As a big chunk of Verizon (VZ) customers (and AT&T (T) customers, too) get in their pre-orders and make preparations to set sail with the Verizon iPhone 4 that’ll be available in stores tomorrow, Verizon Android customers might be about to receive a reward for staying put.
When the carrier isn’t talking about its new CDMA iPhone, Verizon can’t say enough about its 4G LTE network — the one that will increase data speed by 10 to 20 times, according to the company. At the Consumer Electronics Show 2011 last month in Las Vegas, Verizon said its 4G network would cover the entire nation by 2014. The service is available in 38 markets right now, with the carrier expanding that to 176 by the end of the year.
According to a CNN report picked up by Mashable, Verizon is planning to show off a new portion of its 4G LTE network at Mobile World Congress later this month in Barcelona. It’s called VoLTE, and it basically means that when Verizon makes the complete switch to the LTE network, all voice for the carrier will actually be data.
Think of it like VoIP, or Voice Over Internet Protocol, which is the kind of thing that service such as Skype provide. Verizon’s VoLTE is basically the same thing, converting voice data into just regular data and sending it over the faster LTE network, rather than the CDMA network that it uses to shoot calls back and forth right now.
You might have heard that the Verizon iPhone can’t do data and voice at the same time (like every phone carried by Verizon). That’s because the CDMA voice network Verizon uses isn’t integrated into its 3G data network, like AT&T’s is. The iPhone, and all the rest of Verizon’s smartphones, can only run one at a time, either voice or data, because the phone is actually using two different pieces of hardware for each. The 4G LTE network would essentially do away with that situation by using data rather than traditional voice.
Verizon already has 4G smartphones available on its network, and it’s got about 10 more coming this year that were shown off at CES. Those phones currently just use 4G LTE for data, but the new VoLTE technology will let phones start moving away from CDMA almost immediately. For the time being, Verizon phones will still include the CDMA chipsets, so the phones will still work even if their users wander out of 4G LTE coverage.
A boon for Android owners
If you’re a Verizon customer and you don’t get an iPhone, you’re in the special group of users that will potentially have access to the growing LTE network. Anybody with an Apple (AAPL) device, at least for the time being, is out in the cold.
That means anybody who really wants to take advantage of 4G LTE right now will want an Android device. At least for six months or so.
There’s been some speculation that the next iPhone version, very likely to debut this summer, might be compatible with 4G LTE, especially given Apple’s new relationship with Verizon. That’s a tough call to make — on the one hand, it would make sense for Apple to make the new iPhone the best product it can be, and it would be keeping pace with Android offerings from companies such as LG and HTC (2498.TW). Those phones, shown at CES, are powerful and impressive, and LG’s Optimus 2X even has the ability to allow users to play games across platforms to engage with opponents playing on Sony’s (SNE) PlayStation 3s and PCs. I can’t stress enough how excited that development makes me.
On the other hand, Apple is slow to move to new technology, especially when it can always upgrade a year down the line. The company was slow to adopt 3G, and so it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility for it to drag its heels on 4G, too.
The end point ends up being that the cutting edge of 4G, as far as technology as well as apps, is on Android right now. Gaming companies such as EA Mobile (ERTS) are already looking to exploit the data network’s power — that company is set to release a Rock Band game that can be played with other users over Verizon’s LTE network, something that, up to now, has only been possible with a Wi-Fi connection.
At the very least, if you’re an Android user considering a switch to the iPhone from Verizon, better to hold off a few months and see what happens with the iPhone 5 — or audition a new 4G LTE Android device, which will likely have more power than Apple’s next phone, with a foothold in apps designed to exploit the much more powerful data network Verizon is working on.
If you go for LG’s recently announced new version of its Optimus, you’ll even get a glasses-free 3D phone out of the deal.