If Apple ships the next iPhone with support for fast LTE 4G networks, as rumors have suggested for a while, Verizon will be one of the networks that benefits the most. The current iPhone 4S is a mixed bag for Verizon, the slowest iPhone on the fastest network, but the next one won't be, and that will make a huge difference.
It may seem like a distant memory now, but when the iPhone launched in 2007, it was AT&T only in the US. Verizon tried to counter-program it several times, including with the disastrous BlackBerry Storm, before it struck a cord with the bombastic Motorola Droid.
While the Droid sold well, it didn't sell iPhone well, and didn't drive iPhone-level customer interest or retention. Verizon tried again with the litigiously iPhone-like Samsung Facinate (née Galaxy S), and again, it sold well, but didn't need it to do what Verizon needed it to do in terms of customer acquisition, retention, or revenue generation.
So in February 2011, Verizon and Apple came to a deal to offer America's most popular phone on America's biggest network, and the Verizon iPhone 4 shipped.
But it wasn't as technologically good as the AT&T/GSM version. Instead of HSPA 7.2mbps speed and simultaneous voice and data, it was stuck on EVDO Rev A ~2.5mbps speed and could only do data when voice wasn't being used. The fragility of AT&T's network, and customer frustration with it, easily counterbalanced any technological inequities, but only for a while.
That's because, at around the same time, Verizon was launching the first LTE network in the US, a network that was well ahead of AT&T. In May of 2011, Verizon debuted the HTC Thunderbolt, their first LTE handset. The speeds weren't stunning by current LTE standards -- roughly 8mbps in Android Central's tests, and battery life was a joke, but Verizon had suddenly become not only the biggest network in the US, but the most advanced.
Yet all they had from Apple was a slow, CDMA iPhone, and since Apple wasn't about to make a gigantic phone with terrible battery life, that was all Verizon was going to get. Even in October of 2011, when Apple launched the iPhone 4S and gave AT&T (and other GSM carriers) HSPA 14.4mbps, Verizon stayed stuck on EVDO Rev A ~2.5mbps.
It didn't really hurt Verizon's sales -- they went on to move an enormous amount of iPhones, but I bet it hurt their pride. They'd spent years and billions building a big network and pushing out next generation technology faster than anyone, and their biggest rival still had a better iPhone. And who knows how many more iPhones they could have sold if they weren't limited by CDMA and EVDO?
Back in May of 2011, I joked that AT&T would invent a 4G iPhone before Apple did by using their BS "HSPA as 4G" marketing to claim they had a 4G iPhone, knowing Verizon couldn't use the same label since their, more proper, "LTE as 4G" wasn't supported yet by Apple.
Low and behold, in March of 2012 AT&T did just that, somehow getting Apple to go along with it to the extent that AT&T, and AT&T alone, got a 4G label plastered on their iPhone status bar.
Verizon didn't stand still. They offered the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and now the Samsung Galaxy S3. But when it came to America's most popular, most profitable single smartphone, America's biggest, most reliable, most advanced network, Verizon, was locked and labeled a generation behind AT&T.
That changes this September. If the rumors of an iPhone 5 with 4G LTE prove true, that changes in a big way. Suddenly Verizon has the fastest iPhone in the most places in the US. The carrier that takes incredible pride in their network can take incredible pride in their iPhone.
And customers who have stayed on AT&T only because of the data speed and simultaneous voice and data, suddenly have a potentially bigger, potentially better option.
The CMDA iPhone was the iPhone Verizon needed, even if it wasn't the iPhone they wanted. The LTE iPhone will be both.