What we know about the Verizon iPhone

by Phil Hornshaw

Some pretty good authorities, including the Wall Street Journal, pegs that Verizon (VZ) iPhone we’ve been hearing buzz about for months (if not years) as being imminent: in fact, coming in an announcement by Verizon on Tuesday in New York.

That information is a culmination of all the stuff we’ve been hearing about the new device up to now. We’ve been getting a lot of information and rumors, but here’s the gist: we think the Verizon iPhone will utilize Qualcomm’s (QCOM) CDMA chipset to make it compatible with Verizon’s network -- which previously seemed like it’d require Apple (AAPL) to rethink the entire design of the phone, although apparently it has. We also think it’ll be ready to go sometime in the next few weeks.

Most of what we’ve heard so far has been information coming from anonymous sources close to the manufacture of the components necessary to make the new phone. Although there’s been talk about a Verizon iPhone since pretty much forever, these much more stable rumors started with the WSJ back in October, when they said we should expect the Verizon iPhone, well, roughly right now.

We started hearing rumors from Taiwanese electronics parts manufacturers -- or rather, unnamed sources who worked there -- that they were shipping CDMA parts to Apple. Since then, things have been materializing a little slowly, but the initial estimates are the same: early 2011 release, Verizon-network compatible iPhone. Other than that, it doesn’t seem like the iDevice will be all that different from the current iPhone 4 offered by AT&T (T).

Not long after that, we heard the Verizon would be announcing the iPhone “after Christmas.” At the time, it sounded a bit like a bonehead move, given the fact that Apple expected some big sales during the holiday season. We wondered why Apple would drop a new phone on a new carrier right after a bunch of customers might have bought the iPhone 4 on a carrier that might not necessarily be their favorite. And the rumors we were hearing at the time spoke of Apple doing AT&T the favor of giving them the Christmas rush before switching to Verizon. It all sounded kind of weird.

But here we are. It’s after Christmas, not immediately but pretty close, and it sounds like this is the real deal. As Engadget notes, if we buy what we’re hearing about a new carrier for the iPhone, the big question becomes one of the device’s compatibility with Verizon’s 4G LTE network. Verizon’s massive Consumer Electronic Services 2011 press show was almost 100-percent focused on the company’s future 4G network implementation, but Apple is notorious about adopting new cell technology: when it released the iPhone, it did so on EDGE technology rather than 3G, even though 3G had been pretty well established by that time. Since 4G is relatively new, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Verizon iPhone hold off on implementing it for the time being.

But most everyone figures that Apple is planning a new iPhone for release this summer, and that wouldn’t be that long to wait on an iPhone upgrade. AT&T also talked quite a bit about its 4G LTE roll-out at CES, so it’s not crazy for Apple to hold back 4G for a few months and let it loose on a new iPhone that both carriers can utilize.

That’s bad news for early adopters, especially given all the cool things Verizon is saying it can do with a 4G network, even if it is crowded by the addition of a new iPhone. We’ll keep you apprised of the rumors, but as for now, it looks like while a Verizon iPhone is imminent, it’s not necessarily going to push the technological envelope. You might want to wait until the summer before cancelling your AT&T contract, or cashing in your Verizon phone upgrade.