NEW YORK — Verizon Wireless made the long-awaited announcement Tuesday that it will start selling a version of the iPhone 4 on Feb. 10, giving U.S. iPhone buyers a choice of carriers for the first time.
Since its 2007 debut, Apple Inc.’s phone has been sold exclusively for AT&T’s network in the U.S.
Verizon Communications Inc.’s chief operating officer, Lowell McAdam, made the announcement in New York, joined by Apple COO Tim Cook, who called it “the beginning of a great relationship between Verizon and Apple.”
Pre-orders for existing Verizon customers will start Feb. 3. The price will be $200 or $300 with a two-year contract, depending on the model, about the same as the iPhone through AT&T. It will be sold through Verizon, Apple and other stores nationwide, as well as over the Internet.
Verizon issued its press release at 11:11 a.m. on Jan. 11, 2011, or 1/11/11.
AT&T activated 11.1 million iPhones in the first nine months of 2010. Analysts now expect Verizon to snag some users from AT&T, but the impact will likely be muted because most iPhone users have two-year contracts, and many are on family and employer plans. Verizon did not reveal its service plan pricing on Tuesday.
Verizon’s iPhone version will work only on the carrier’s current “3G” network even though the carrier has fired up a faster “4G” network in many cities. That super-fast wireless data network is available only to plug-in laptop modems for now, but Verizon will have smart phones for it this summer from other manufacturers, including Motorola Mobility Inc.
Cook said the first generation of “4G” phone chips would have forced some design compromises, which Apple wasn’t willing to make.
“Secondly and most importantly, Verizon customers have told us they want the iPhone now,” Cook said. “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked and my colleagues have been asked . When will the iPhone work on the Verizon network?”
The lack of 4G means the Verizon iPhone will have much slower data speeds than AT&T’s, at least in the areas where AT&T has upgraded its 3G network. AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel was quick to point this out, along with the fact that users won’t be able to surf and talk at the same time on the Verizon iPhone. International roaming will also be very limited compared with the AT&T version.
However, Verizon has much wider domestic 3G coverage than AT&T does, especially in the interior of the country. In the big cities of the coasts, iPhone service can be spotty because of crowding on AT&T’s network.
Though Verizon Wireless is the largest wireless carrier in the country, with 93.2 million subscribers, it has been losing out to AT&T in the battle to sign up high-paying smart-phone subscribers because of AT&T’s iPhone exclusivity. In the last few years, Verizon has promoted phones with Google Inc.’s Android operating system as its alternative to the iPhone.
Cook wouldn’t say if Verizon will get the iPhone 5 when it debuts this summer, if Apple follows its regular once-a-year upgrade schedule.
Verizon’s iPhone 4 is identical in form and function to AT&T’s but has one feature AT&T’s does not: It can act as a portable Wi-Fi “hot spot,” connecting up to five laptops or other devices to Verizon’s 3G network through Wi-Fi. It’s a feature that’s been offered on other smart phones, usually for an added monthly fee.
The Verizon iPhone is the first one that works on so-called “CDMA” networks, a standard also employed by Sprint Nextel Corp. and carriers in China and South Korea. Cook said the phone wouldn’t be exclusive to Verizon, but he didn’t say what other carriers might get it. Analysts don’t expect Sprint to sell it.
Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of New York-based Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group PLC.
Shares in Verizon Communications fell 82 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $35.10 in afternoon trading Tuesday. The shares are still close to a two-year high of $37.70, set last week. Apple shares lost $1.20, or 0.4 percent, to $341.29, while AT&T lost 53 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $27.81.