A new era: Verizon to carry the iPhone

Today in New York City, Verizon Wireless announced that it will be carrying Apple’s iconic iPhone.

Yes, you read that right.  The unicorn is real. The stars have aligned. The Verizon iPhone is here. It’s even on Verizon’s website.

The iPhone will go on sale on February 10. Pricing is identical to AT&T’s — $199 for the 16 GB model, $299 for the 32 GB model. The hardware is identical — the A4 chip, the Retina Display, the FaceTime camera and other features are present. AT&T and Verizon iPhones are close to being identical, except for the chipset inside and one minor antenna revision. Additionally, the volume buttons on the Verizon model are slightly lower, meaning most iPhone cases will need a Verizon iPhone-specific model.

The iPhone 3GS (recently dropped to $49) will remain exclusive to AT&T.

The Verizon iPhone 4 will include Mobile Hotspot, a technology that allows Verizon customers to turn their smartphones into mobile wireless access points for up to 5 devices. AT&T offers USB tethering, but no Wi-Fi data sharing.

The Verizon iPhone will connect to the network’s exsisting 3G network — not its 4G/LTE network. This means that data cannot be used when on a voice call, just like all other non-LTE Verizon devices. AT&T’s 3G network does not have this limitation. When asked about it, Time Cook replied:

Two reasons — the first gen LTW chipsets force design changes we wouldn’t make. And Verizon customers told us they want the iPhone now. I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve been asked ‘when will it work on Verizon.’

Verizon customers will have priority at launch over new customers, who can pre-order the device starting on February 3. Verizon has published a FAQ on its website outlining the details of the launch.

According to Verizon’s Lowell Macadam, they and Apple have been working together for two years on the project, and have been testing “thousands” of CDMA iPhones on the network. Obviously Verizon wants to avoid the nasty effects AT&T’s network has suffered since the iPhone’s launch.

Of course, the iPhone has been AT&T-exclusive in the US since its launch back in 2007. But today’s announcement is about more than just a new carrier. Since the original model, the iPhone has only supported GSM-powered networks. Most major networks use GSM, with some notable exceptions — Verizon in the US and  China Telecom, which use CDMA. While nothing about China was announced, Tim Cook confirmed that the agreement with Verizon is “non-exclusive,” so other CDMA carriers may get the iPhone at somepoint in the future.

While the far-reaching impact of today’s announcement isn’t clear yet, it’s good news for Verizon customers. Existing Verizon users can check upgrade pricing here, and anyone can sign up for email updates here.

So, who is ordering one? I know I am.

Stephen Hackett, formerly a Lead Mac Genius at Apple, now spends his days running the IT department of a large non-profit in Memphis, TN. He writes about Apple, design and journalism at forkbombr.net. Like all twenty-somethings, you can find him… Full Bio