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Verizon iPhone to be announced Tuesday?

Verizon Wireless is planning a press conference in New York City on Tuesday. Could this be the launch of the long-awaited Verizon iPhone?

Verizon Wireless is making a big announcement in New York on Tuesday. Could the news be the long-awaited Verizon iPhone?

On Friday, the company sent reporters an invitation to a press event hosted by Lowell McAdam, Verizon's chief operating officer. The event, which will take place at Lincoln Center, is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET. (That's 1/11/11 at 11.)

CNET blogger Rick Broida received a tip earlier this week from an anonymous source, who said the Verizon iPhone would be announced January 11.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday afternoon that an unnamed source confirmed that the press conference is about the Verizon iPhone. And All Things Digital said it heard from an unnamed source that Apple CEO Steve Jobs will make an appearance at the press conference.

Verizon is still keeping mum about what, exactly, the company will announce on Tuesday. A company representative declined to comment further on the invitation sent to press. So we have no way of knowing for certain what the big news will be. Just this week, the carrier announced a slew of new smartphones and tablet PCs for its 4G wireless network, including the new Motorola Xoom tablet, HTC Thunderbolt, and the Motorola Droid Bionic, among others.

Missing from the list of 4G products announced--and the one thing readers constantly asked us about during the week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas--was the long-rumored iPhone running on the Verizon network. For months, there has been speculation about Verizon getting a version of the iPhone, once Apple's exclusivity deal with AT&T ends early this year.

Indeed, CNET readers and attendees at CES, where Verizon made its big 4G announcements, were disappointed Thursday after both the Verizon CEO keynote and the Verizon Wireless press conference that the iPhone was not announced at the show. Despite its absence, the iPhone still managed to dominate chatter in Las Vegas all day Friday. This isn't the first time that Apple, which doesn't participate in CES, has managed to steal thunder from the CES show. The first iPhone was introduced at Macworld in 2007, which was held around the same time as CES that year, creating a big stir.

When asked Thursday about a Verizon version of the iPhone, Verizon Wireless executives Tony Melone, chief technology officer, and Marni Walden, chief marketing officer, declined to comment.

"We don't comment on rumors," Walden said in an interview with CNET. "We are here today to talk about our new 4G network and 4G products."

But Melone said that if Verizon were to get the iPhone, the carrier's network is ready to handle the extra load of traffic expected from eager iPhone users switching from AT&T to Verizon's network.

"I can't answer specifically about the iPhone," he said during an interview with CNET. "But in general, I feel very confident about our network. We have seen tremendous growth over the past 19 months on our network with the Android devices and other smartphones. And I am very confident in our 3G and 4G networks--that we can handle whatever demands our customers put on us."

Even though Verizon has not been commenting on when it will get the iPhone, executives have long indicated that getting the device wasn't a matter of if but simply a matter of when. Now that we think we know when the device will be launched, the next big question is whether a Verizon iPhone will work on Verizon's new, faster 4G wireless network.

Verizon launched the faster network in December. It is touted to get between 5Mbps and 12Mbps average download speeds. Compare this to the 700Kbps-to-1Mbps average download speeds of its 3G EV-DO network.

The 4G service is now available to more than 110 million potential customers in 38 markets. And Verizon plans to increase the coverage and potential customer base over the next two years, until it completes the network.

The 10 new devices Verizon announced on Thursday are the first smartphones and tablets that will be sold on the network. Since the launch, the company has been selling only PC air cards.

Verizon didn't say exactly when the new 4G devices, which are all based on Google's Android operating system, will go on sale. But all of them will be available by the middle of 2011.

Given that Verizon has just spent the last week pumping up its 4G network, it would make sense for the company to launch a 4G version of the iPhone. But rolling out an iPhone to Verizon customers is harder than just hammering out a new contract. And it's unclear whether Apple would want to complicate things further by accompanying a U.S. network broadening with the adoption of a brand-new wireless technology.

The current iPhone is built for GSM networks. This is the network technology AT&T and most other carriers around the world use. Verizon's network is based on a technology called CDMA. So to offer a Verizon version of the iPhone, Apple will already have to build a new version of the device that includes CDMA technology instead of GSM technology. This is not a hugely difficult task, but it does require more work than simply striking another business deal with a different carrier.

Verizon's 4G network is built using yet another technology, called LTE, or Long Term Evolution. The company's newly announced 4G phones include both CDMA and LTE chips. Currently, Verizon uses CDMA for voice calls on these devices, and it uses LTE for data. (Subscribers fall back to the 3G data network when 4G is not available.)

Even though other phone manufacturers, such as Motorola, HTC, and LG, are building smartphones that combine the CDMA-based 3G technology EV-DO and the 4G LTE, some people wonder if the technology is too new for Apple to include in its products. Remember, the first version of the iPhone released in 2007 was not 3G. It used AT&T's more mature 2.5G EDGE network technology. It took the company a year to come out with a 3G version of the device.

Regardless of whether the Verizon version of the iPhone will be 4G, it's still expected to be a hot seller. Many of the Verizon iPhone subscribers will likely come from people leaving AT&T, some analysts speculate. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster expects Verizon to steal some 6.5 million iPhone customers from AT&T this year. And there could still be millions of other potential customers who have simply been waiting for the iPhone to come to Verizon.

Updated at 2 p.m. PT with quotes and background information.

Updated at 3:45 p.m. PT with additional story links from The Wall Street Journal and All Things Digital.

Update, January 8 at 2:30 p.m. PST Citing an unnamed source, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a Verizon iPhone will be available around the end of this month.