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When is that darn iPhone 5 coming? (Ask Maggie)

It feels like we've been waiting forever for Apple to release the next iteration of its coveted iPhone. But a launch is coming soon...I hope.

Waiting for the iPhone 5 has been like watching a glacier melt. It feels like it's taking forever.

Since 2007 when the first iPhone was released, eager Apple fans have come to expect a new iteration of the perennially popular smartphone every summer. When June came and went this year with no iPhone, the masses and the blogosphere predicted a fall release date for the new device. Rumors of what features the new iPhone would have, what it would look like, how much it would cost, which carriers would offer it, and when it would be released have bubbled up throughout the summer.

Autumn is almost here and everyone is still waiting. In this week's Ask Maggie, I offer my insights, sans a crystal ball, into when I think the new iPhone will show up. I also sadly explain to another reader why she won't be able to get an unlimited data plan from Verizon Wireless, even though two other phone lines on her family plan already have unlimited data.

Ask Maggie is a weekly advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. It's been a staple on the CNET site every Friday for more than year. And because it's gotten such a great response from loyal readers, it's now going bi-weekly. So starting next week, readers will get not just one dose of Ask Maggie's advice. But there will also be an edition on Tuesdays. If you've got a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header.

Waiting for the iPhone 5

Dear Maggie,
Hello. I just had the unpleasant experience of washing my Verizon iPhone 4. So I need a new phone pronto. Plus, I've been wanting to add another line to my existing plan, and I've been waiting for the iPhone 5 to come out. I keep hearing that it will be available next month, but it's already the second week of September and there's still no word on a release date. I know no one knows for sure when it will be out. But do you think it will be out next month, or do you think Apple will wait until summer 2012?

Thanks in advance,

Dear Waterlogged,
If Apple waits until next summer to release the new iPhone 5, there may be a mob armed with torches and pitchforks outside Apple's shiny new headquarters come Christmas. I mean it's already been 15 months since the last iPhone first went on sale. Apple fanboys and fangirls need their iPhone fix. And they need it now.

But honestly, I don't think Apple will wait two years before releasing a new version of the phone. There is way too much hype around this device. And there are already way too many leaks about the specs and manufacturing volumes of the device, as well as talk about new wireless carriers that will offer it on their networks for the first time. Plus, didn't you hear that there was a prototype of the new device left in bar in San Francisco? That's a sure sign that a new iPhone is just around the corner. With all this in mind, I expect that Apple will deliver the new iPhone in October (fingers crossed.)

That said, I feel your pain. Your phone has been drowned and you need a replacement now. And I'll admit, I've also been wondering when exactly the iPhone will make its debut.

While most experts think it will be ready for sale in October, there's still a lot of speculation about the exact date. Some rumors have pegged launch day for October 7. Another report cites the CEO of France Telecom, who let it slip, that the new iPhone would go on sale on October 15. And there have also been rumblings that it won't be for sale until October 21. But one thing is certain, carriers want this device on store shelves for the holiday season. So to whatever degree they can influence Apple, I see them pushing the company to get the device on the market by the end of October.

If Apple operates as it typically does, there's usually a three to four week lag time between when Apple announces the news of a new iPhone and when it hits store shelves. So if it follows its previous script, this means that an invitation for an event announcing the new iPhone should hit tech reporters' and bloggers' in-boxes any day. In fact, Apple should have already had its grand unveiling of the iPhone already if it had planned to start selling the device October 7.

When Apple announced the iPhone 4 in 2010, it announced the device at the World Wide Developer Conference on June 7. AT&T began taking pre-orders for the device online June 15. The device then went on sale in Apple and AT&T stores June 24. When the iPhone first came to Verizon Wireless earlier this year, Apple announced the news in a joint press conference with Verizon in New York City on January 11. The device wasn't available in stores until February 10.

So to make a long answer short: I don't know exactly when the iPhone will go on sale. But I'll bet my smartphone upgrade that it will be before summer 2012. I hope that helps.

Family plan data woes

Dear Maggie,
I am a Verizon Wireless customer with a family plan for five people. Two members of my family have the unlimited data plan for which I pay an extra $30 extra a month. The other three phones in the family are basic feature phones with no data plan.

I'm renewing our contract this month. And now I'd like to get a smartphone and add a data package. But when I went online to upgrade my phone it said I could only choose from the three data plans, none of which are unlimited.

I thought that people with unlimited data plans were grandfathered in allowing them to upgrade and keep their unlimited plans. I consider myself an existing Verizon customer even though not all of us had the unlimited data service in the family plan.

So my big question is this: I am the one who pays the monthly Verizon bill. So shouldn't I be grandfathered into the unlimited data plan? Maybe I missed the announcement, but did Verizon tell existing customers of the change prior to tiered data plans taking effect?

Thanks so much,

Dear Annette,
I hear you, sister. Five phone lines even with at the family plan rate is not cheap. You've been laying out some serious cash to Verizon every month for at least the past couple of years And I'm sure, you feel like the company should offer you a break for sending them so much business.

But I have some bad news for you. Verizon only considers the two data plans that already had the unlimited data service as existing customers. It doesn't count you and the other two basic feature phones as existing data customers when it comes to the unlimited data. Therefore, the only lines that are "grandfathered" in to the unlimited plan are the two lines that had it before the change was made in July.

I can understand that this must be frustrating for you, since you are the one footing the bill every month. I'm not sure if Verizon sent notices directly to their existing customers explaining the policy. But it does explain its policy now in an FAQ on its Website.

If you really want the unlimited data for yourself, you may be able to take over one of the unlimited data plan lines for yourself. And then you could give the 2GB data plan to someone else who is also using your family plan. But if those unlimited data plans are being used by tech savvy and multimedia teen-agers or college students, you may want to keep the 2GB plan for yourself.

My guess is that you won't need an unlimited plan. The 2GB you get with a $30 plan is plenty of data for more than 90 percent of Verizon's subscribers. So unless you're planning to watch Netflix all day long everyday of the month, I think you will be all right.

Keep in mind, your new smartphone will also have Wi-Fi. Whatever data you consume while in a Wi-Fi hot spot does not count against your monthly data usage on Verizon's network. So try to use Wi-Fi whenever you can. Verizon also offers a data calculator to help you estimate how much data you'll likely need. There are also apps available for download onto the iPhone or Google Android smartphones that can also help you track your data usage. Some of these apps even compress Web browsing traffic, to help you use your data plan more efficiently.

I'm sorry I had to be the bearer for bad news, but I hope this advice was helpful.