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The Verizon iPhone: Here we go again

Though the clues are again pointing to a January release for the elusive Verizon iPhone, I don't think they add up.

Don't count on it. Kent German/CNET

The tech boy has cried "Verizon iPhone" so many times that this villager hardly listens anymore. Indeed, it wouldn't be a day if a new rumor didn't pop up, but just wanting a Verizon iPhone to cure the AT&T woes isn't going to make it happen.

The latest tidbit comes via TechCrunch, which reported Sunday that Apple has placed orders for millions of CDMA chips that will be used in a Verizon iPhone due next January. TechCrunch used an unnamed source so we don't get any details, but that rumor, plus a similar Bloomberg report and last week's news that Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg will keynote the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, have some people putting two and two together and suggesting that this time, more than any other, a Verizon iPhone is really on its way. Sorry, folks, but don't count me among these people. Though each breadcrumb is interesting by itself, I just don't buy the math.

As I've said before, rumors of a Verizon iPhone are just rumors, and I'm not going to believe one exists until I hear it from Apple CEO Steve Jobs himself. Until then, and despite what any media-loving analyst says, any piece of "evidence" is open to wide interpretation. Just consider these latest clues.

Those CDMA chips
So let's say that Apple is ordering CDMA chips. Sure, that's pretty significant, but that doesn't mean that those chips will end up in a Verizon iPhone. Verizon is not the only CDMA carrier in the United States--there's Sprint and even U.S. Cellular to consider--and CDMA is used in other large, mobile-happy countries. China Telecom, for example, uses CDMA and offers a healthy subscriber base of 74.52 million. Though it can't quite rival Verizon's 99.7 million customer just yet, the carrier has added 3 million new subscribers per month since last December. And if the carrier continues growing at that rate, it could surpass Verizon early next year as the world's largest CDMA carrier. Sure, the iPhone is already in China, but that's a lot of new potential customers to consider.

We also don't know that a CDMA chip would end up in an iPhone at all. Though China Unicom has expressed interest in offering the iPad, perhaps China Telcom is trying to beat its rival to the tablet table. So again, there are other possibilities beyond an iPhone on Verizon.

Verizon at CES
As the CES press release clearly tells us, Seidenberg will use his keynote to "highlight [the] company's vision for its LTE 4G wireless technology." Granted, that could mean almost anything, but it doesn't mean an iPhone. Instead, we'll hear about Seidenberg's "vision" for LTE, along with firm details about how the network will reach customers. Though the carrier, which is still testing LTE, had scheduled commercial deployments for sometime this year, I agree with CNET'S Maggie Reardon that an end of the year time frame is more likely.

Verizon has never been a wallflower at CES--it rolled out its V Cast Music service in 2006 and introduced its Verizon V Cast TV at the 2007 show--but it has always emphasized network and services over products. And seriously, does anyone really expect Jobs to let someone outside of Apple introduce such a highly anticipated Apple device? Not a chance...and I don't see Apple showing up at CES, either.

Bloomberg joins in
At the end of June, Bloomberg cited its own anonymous sources to predict a January launch for an LTE-capable device. True, Bloomberg "is a reliable source," as one of my Verizon contacts put it, and I'm inclined to agree that a dual-mode CDMA/LTE device is the most probable scenario for the fabled phone. But even so, January remains unlikely.

Even if Verizon activates its LTE network at CES, it will take at least a year to work out the kinks, make enough LTE chips to put in the phones, and expand the network to enough major cities. And I don't see Apple jumping on board until those marks are reached. Sprint may have been happy to introduce the HTC Evo 4G without WiMax in New York City or San Francisco, but Apple's going to wait until it can guarantee its desired customer experience for as many people as possible.

Of course, we can't forget that we still don't know with absolute certainty when AT&T's exclusivity will end. Though it could change at any time, my money is still on 2012. And by pure coincidence, that would give Verizon enough time to have a strong and comprehensive LTE network.

The final word
Absolutely, I could be wrong, and the Verizon iPhone might land on my desk in months. After all, anything is possible in the tech world, and Apple wrote the rulebook on keeping secrets. What's more, I don't put any stock in the theory that Jobs would shut out Verizon simply because the carrier turned down the iPhone before. That would just be bad business.

But even with those caveats, the evidence still isn't enough to convince me that the iPhone's second coming is around the corner. Later in 2011 is more believable, but I still join many of my colleagues in saying that it will be another two years before Apple takes a bite out of Big Red.