Verizon vs. AT&T: Which Can Feed iPhone's Need for Speed?

Will the iPhone swamp the Verizon network, just like it did to AT&T's network? Should you wait for the iPhone 5 that may or may not run on faster 4G networks? breaks down the network battle.

Tue, January 11, 2011

CIO — With the Verizon iPhone 4 finally on deck for release next month, all eyes are shifting to Verizon's (VZ) network. Will Verizon be able to handle the spike in iPhone data traffic better than AT&T has?

To be clear, this isn't a question about which is faster, Verizon's CDMA or AT&T's GSM network—theoretically speaking, AT&T's GSM network is probably faster. The reality is that the iPhone spurs massive data usage that can cause gridlock in networks regardless of their underlying technology standard.

As the exclusive iPhone carrier in the United States, AT&T has had to pour billions of dollars to shore up its network. AT&T was the first to be caught off guard with smartphone data demand, as iPhones swamped its network. With Android phones and the popularity of mobile video uploads following in the iPhone's footsteps, AT&T struggles to get ahead of the data consumption curve.

Hence, customers continue to heap criticism on AT&T's shoddy service.

Undaunted, AT&T says Verizon will feel the weight of the iPhone 4 soon enough. "For iPhone users who want the fastest speeds, the ability to talk and use apps at the same time, and unsurpassed global coverage, the only choice is AT&T," AT&T stated in an email to AllThingsD.

But Verizon has had the advantage of learning from AT&T's troubles. Bracing for Android and now iPhone data traffic, Verizon says it has been investing $5.7 billion every year on average to increase the coverage and capacity of its wireless network. Verizon has made network quality a hallmark of its brand and highlights this advantage in its snarky advertisements.

"My gut feeling is that Verizon is tremendously well prepared for this," says Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, a website that provides free repair manuals and advice forums mostly aimed at Apple products. "They have everything to lose if their network crumbles under the new load."

Today, Verizon's network handles millions of Android smartphones. It's an amazing feat considering that Android smartphones are outselling iPhones, and that reports show Android owners on average use up to 30 percent more data than iPhone owners.

"Verizon has experience handling a ton of data traveling over its network," says Aaron Vronko, CEO of Rapid Repair, an iPod and iPhone repair shop. "Verizon will be able to handle the iPhone no problem, at least initially. Verizon iPhones will look a little faster, and that won't make AT&T look good."

Verizon also lets Android smartphones become hotspots for other devices such as laptops and iPads, which leads to even more data usage. In fact, the biggest new feature of the Verizon iPhone 4 is its hotspots app. "Verizon bringing hotspots to the iPhone shows me that Verizon is feeling pretty cocky," Wiens says.

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