Ok, I am just going to come out and say it: there will be no iPhone (or
iPad) on the Verizon network anytime in the near future (say, less than
I really gain nothing from making this statement: if I am right, no one
will remember, if I am wrong, everyone can come back and mock me. Yet
I still want to write this post in order to perhaps educate some of my
readers who don’t understand the technical reasons behind this. Now, I am
sure there may be some political reasons behind Apple choosing to stay
away from Verizon, but I really believe the root cause here is an
engineering one. Ok, first let’s establish some background/terminology (I
will keep this high level and hand wavy, so in case a real wireless
networking geek ever reads this, please bare with me):
In the United States of America, there are two “types” or standards of
wireless phone networks: CDMA and GSM. The two major CDMA networks are
Sprint and Verizon; the two major GSM networks are AT&T and T-Mobile. To
a lay person, the major difference between a GSM phone and a CDMA phone is
that a GSM phone uses SIM cards while CDMA phones do not. Of course, the
differences run much deeper than that. The two standards use different
radio hardware, different radio frequencies, and different ways of
encoding and transmitting data through the network. So obviously this
means that a CDMA phone cannot possibly be used on a GSM network.
Everyone throws around the term “3G networks” a lot, but that means rather
different things on the two types of networks. For CDMA, the 3G network
technology is called EVDO while for GSM, it is called HSPA. Of course
there are minor differences between the two, such as HSPA allows for
simultaneous data and voice connections and it has theoretically faster
speeds. One interesting thing is that all of Verizon’s towers are EVDO,
though some are a slower, older version. However, not all of AT&T’s
towers are HSPA. This is why you see such a big difference in the Verizon
“There’s a map for that” commercials.
Now we are starting to hear about “4G networks”, the next generation of
wireless standards. And of course, there are going to be two competing
types in the United States: WiMax and LTE. But here is where it gets
interesting: both Verizon and AT&T have decided to use LTE for their next
generation network. LTE is a GSM type of network (WiMax isn’t CDMA… the
next generation of CDMA never really made it outside of the research
labs), so when Verizon starts rolling out 4G coverage, it will likely
start using SIM cards.
Ok, so hopefully that is enough background to get back to the original
topic: the iPhone on Verizon. First let’s look at a 3G iPhone on Verizon
and then a 4G version.
As everyone knows, Apple likes simplicity, control, and minimalism. This
paradigm even goes down into their hardware technology: right now there is
only one version of the iPhone sold everywhere in the world, the GSM
version. CDMA is basically only used in a handful of countries, with the
US being essentially the only significantly large market. GSM is used
everywhere else. If Apple were to make an iPhone for Verizon’s 3G EVDO
network, that would mean creating a new phone with a completely different
wireless radio inside that could basically only be sold in the US. Anyone
who knows Apple’s culture knows that such a move goes against basically
every thing they stand for. Apple will not create a second type of 3G
But what happens when LTE starts rolling out across the United States,
couldn’t Apple just create one phone that will work on both carriers?
Well, unfortunately not. Any phone with a 4G wireless radio will still
need to have a 3G radio to fall back on in places where there is no 4G
(just like the current iPhone has a 2G radio in addition to the 3G). For
a phone to work on Verizon, it will need both an LTE radio and an EVDO
radio. Phones for AT&T’s network will have an LTE radio and an HSPA
radio. So once again, we run into requiring two types of phones, which is
something Apple will not do.
Could Apple create a phone that has both CDMA and GSM wireless radios?
The engineering to do such a thing is certainly feasible and there are
phones on the market today that have both. However, it would add extra
bulk and weight to the phone, something I am sure Apple is loathe to do.
All of this leads me to believe that we will not see a Verizon version of
the iPhone until the exact same phone can be run on both of the two
largest networks in the US (aka, LTE coverage is complete for both
networks), and by the time that happens, who knows what the state of the
wireless and mobile industry will be in.
Actually, I think we could see the iPhone (officially) expanded to
T-Mobile within a year or two. Sorry Verizon lovers.