Four things still in AT&T's iPhone pocket

AT&T could see users defect if Verizon introduces an iPhone as expected. But as derided as AT&T's network is, the carrier retains some advantages over its rival.

AP/CBS

Ever since AT&T and Apple introduced the first iPhone four years ago, the carrier has raked in the cash and customers while selling iPhones by the millions. But along with that success, AT&T also has been blamed for a creaking network that has saddled users with dropped calls and slow data speeds.

Though AT&T doesn't deserve all of the blame , it shouldn't escape it completely. Indeed, when I was at CES last week, I couldn't get an iPhone signal anywhere near the Las Vegas Convention Center. It can be pretty miserable, frankly, which is why iPhone users and fence-sitters alike have been clamoring for Apple's device to land at Verizon Wireless for years. And now that a Verizon iPhone looks like a sure thing , AT&T will face a few defections.

But as even as some consumers switch to Verizon in search of a perceived better network--which is hardly a sure thing , mind you--AT&T still has a few advantages that Verizon can't touch. And these points are nothing to take lightly.

A global technology
AT&T uses GSM, which is the dominant global cellular technology. Whether you're in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, or the Americas, you can find a GSM network for using your iPhone. Verizon, however, uses CDMA, which is present in only a handful of countries outside North America. That list includes Brazil, China, India, and Israel, but you won't find a drop of CDMA across the whole of Europe. Of course, Verizon could close this gap with a dualmode CDMA/GSM device.

Voice and data
Currently, CDMA phones can't transmit voice and data at the same time. To you, that means that you won't be able to be on a call and browse the Web or access your e-mail simultaneously. It's a big change for how many people use the iPhone now, especially when you consider that Apple has made such functionality--you can talk on the phone and get directions to Starbucks!--a centerpiece of some of its ad campaigns. The good news is that the CDMA Development Group will fix this limitation sometime during the first half of next year, but AT&T will have a big ball in its court until then.

A faster 3G
Despite its troubles, AT&T's HSPA 3G network is theoretically faster than Verizon's EV-DO network. For most people, that has been just a theory, but other users may notice a difference if they live in an area with better AT&T reception. Of course, 3G speed will be irrelevant if Verizon has an LTE handset, but that's an unlikely prospect at this point.

Price
If you're an AT&T user still on contract, switching to Verizon could cost you $624. You'll have to pay the carrier's early termination fee (ETF)--as high as $325--and you'll have to buy a completely new iPhone that supports Verizon's network. Though we don't know Verizon's pricing strategy just yet, I imagine Apple will insist on matching AT&T ($199 for the 16GB model and 32GB for the $299 version). Granted, AT&T does prorate the ETF as you serve out your contract, and Verizon could offer an incentive program for AT&T customers, but it's still going to be an expensive proposition.

CNET will bring you live coverage of Verizon's event tomorrow , January 11, at 11 a.m. ET, so be sure to check back for the full story. In the meantime, tell us what you're expecting from the Verizon iPhone.

 

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