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

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?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

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


it's always funny to see all the complaints that people have with at&t. i guess i'm fortunate to live in a city where we have good service. my iphone performs how it should. hopefully the verizon iphone will clear some of this up....

I would love it if millions of iPhone users switched to Verizon. I am very happy with my AT&T service and have no plans to leave them, even when the iPhone 5 comes out. It would be great if AT&T defectors managed to make the AT&T service even better than it is.

I have experienced the same issue at major events. At a Chicago Bears game earlier this year, I was under complete cellular blackout for the 3+ hours I was at the game. I also experienced the same at the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup parade this past summer. My friends with Verizon had service the whole time and one of my friends with Tmobile had spotty but existent service.
I know AT&T has fast 3G service but it seems like they don't handle large loads very well.

"We’re running a pole asking our readers how many will stay with AT&T and how many will switch to Verizon"
That sounds painful.
Why don't you run a poll instead?

I've had pretty good service too, or it has improved better over time. I get a couple dropped calls a month.
In Detroit, Mi.

I for one have been all over the states and when using AT&T it is constantly fine, when I was in NYC my network coverage was just the same when at hone and school with the same phone. Now the iPhone 4 everything is just as good as before in all the same places.
Granted I have not been to CES were network trac is horrible but that is expected.
Anyway VZW iPhone will make AT&T Better.

For me there isn't a practical or compelling reason to switch from AT&T to Verizon. I get a good signal most places, customer service for me has been fine, and I like the rollover minutes allowed by AT&T. Paying an early termination fee and moving my family's three cell phones over to another carrier is a hassle I don't feel is necessary. I too like the simultaneous voice and data of AT&T even though in reality I don't actually use it that much. It will be nice for the "iPhone load" to be shared in the US among a couple of carriers now. Maybe AT&T will lighten up about apps that hit the network and allow things like bigger app dowloads without WiFi. The thing I want to see is how the antenna issue will be resolved on the new Verizon iPhone, and what other hardware (or even software) differences there are.
And, by the way, it's poll, not pole ("We’re running a pole asking our readers how many will stay with AT&T and how many will switch to Verizon") Somehow I get this vision of a guy running around with a Festivus pole asking people about cell carriers.

Yes, being on T-Mobile US I've experienced the same thing, Rene. I've been next to AT&T friends where they had no signal and mine has been great. But, I'm sure it's happened the other way around, too. (Although I have to honestly say it's more the former rather than the later.) And, when I was in Montreal & Quebec over the holidays it was nice to roam between Rogers and Telus.
I hope tomorrow is a step forward towards letting iPhone users choose the best carrier for their particular situation.

I fail to understand how the number of iPhone users has an impact on the dropped call problems that seem to continue to plague AT&T iPhones. I look at the iPhone as two devices in one... a voice device and a data device. I've never had a particular problem with the data that is all that different than any other phone. However, I get dropped calls constantly - but only with my iPhone. (I also use an AT&T Blackberry issued by work and never have a dropped call problem.) Yes, all of the iPhones dragged more people onto AT&T's network... But why wouldn't all phones be similarly impacted?
My own belief is that if everyone left the AT&T network and I had it all to myself, I'd still have dropped calls - on my iPhone.

As an employee of an authorized AT&T reseller, I would say that my experience has been simply this: the iPhone is a strange creature when it comes to the radio inside the thing.
We have had iPhones that perform better than standard devices, and vice versa. Others have had varying signal strengths when compared to users with other devices at the same location. Additional cases have had two iPhones side by side that have had different reception. And still other iPhone users have consistently had no signal in the same areas that other iPhone users have no trouble at all...
Unlike most every other device we have carried, the radios simply do not seem to perform at a uniform level from iPhone to iPhone. There has been no common denominator for this drastic difference in performance (iPhone model, condition of SIM card, use of case, time of day, indoor/outdoor, tower broadcast, etc...).
Like I said, the iPhone is indeed a strange creature.

Another thought... How many people will really "jump ship" ? While I know quite a few people who have stalled on getting an iPhone until Verizon carried it, I can't imagine many current iPhone 4 users making the change... AT&T was brilliant in offering everyone early upgrades, getting a significant number of iPhone users to refresh their contracts. Now, recognizing that everyone has an ETF to wrestle with, that will slow down migrations. (Someone who got an iPhone 4 on "day 1" has an ETF of $255 waiting for them... people who got the phone later have a higher fee ($325 less $10/month). I'm not rushing to pay that!!!

