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Verizon iPhone vs. AT&T iPhone: What We Know So Far

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The Verizon iPhone 4, debuting in early February to compete with the AT&T iPhone 4, has had as much ink written about it as any other phone in U.S. wireless history.

Yet, for all the writing, new information continues to emerge in the run-up to the Verizon iPhone 4 launch, which is just prior to the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona next month.

Here are a few pieces of information that have trickled out in the past few days since the official announcement.

Hotspot: Now, Later, or Never?
The Verizon iPhone comes with one feature that AT&T has promised for several months: a Wi-Fi hotspot that allows up to five Wi-Fi enabled devices (such as laptops, desktops, and even the iPod touch) to connect to the web through the Wi-Fi to 3G data bridge built in to the phone.

AT&T has tethering, which requires a physical connection to one laptop or desktop, and it costs significantly more, yet the company has never come out with the hotspot functionality on any AT&T-based iPhone.

What's clearer now, a few days after the announcement, is that Apple put a special build of iOS 4 on the Verizon phone: iOS 4.2.5.  Verizon will charge $20 for 2GB per month of service over this built-in hotspot, using the newer iOS (AT&T's iPhone only has iOS 4.2.1).

What's also clear is that the betas of iOS 4.3.0 out in the wild have code strings and REM statements that provide the functionality as part of this next release.

What's less certain is whether AT&T will choose to implement the Wi-Fi hotspot feature on its iPhone 4 and iPhone 3G/3GS phones, or will instead wait until the next generation iPhone. The company has been silent on its plans, so if this feature is important to you, consider the Verizon iPhone 4.

Constant Data Connection
While considering the Wi-Fi hotspot feature, however, remember that this is a phone first and foremost, and the history of other Wi-Fi hotspot-enabled phones, such as the Palm Pre Plus, tells us that any call coming into the phone will disrupt the data service. 

For that feature enhancement, you've got Verizon's 3G data network, riding on CDMA, to thank: No Verizon phone can handle data and voice at the same time, short of some of the newer Long Term Evolution (LTE or 4G, as it's also being called) that were launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas two weeks ago.

The same is true if you want to talk on the phone and check email at the same time: Apple and AT&T made a big deal about this functionality back when it was AT&T's exclusive contract. Yet those ads are long gone, and that functionality won't be available on the Verizon iPhone.

Why Are You Smiling? The Death Grip
In the classic line from The Princess Bride's fencing match, both contestants admit to each other that they are the weaker adversary. Yet, when asked why they are smiling, the reply is the same-"because I am not left handed"-before swapping the sword to the other hand.

For those left-handed users of the AT&T iPhone, the "death grip" has been a sizable issue. Word is, based on an answer that Apple COO Tim Cook gave during the question and answer session when Verizon's iPhone 4 was announced, that the "death grip" issue has been solved.

Other sites are now reporting that the antenna bands, which use to sit in the lower left-hand side of the phone, in an area that a left-handed user would grip, have been moved to a different location on the Verizon iPhone.

Consumer Reports magazine made this a key feature in its poor rating of the AT&T iPhone, so it will be interesting to see how Verizon fares on this particular issue with the next Consumer Reports evaluation.

Have iPhone, Will Travel
While many AT&T iPhone users have complained about the price of AT&T's data roaming packages for travel outside of the United States, the fact is that Verizon's iPhone will only work in North America, and it's even uncertain whether it will work in Canada and Mexico, which have CDMA but only limited 3G data coverage in major metropolitan areas.

Data Speeds
The question has been raised about the issues surrounding Verizon's 3G data network, which runs on EVDO, and the speed comparison against AT&T's network.

The answer to this is truly "your mileage may vary," as the connectivity for both is inconsistent around the country. For AT&T users, the data network ranges from the very slow EDGE to the fairly speedy HSPA+ that AT&T is now trying to call 4G, with a middle ground of 3G (or 3.5G, if you're into the marketing) that every AT&T iPhone user longs to see when they're in a data wasteland (which could just as easily be San Francisco as it is my area of rural Tennessee).

For Verizon users, there's the issue of whether one is on the original EVDO network, or the speedier EVDO Rev. A network, which are roughly equivalent to AT&T's EDGE and 3G, respectively. Verizon actually has the upper hand on data speeds now, with LTE, but alas the iPhone 4 on Verizon will not support LTE, so all the 4G goodness in the world won't matter to purchasers of the first Verizon iPhone.

Wait a few months, though, and that may all change, as the rumors of the new iPhone (5?) are that it will either handle CDMA and GSM or GSM and LTE. The answer, of course, won't be known for several months, but it may be enough to keep AT&T switchers at bay from buying the first Verizon iPhone 4.

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