Thursday, January 13, 2011

Verizon iPhone?

Like many longtime iPhone users, I have grown quite unhappy with AT&T's service.  My iPhone is practically useless for data in SF, and I often end up firing up my Verizon MiFi.  For calls it is much better. A lot of people complain about dropped calls, but my experience is pretty good.  And, of course, the customer service rivals United Airlines.  Check out these happy missives from an AT&T rep.

Unfortunately, my iPhone fell out of my jersey pocket about a month ago while I was cycling at about 20mph.  This scenario is apparently outside of the design spec, but it handled it well.  It fell face down (ouch), so it popped out of the case.  The ziploc I carry it in provided little protection (too bad it did not fall in a puddle), but the glass was only dinged up by the corners.  Unfortunately, it appears that I concussed my little phone, and it has not recovered.  It runs at about 1/3 to 1/2 of normal speed, which has become maddening.  Click the home button, and it may or may not do something, but you have to wait a few seconds, before clicking again, or it might think you were double-clicking.  Folders open very slowly, and apps launch with a delay.  Typing sometimes freezes for 5 seconds.

It basically has had a stroke, and now has the mental faculties of my first generation iPod Touch.  To replace it with a new one will cost $700, or $500 if I use my upgrade eligibility with AT&T.  At those price levels, I can pay the outrageous early termination fee of $325 and get a new one on Verizon, and come out close to the same.

So how do the carriers stack up in my estimation?

Verizon iPhone


  • Reliable network with decent data speeds
  • Hotspot ability
  • Not AT&T

  • No calling and data usage at the same time
  • No roaming internationally
  • Network might get slammed over the next year

AT&T iPhone


  • GSM--works abroad, and can call and use data at the same time.
  • Rollover minutes--I paid for them, don't take my minutes away.
  • The Devil I know.

  • Serious network issues in SF
  • No Hotspot capability (a policy matter more than a hardware constraint)
  • No current unlimited data plan (but I am grandfathered in on my unlimited plan)

But, I think I am going to stay with AT&T.  I am presuming that over the next 6 months, as subscribers head for the exit to Verizon, that the network will improve.  Both because there will be a bit less traffic, and because AT&T will be forced to spend some money before it stock price completely craters.  Of course, there are probably all sorts of government impediments to getting more towers up in SF.  But, hey AT&T, this is the town of Willie Brown.  Money solves things here.  Also, my wife and I are on a family plan, so I would have to get her a new iPhone as well.

The ability to use GSM abroad is nice, but I don't really travel abroad any more.  And when I did, I had a separate phone to avoid getting gouged for roaming (and calls at 3am GMT from your buddies).  I do use the voice and data simultaneously reasonably often.  I may be on the phone in the car and want to check traffic on Google Maps to figure out a way around congestion.  Or I may be checking in to a location whilst on a call.  It is alleged that Verizon is working to fix this in 2011.

Rollover minutes are philosophically appealing because I paid for those minutes, and I like the idea that I have some flexibility about when I use them.  Of course, having multiple data devices because I can't use the iPhone as a hotspot overcomes the financial savings of rollover by a long way.  The pinch with Verizon's iPhone hotspot is that you cannot be on the phone at the same time.  So you are working away in a coffee shop with a couple of colleagues, and the phone rings, so you have to end the data session.  Or you want to be on a conference call at the same time.  Free wifi is getting scarce, so this is a real problem.  But, I did read today a rumor that AT&T will offer the same thing in March.  However, AT&T's tethering plan does not make much sense.  It includes tethered use in your measly 2GB monthly bucket of data.  Verizon gives you a separate 5  GB allocation for tethered data (though they charge more for it).

The good news for me is that I suspect there will be a bunch of pissed off AT&T iPhone users who will move in February to Verizon.  This will create a flood of used GSM iPhone 4s, and I can pick one up to replace my crippled unit without extending my contract period.

I think that next year, when we might see an LTE-capable iPhone on Verizon, will be a more compelling case to switch.  LTE is a GSM-based standard, so it will definitely support simultaneous data and voice.  And, it will be faster.  Mind you, raw download speed is rarely a limitation for me.  Pulling emails and simple browsing is more about network latency and the strength of the data signal.

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