...and you can sell your AT&T iPhone on Craigslist/Ebay for $400 - $500. Covers your ETF and new Verizon iPhone.

Thats what i would do, cept i swap my phone for a new one right around summer, sell on ebay as new (8xxxxx serial) and make money on the upgrade. Im never gonna pay for the top model iphone again. :)

I'm not willing to pay early termination fees now that I just upgraded 3 iPhones to iPhone 4. I had Verizon prior to switching to AT&T. I live in the Los Angeles area and must say that Verizon's coverage here in significantly more consistent. I didn't care for Verizon's practices nor their customer service. I am hoping that the exodus from AT&T to Verizon is enough pressure to make AT&T improve their network, so for now I'm sticking with AT&T.

Switching to Verizon would have another major disadvantage, you can't roam. Useless if you exit the US.

Can you explain the "no roaming" issue more? I'm not on Verizon or ATT and I'm trying to decide between the two, and everything I've found leads me to believe unlimited free roaming is available on both. Perhaps the devil is in the details but I can't seem to find it...

just FYI. verizon don't have a good service in Puerto Rico, is really horrible. drop calls, no data service, and i had the bb storm 1 and 2. also their tech support SUCK.
att, tmobile and sprint work way much, better there. voice calls and data..

I live in Charlotte and have had nothing but great coverage in the metro area and along the major corridors (even at Charlotte-Douglas Airport), but it does fall off quickly as you get off the beaten path. Verizon seems to have a better signal as you get up into the mountains. I am going to see how Verizon holds up before deciding who to go with for iPhone 5. Hint for you next time, Rene... Charlotte airport has free wi-fi.

Long time AT&T customer and plan on staying right where I am at !!! Both AT&T and verizon get great service in the area that I live in. Even in my small town we have 3G service and works great !!! I have unlimited data on my iPhone as I was grandfathered into that plan with AT&T. So there's really no reason for me to make the jump unless AT&T just goes down the drain !!! Ppl who complain about service in the areas should have researched it before jumping into a contract with any company just for a phone only to find out that they have no service in the areas that they visit or live. So pick the best
Company for you with the best coverage for your area and quit bitching about how you hate the service !!!

Why can't AT&T, Verison or any other companies in the US just copy what Telus & Bell have done?!? Have the best of both worlds GSM & CDMA all on the same towers!!! Canada is a smaller population but sometimes things just get done better here!!! Telus rocks they watch what others do then do it better!!! My service is always solid!!! Can't wait to see what the future has in store for Telus & Apple!!!

I get the same experience in Manhattan. Full bars but can't get on the Internet or send and recieve mail. Or if I do, very slowly. This happens at certain times of the day. Im quite sure its network congestion. A bit frustrating but overall I'm still happy with AT&T. Won't be paying any early termination fees to jump ship.

What sucks is that in the other countries there is no problem with drop calls. If and when the iPhone comes to Verizon and they don't have them ATT has duped us in believing that the problem lies with Apple. Also with the millions if subscribers that will buy an iPhone it forces Apple to build a messaging app or at least add it to FaceTime.

Messaging app? U mean "messages". Or do u mean instant messenger? Which the app store has plenty of. What are u talkn about

I would love to know how many people want to make the switch and say "I already have the iPhone." The fact that they would have to buy a new one will make a lot of people stay put

And ATT has the nerve to call their dogcrap network "4G"..
You still can't get 3G in half of LA and Orange county here in California.

It can't hurt. Either:
1) The number of AT&T defections is so great that it helps AT&T's network cope, in which case we benefit right away, or:
2a) If Verizon can handle the increased load, AT&T all of the sudden has huge pressure to improve their network immediately - if Verizon suddenly gains even a perception of being "the best network for the iPhone," that trickle of defections will become a flood.
2b) If Verizon struggles under the iPhone load, AT&T only has slightly less pressure to improve their network. Even if Verizon struggles mightily, AT&T has been so dependent upon the iPhone for new growth that they cannot afford to have Verizon fix their problem first, see #1.
Competition is good.

It means we curse too much. Ive had ppl complain to me that cursing has found its way into everyday language.

