Will the Verizon iPhone help fix the AT&T iPhone?

Now that it looks all but certain the Verizon iPhone will be announced tomorrow, one of the questions that comes up is will users switching from AT&T help take the load off and create a better level of service for everyone?

First, a personal anecdote: I left Montreal to fly to CES 2011 last Tuesday. In Montreal the iPhone is fast, like HSPA 7.2 fast, with nary a dropped call and lost network signal, and a battery life that lasts as long as Apple's TV commercial suggests.

I switched planes in Charlotte and began to roam on AT&T. My iPhone 4 showed full bars but I kept getting a popup saying there was no network connection. That means the tower was broadcasting but there was no backhaul behind it. Like if your home Wi-Fi router is fine but your broadband ISP is down -- lots of radio, no internet.

I asked an iPhone user next to me if he could get online. He couldn't. No one at our gate or on our plane could. Luckily for me roaming iPhones can jump on any network so I switched to T-Mobile EDGE and was fine. None of the Americans could do that, however, so they just sat and cursed, the way a lot of Americans have been cursing for years.

Las Vegas was no better. You'd think CES and the thousands of iPhones that descend on it would just shred AT&T's network but locals said the signal was never great. They blamed the casinos. (And maybe so, T-Mobile didn't work in some buildings either.)

Of course, when there's weak signal, the iPhone ratchets up the radio trying to latch onto it and that means the battery drains. And drains. Remember I said my battery lasts a long time in Canada? I could watch it drop on AT&T while I ate breakfast.

There's likely a number of factors that create this perfect storm of hurt in some areas (because -- and I need to stress this -- AT&T is fine for a lot of people in a lot of places with a lot of different smartphones).

  • AT&T should have spent more building out their network sooner and faster.
  • The iPhone's radio chipset never seems to have worked as well on AT&T as it did on international carriers.
  • AT&T and Apple should have made sure the technology in the phones and towers was optimized to give their customers the best experience possible.
  • And the amount of iPhone users hitting AT&T towers in high density areas was just paralyzing and needed either more towers or they should have broken exclusivity earlier to help spread the load around.

Again, the customers should have come first.

So now that iPhone is finally poised to go to Verizon there will be a network behind it that can serve more users with less towers more reliably (albeit with less features, like no simultaneous voice and data, and slower speeds). You'll have a new CDMA chipset hitting different tower technology that might just work better. And you'll have a segment of AT&T iPhone users switching to Verizon, finally spreading the load around. (Not as much as if T-Mobile and Sprint also got the iPhone and made the iPhone truly free in the land of the free, but that's another rant.)

We're running a poll asking our readers how many will stay with AT&T and how many will switch to Verizon and so far it looks like a big portion are at least considering the switch, and an even bigger portion is welcoming their departure in hopes it de-congests their own service.

A new radio and new radio software stack on a new carrier with what's likely to be a ton of new iPhone users hitting all those Verizon towers -- it remains to be seen how well Big Red's Map holds up. (They seem to think it'll do well enough to keep unlimited plans on the table -- at least for now.) Whether it does brilliantly or struggles like AT&T's has under the weight of iPhone, at least for the first time a US network won't be struggling alone.

Could that just be enough to take the straw off AT&T's severely aching back?