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Which smartphone maker isn't Verizon talking to?

Verizon Wireless is rumored to be making plans with Apple, Microsoft, and makers of Google Android phones to get cool new devices on its network. So who is next?

In the past 36 hours, rumors have been flying around that Verizon Wireless is in talks with Apple, Microsoft, and a Google Android phone maker. So who's next?

Just in case you are having trouble keeping up, here's a summary to get you up to speed:

Late Sunday, USA Today reported that Verizon was planning to offer an iPhone on Verizon's current CDMA-based wireless network. Business Week followed on Monday with its own story that Verizon is talking to Apple about a new "iPhone-lite" phone and a tablet-Netbook-type device. On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported Verizon is talking to Microsoft about a Zune-like, music playing iPhone killer. And then VentureBeat published a story saying that Verizon could also be talking to Android phone developers.

Not surprisingly, Verizon's spokesman Jeffrey Nelson declined to comment on any of these rumors.

Still, it's only Tuesday, and at this rate, I'm wondering if tomorrow we'll hear another rumor that Verizon is talking to Palm to get its hands on the new Palm Pre, which will debut on Sprint's network this summer. Or maybe Verizon is in talks to buy Yahoo. (Just kidding, but it seems like everyone is rumored to be buying Yahoo these days, so I thought I'd throw that in there.)

Seriously though, I am not discounting any of these rumors. Where there is smoke there is usually fire. And believe me there are plumes of smoke surrounding the Apple rumors. And it wouldn't surprise me one bit that Verizon is also talking to Microsoft. Of course, Microsoft is denying that it is developing its own mobile device hardware.

"Microsoft's strategy has not changed, it is and has always been to provide a software platform for the industry," a company spokesman said. "We work closely with many mobile operators and device makers around the world because customers want different experiences on a variety phones."

Also, Venture Beat's speculation that Verizon might be looking to offer an Android phone also seems plausible, given that the story cites a job description on Verizon's Web site that seeks an "Android Devices Expert." The article also points out that an unnamed CDMA carrier is getting code developed for a chip used in an Android CDMA device. This development could be for Sprint, which is a Google Open Handset Alliance member and also has a CDMA network. But who knows?

Rumor, rumors. Today's are about Verizon deals with smartphone makers.

The fact is that Verizon's executives have said they are willing to work with a variety of device makers. In fact, Verizon has developed a special Open Device Initiative to streamline the certification process to get new devices on its network more quickly. And Tony Lewis, head of the ODI division, confirmed recently that the company is talking to at least five Netbook makers. Perhaps, one of them is Apple.

Verizon Wireless CTO Tony Melone also said in an interview at the CTIA tradeshow in Las Vegas that Apple could theoretically use the ODI process to get a CDMA version of the iPhone on Verizon's network.

"If Apple decided that they could sell more iPhones by developing a CDMA version and then they took advantage of the ODI process, they could get a CDMA iPhone certified on the network," he said. "And maybe they would sell the unsubsidized phone in Apple stores, and you'd activate service with Verizon and pick a service plan. I suppose that's one possible model under the ODI framework."

But I think that if Verizon is really having serious talks with Apple, in particular, it is about getting the iPhone on its super speedy 4G wireless network that it will start building this year. Verizon has said it will have 25 to 30 markets up and running by the end of 2010.

Verizon's CEO Ivan Seidenberg even told the Journal that a 4G iPhone is more likely to come to Verizon's network than a 3G version of the phone.

"Apple never had any intention of making a CDMA" version of the iPhone, Seidenberg told the Journal. Seidenberg also said that "previous overtures by Apple prior to the launch of the original iPhone were meant to help Apple gain negotiating leverage over AT&T," the Journal reported.

Perhaps, Apple is at it again. The deal between Apple and AT&T is expected to expire next year, and AT&T has expressed interest in extending that exclusive deal. Maybe Apple is turning up the heat to get better terms in the next agreement.

But consumers shouldn't hold their breath. Devices for 4G networks are at least two years away.

Even though Verizon says it will have 25 to 30 markets deployed next year, the initial chips on the market will only be used for laptops. Chips made for cell phones and other mobile devices will likely follow about a year later.

Mohit Bhushan, senior director of product management for Qualcomm, one of the chipmakers making integrated 3G/4G silicon, said at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February that his company is just starting to sample its 3G/4G chips this year for device manufacturers to test. Commercial products won't likely hit the market using these chips until a year later, he said.

As for the integrated 3G/4G chips that will be used in cell phones, Bhushan said those chips will be available for testing in the middle of 2010, which means commercial devices aren't likely to hit the market until 2011 at the earliest.

"The biggest challenge for us is meeting the expectations of the carriers and manufacturers," he said, "Everyone wants products earlier. But we have to build test devices. And it just takes time."

So what's your prediction for the next Verizon rumor?