPhone coming to Verizon!"--which then leads to glum disappointment six months later when the iPhone is still available only on AT&T Wireless.

The latest rerun of this cycle began yesterday when the Wall Street Journal published a cautiously phrased piece that left a reasonable amount of wiggle room:

"The new iPhone would work on a type of wireless network called CDMA, these people said. CDMA is used by Verizon Wireless, AT&T's main competitor, as well as Sprint Nextel Corp. and a handful of cellular operators in countries including South Korea and Japan. The vast majority of carriers world-wide, including AT&T, use another technology called GSM."

As that description suggests, a CDMA iPhone (the letters stand for "code division multiple access," the standard used by Verizon and Sprint) doesn't have to feature Verizon's logo or even show up in the U.S., thanks to that technology's fairly extensive use in some Asian markets.

And Apple might decide that it could attract far more customers there than in the U.S.

That may explain why AppleInsider cites two analysts as saying a CDMA iPhone will arrive in Asia first, and why PCMag.com reporter Sascha Segan--a washingtonpost.com alumnus and one of the smarter observers of the mobile-phone business around--suggests that a "CDMA iPhone" might support only a made-in-China CDMA variant called "TD-SCDMA".

(Note that although South Korea is a CDMA market, the iPhone that Apple sells there uses the same GSM standard as its U.S. and European versions.)

Meanwhile, Verizon is already talking up its plans to upgrade its network from CDMA to a newer standard called LTE ("long term evolution") that should be about as widely used internationally as GSM is today. Unless a new iPhone would support both CDMA and LTE, I have a hard time imagining how Verizon--the company that never misses a chance to brag about its network--would sell a flagship device that couldn't connect to its fastest service. But the WSJ story doesn't mention LTE.

(TheStreet.com splashes cold water on the idea for a different reason: Verizon still doesn't want to let Apple dictate the design of its phones.)

There's one other reason to doubt this month's version of the Verizon-iPhone rumor. Every other version of it--a 2007 ZDNet column headlined "Verizon iPhone WILL be here within a year or so," a 2008 9to5mac.com report, USA Today's April 2009 "Apple and Verizon consider iPhone deal" story, GigaOM's "Verizon to Launch an iPhone Next Year?" report from last November, and all the rumors suggesting that Apple would wrap up its January unveiling of the iPad by announcing a Verizon iPhone--has been wrong.

If you'd let each of those stories delay your upgrading an old Verizon phone in the hopes of replacing it with a CDMA iPhone--well, you'd have an awfully beat-up Palm Treo by now. You'd also be the telecom equivalent of Charlie Brown trying to kick the football.

I understand why people hope to see an iPhone that isn't permanently bolted to AT&T. We'd like to shop for phones the way we do most other electronic gadgets, without worrying about artificial locks and restrictions. You could see the same sort of wishful thinking behind the anticipation for Google's Nexus One phone, which then turned out to be subject to the same carrier-specific limits as other devices running its Android software.

I would like to be wrong in my skepticism this time, if for no other reason than that I'd no longer have to answer "when's the iPhone coming to Verizon?" e-mails. But I just don't see the evidence or the technological logic for that.


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