Ask Maggie: Wait for iPhone 5 or take Verizon's unlimited data?

This week's Ask Maggie tackles the issue of waiting for the next iPhone or jumping on Verizon's unlimited plan before it disappears.

The Ask Maggie column is a year old this week. And the No. 1 question I consistently get is about the next iPhone. So it was only fitting that for the first anniversary of this column, I highlight yet another "When is the next iPhone coming?" question.

In this week's Ask Maggie, I help one reader decide if he should wait for the next-generation iPhone or buy the iPhone 4 before Verizon Wireless gets rid of its unlimited data plan. I also explain to another reader when I think more Windows Phone smartphones will hit the market. And I offer some guidance on which cell phone provider to choose when traveling between rural areas.

Ask Maggie is a weekly advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. If you've got a question, please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header.

iPhone 5 vs. unlimited data

Dear Maggie,
I'm going to get a new iPhone, but I'm not sure if I should wait for the iPhone 5, or get the iPhone 4 now on Verizon Wireless in order to get the unlimited data. My friends seem to unanimously agree that Verizon Wireless has better coverage/service. So I was thinking that if they are going to eliminate their all-you-can-eat data plan, now might be the time to jump on board. I currently have an iPhone 3GS with AT&T. Are the features on the unannounced iPhone 5 likely to make it much greater than the iPhone 4 to make it outweigh the unlimited data package?

Thanks,
Joe

Dear Joe,
Most people don't use more than 2GB of data per month. So even though you may feel compelled to rush over to Verizon Wireless now for the unlimited data plan , most likely you'll be fine without it. So I wouldn't make any rash decisions just because you want to hold onto your unlimited data plan.

To answer your question regarding the iPhone 5, rumor has it that it will be announced in September. What we know so far is that the new version will look very similar to the iPhone 4. But inside there are some tweaks that will improve performance. For one, it's supposed to have a faster processor, the A5 , which is the same one used in the iPad 2, and a higher resolution camera. It will also get a new camera that will be an 8 megapixel camera instead of the 5 megapixel camera on the iPhone 4.

I doubt the iPhone 5 will support 4G LTE, since Apple rarely is on the cutting edge in terms of the components it uses in its products. The new 4G LTE phones are still having battery life issues. So I am sure that Apple will want to wait until the technology matures before putting it into the iPhone. Plus, the LTE services from either AT&T or Verizon Wireless aren't widely available. Verizon Wireless says that it has 74 markets covered. But the LTE footprint won't match its 3G footprint until 2013. Meanwhile AT&T hasn't even started offering 4G LTE yet. It is supposed to be in 15 markets by the end of the year.

That said, AT&T is using HSPA+ in its network too, which is an upgrade to the current 3G technology. So it's possible that that iPhone 5 might support HSAP+ in the GSM version, which could give it a speed boost.

Of course, all of this is speculation. We won't know what features the next iPhone will have until it's announced.

So here's my advice, since you're already an AT&T customer, and you're likely already on the unlimited data plan, just wait for the next iPhone. It will be more advanced than the iPhone 4. We just don't know how much more advanced. And at that point you can decide between AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Verizon does have a better reputation in terms of its network. And unless you're a very heavy data user, you should be fine with the new 2GB cap.

I hope this helps.

Where are all the Windows Phones?

Dear Maggie,
Why are there so few Windows Phone 7 GSM phones out there? When do you expect to see a significant number come out? Will Mango include Skype???

Thanks,
Shaneryland

Dear Shaneryland,
I expect more Windows Phone 7 devices to be on the market this fall with the release of the new Mango software . Microsoft has said these new phones will be ready for the holiday season. These phones will be from a number of handset makers.

Jo Harlow, a senior vice president at Nokia, was in the CNET office recently and said the first Nokia devices sporting the Microsoft Mango software will be out by the end of the year. She wouldn't say how many devices would be available, but she said it would be a portfolio of devices for the world market. More phones will be released sometime next year. These phones are also expected for the GSM market as well as the CDMA market. Nokia has a big investor event in October in London, so I'm hoping we get to see some of these Windows Phone 7 devices then.

As for Skype, I don't expect that Microsoft will have any meaningful integration with Skype in Mango. Greg Sullivan, Windows Phone senior product manager, told me when Mango was unveiled here in New York City a few weeks ago that further Skype integration would be added in subsequent versions of the software. Microsoft acquired Skype at the end of the development process for Mango. So look for cooler Skype integration with the next iteration of Windows Phone software.

Service help

Dear Maggie,
I currently have Sprint for phone service, and I can be a heavy data user at times on my phone and via mobile hotspot. I currently have the HTC Evo 4G , and I love the phone. However, here is the problem. I travel a lot back and forward from Florida to North Carolina driving. I want to switch services later this year, but I'm not sure to which company.

In South Carolina, Sprint does not have good service at all, and it seems no matter where I go, I tend to have poor service and constant slow data speeds unless I am on the WiMax 4G network which is very scares and almost not even expanding. I was mainly looking at Verizon Wireless or AT&T, as I have previously had T-mobile before, and had even worse problems with coverage than Sprint.

I know AT&T has the HSPA+ (pre 4G) system, and both AT&T and Verizon are gaining 4G LTE. I am wondering who might have the better network setup, network speeds, pricing, 4G network, and mainly coverage in the long run. Things I am trying to keep in mind is that, AT&T has the HSPA+ system, but is rather late to there LTE; and Verizon already has their LTE, but no other fall back networks besides the slow 3G EV-DO rev A network with no talk of EV-DO rev B upgrade in sight. With these concerns I have, what would you recommend?

Thank you,
Traveling Whitey

Dear Traveling Whitey ,
I have had a similar problem. My dad lives at the beach in Delaware. And when I had Sprint as my carrier, my phone wouldn't work at all throughout the entire town, even though the coverage map said there should be a signal. The only two carriers that have strong signals there are AT&T and Verizon Wireless. So I had to switch carriers, just so I could make phone calls or check e-mail when I am visiting him.

So the first thing you need to do is ask people in the two areas where you travel which service they use. Also ask them if they are happy with the service. Because you are traveling through some rural areas, I suspect that AT&T and Verizon are likely the two best candidates. T-Mobile and Sprint generally don't have great coverage in rural areas. Their bread-and-butter are the suburbs and cities.

If your choice is between AT&T and Verizon, keep in mind that Verizon has a reputation for having a more reliable network. Of course, this may vary depending on the region. So that's why it's best to ask people who live in those areas for their opinions.

Verizon may not always be the fastest, but you're more likely to keep a call going and even get a data signal. By contrast, AT&T has struggled with reliability. And in cities, like New York, data speeds have been slow and calls have been dropped. Of course, the experience may be very different for people in South Carolina and Florida, so do a little homework before you make your decision.

Another thing to keep in mind is that LTE and HSPA+ won't make much difference to you unless you buy a phone that supports either of those two technologies. Currently, the majority of phones sold by either carrier do not support these flavors of network technology. Also Verizon's LTE network is not completely built out, so even if you get an LTE phone you may not be able to take advantage of the fast speeds. AT&T's HSPA+ network is built out further, but if you will be in rural areas, you're likely to be on the older 3G network or even the 2.5G EDGE network.

As far as pricing is concerned, AT&T and Verizon offer comparable pricing. Although Verizon is priced slightly higher than AT&T when it comes to data. AT&T offers a $15 plan that includes 200MB of data downloads per month. And a $25 plan that offers 2GB of downloads per month. Verizon Wireless's cheapest data plan for smartphones is $30 a month. And as of July 7, that service will no longer be unlimited. Instead, usage will be capped at 2GB per month.

 

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