Apple's iPhone Coming To Verizon

Verizon announced Tuesday that it will begin selling Apple's iPhone early next month. The move is expected to draw millions of iPhone users away from the AT&T network. Verizon says it is ready for the increased demand on its network, but some analysts are skeptical.

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It's the latest salvo - and a big one - in the ongoing smart phone war. Verizon Wireless said today that it will begin selling its much anticipated version of the iPhone next month.

Until now, AT&T has been the exclusive distributor of the popular smart phone. The launch promises to intensify the competition between the country's largest wireless carriers.

NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI: As if to underscore the fact that this was no mere product launch, Verizon unveiled its new iPhone at a rented theater inside that citadel of the arts, Lincoln Center.

On stage, executives from Apple and Verizon ladled on the superlatives. This was a tremendous, exciting, game-changer of an event. It would transform the smart phone world. Here was Verizon Wireless chief executive officer Dan Mead.

Mr. DAN MEAD (Verizon Wireless): Now, wireless consumers everywhere have a choice - a choice they've never had before: the revolutionary iPhone 4 on the nation's most reliable network.

ZARROLI: The new iPhone will be sold in Verizon and Apple stores starting February 10th, and some wireless customers will be able to buy it online a week earlier. The price will start at $200 for customers who sign a two-year contract, but executives wouldn't talk about pricing for monthly service plans or how many phones will be manufactured. The Verizon iPhone will operate on the company's 3G network, which is older and slower than the 4G network.

Apple chief operating officer Tim Cook says the companies could have waited until 4G was further along, but Cook says the companies were eager to oblige their customers.

Mr. TIM COOK (Chief Operating Officer, Apple): The most popular question has been: When will the iPhone work on the Verizon network? And we wanted to provide people that choice now.

ZARROLI: As it is, there are some things you won't be able to do on the Verizon iPhone that you can do on its competitor, says analyst Charles Golvin of Forrester Research.

Mr. CHARLES GOLVIN (Analyst, Forrester Research): Using your phone, you can make a phone call and you can browse the Web, but you cannot do these two things simultaneously. And on the AT&T network, you can.

ZARROLI: There have also been questions about whether Verizon's network can handle millions of new voice and data customers without degrading service. Verizon says it has invested heavily in strengthening its network during the past year. Verizon is also hoping that its reputation for more reliable service will lure customers away from AT&T.

In Tampa today, Rebecca O'Dell(ph) said her AT&T phone sometimes has poor reception, and she likes the idea of Verizon offering its own iPhone.

Ms. REBECCA O'DELL: I definitely decided that it gives me another option for plans because I'm concerned about the reception plan with AT&T. There seems to be some pockets, so I just like that idea that there's a choice now.

ZARROLI: But AT&T has something else going for it, a lot of its customers can't sever their service without incurring penalties.

Eric Sunday(ph) is an iPhone user, and he says he considers switching to Verizon just not now.

Mr. ERIC SUNDAY: I'm under contract on one of my phones. You know, we have a family plan. So I really have to wait until my other phone goes out of contract before I could really consider making a switch.

ZARROLI: Still Verizon has some 93 million wireless customers. Many of them have wanted to buy iPhones before now but didn't want to switch carriers. Starting next month, they'll have a chance to buy iPhones for the first time, and Verizon thinks it can persuade a lot of them to do so.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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