I do think V dub has a more reliable network but I know plenty of people who have the same compaints that people on AT&T do. But 90% of the time I have faster speed than top Vz androids do. And i rarely have low signal living in the LA area.

I will gladly give up faster data speeds for coverage. The ability to make and recv calls would be great. Most of the time there is wifi close if I need bandwidth. AT&T is horrible in Va and even worse in Charlotte, NC. I have a 10 min. commute and 2 areas with "No Service" along a major roadway. I hope things are going to get better for both carriers and ultimately, the users!

Will AT&T users get the iPhone 5 first or will they announce it for every network? I'm planning to stick with AT&T cause I have great service where I live. Hopefully some of the ppl who are bitching about AT&T will make the switch, better for AT&T!

AT&T, and Verizon both have Goid service in my area. It will be who has the better deal for the long hall, and better customer service. To be honest, since Verizon bought out Alltel, customer service is not as good. My contract is just about out, and I am due new phones, but would wait until iPhone 5 comes out. If verizon does not improve in service, I will think serious about AT&T.

I have had almost no phone service for the past month near my home. After repeated calls to AT&T, I asked to speak to a supervisor. I was informed that eight towers were down or not functioning well near my home. He suggested I turn off 3g and Edge would work well. He was correct. I can now make and receive calls at home. I don't need the 3g at home because I have a wifi network.
I switched to AT&T in the first place because after a year of awful service, Verizon admitted there was very poor service in my neighborhood. I would not switch back to Verizon again.

I know people are touting the voice and data at the same time argument, but you know what? People already on Verizon aren't going to notice the difference, which is going to be a majority of the people buying the iPhone. Same thing with data speeds, no current Verizon customer will notice. However I've had faster Verizon 3G than AT&T 3G in certain areas. So when I ditch the Droid for the Verizon iPhone, I'm not gonna notice the differences that people are pointing out because I've been a customer for almost 3 years and with Verizon changing their upgrade policy, I should be all set to get it when it launches. The only people who are going to notice these differences are ones who switched for AT&T to Verizon. And if you don't want to lose voice and data at the same time, don't switch.

I still believe that the AT&T issues are somewhat related to Apple using a european style chipset for the baseband stack that we here aren't really built for. Maybe that's why they are rumored to switch to Qualcomm from Infineon?
Why do I believe that? Well I don't here of these reception issues and dropped calls issues

The only time I have problems is in large crowds, like football or basketball games. As stated in the article, plenty of radio, no backhaul for data. Phone and text work if I turn off 3G and go to the E, but I never have any data in those situations.

I think it is funny that people doubt the Verizon network when compared to the crushing load the iphone put on att's network, but when looking at the numbers Verizon handles more data every year than att does. So tell me why att's network is being crippled in some areas by a single device when Verizon isn't by a host of devices?

Im sure a few single lines will leave. But when family plans realize they are paying $300+ per line to leave, people will be singing a different tune.

"so they just sat and cursed, the way a lot of Americans have been cursing for years."
OMG I so agree with you. I worked at AT&T warranty dept. before as customer service representative. I'm american and I understand thee frustration of people calling. but what I don't understand is people call just to ask how to open the back cover of the phone (non-iphone) or worse just how to turn it on!!Can you believe that. Why do PEOPLE buy phones that is SMARTER than them??? and they get irate easily coz we need to verify the acct. no matter how easy you're going to as us. it's standard procedure coz if we don't do that we get marked-off in Quality Assurance( less score means no bonus) and yeah all the calls are recorded. If only we can say the answer directly that would make life easier but what can we do it's our job at stake.
Anyway, AT&T does have the largest coverage network in terms of cell sites (yes! not all cellsite are 3g capable) which means less outage in most areas but Verizon has the biggest 3G/4G network. last time I checked but i'm good with at&t in my area. call/data works perfect. I still remember the day at&t released the iPhone4 we got thousands of call that day regarding the antenna problem it was crazy! some haven't experienced it yet and now wanted a refund.LOL

Whenever I've had the pleasure of being in the boonies away from populated areas, those are the only times I've noticed the Verizon advantage. This is because CDMA towers allow phones to connect from farther away than GSM towers, so you can be further into the wild and still get a signal, which is generally when my Verizon friends brag about their service.

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