Post Practical Technology

AT&T or Verizon for my new iPhone? (Updated answer: AT&T)

Updat­ed! — dis­count on Vz, too!
Update #2 — no voice+data on Vz
Update #3 — done and done

Hi all. Back to the mun­dane. Apple announced (or rather, con­firmed what we’ve all known for sev­er­al months now) a new iPhone today. The iPhone 5 will be avail­able for pre-order this Fri­day, to ship a week lat­er. I will be get­ting one, as will my wife, as we lurve our cur­rent iPhones 4, we are out of con­tract, and we would like faster more capa­ble phones.

There are three car­ri­ers avail­able to us: AT&T (our cur­rent car­ri­er), Ver­i­zon (with whom we car­ri­er-ed for a decade before we got iPhones), and Sprint (actu­al­ly a home­town com­pa­ny here in KC).

Sprint is out right away for poor cov­er­age and con­fus­ing plans that don’t actu­al­ly come out to any­thing bet­ter than the oth­ers. They do have unlim­it­ed data, mind you, but we actu­al­ly use our phones for phones, and their “add a tablet” options are ridicu­lous­ly expen­sive should we ever go that route.

Which leaves the oth­er two.

Ver­i­zon. We loved Ver­i­zon when we were cus­tomers, we always had a sig­nal and nev­er had a call drop. Of course, this was in the stone age of cell phones, and the num­ber of phones, the tech­nol­o­gy of the air­waves, etc. has changed a lot since then. But we hear from the hoi pol­loi that Ver­i­zon does­n’t drop calls. The plan would cost us $150 per month. Adding a tablet, if we should go there, is $10 per month, per tablet.

AT&T. We have AT&T now, and when we first start­ed two years (more, now) ago, we dropped calls like crazy. Not like, cray cray more-often-than-not crazy, but fre­quent­ly enough that we pined for good ol’ Ver­i­zon. But I reg­u­lar­ly use voice and data at the same time (look­ing up my cal­en­dar while on a phone call, for exam­ple), which you can’t do on Ver­i­zon right now. The plan would cost us $150 per month. And adding a tablet is also $10 per month, per tablet.

Research! Root Met­rics sur­veyed KC and com­pared voice and data reli­a­bil­i­ty for major car­ri­ers. The results sug­gest that AT&T has improved their dropped calls fre­quen­cy a lot (borne out by our anec­do­tal expe­ri­ence), but Ver­i­zon still has faster over­all data speeds (and few­er dropped calls, tech­ni­cal­ly). But most­ly, it seems a wash between those two. Here is the link. Apolo­gies to those of my friends in small­er mar­kets. Also: ha ha!

There are two oth­er fac­tors that will weigh on this deci­sion:

LTE. This is the new supa-fast mobile net­work the iPhone 5 uses, and both V and A sup­port. From what I read, LTE only does data, and can­not be used for voice. Instead, both use the pre­vi­ous 3G net­works for voice calls. (This will change some­time, maybe soon?) There­fore, when an AT&T LTE phone tries to do voice and data simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, it actu­al­ly drops to 3G for both. A lot slow­er than LTE, but you can do both. A Ver­i­zon phone with LTE, cur­rent­ly can do data and voice simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. It con­tin­ues using LTE for data, but fires up the sec­ond radio device for voice, and runs both at the same time. The jury is out on whether the iPhone 5 is equipped with two radios at once (I think Apple made beef about there being one mag­ic-task­ing radio in the iPhone 5 that did all things, but I don’t recall).

Research! Some­one explained the rea­sons why simul­ta­ne­ous voice and data are not pos­si­ble on all net­wor… zzzz, tl;dr. Basi­cal­ly, what I said up there. If you real­ly need to read it, here is that link.

State of KS Dis­counts. AT&T offers a dis­count for ser­vice to employ­ees of the State of Kansas, which we are. Our cur­rent AT&T plan has this dis­count applied. I would expect we could get the dis­count applied to a new plan with AT&T, which would make it cheap­er than the equiv­a­lent Ver­i­zon plan (though I don’t know how much cheap­er).

So, what do I need to do?

  1. Find out if the iPhone 5 can do simul­ta­ne­ous voice and data on both AT&T and Ver­i­zon.
  2. Find out if there is a dis­count for State of KS employ­ees for AT&T still, if there is one for Ver­i­zon, and how much a dis­count might be.
  3. Before Fri­day.

Update. Okay, so Ver­i­zon also offers a dis­count to employ­ees of the State of Kansas. So yay. Also, it appears from the Intar­webs that both car­ri­ers will be able to pro­vide simul­ta­ne­ous voice and data when you are on their LTE net­works. Also, when not on the LTE net­work, AT&T will still pro­vide that abil­i­ty. But we still have no ver­i­fied ver­i­fi­ca­tion of iPhone 5’s abil­i­ty to do this on Ver­i­zon once you fall off LTE. Not sure it mat­ters.

Update #2. So, in this arti­cle, it unequiv­o­cal­ly states that no, the iPhone 5 on Ver­i­zon will not be able to do simul­ta­ne­ous voice and data. Apple would have need­ed to add a third anten­na to the phone for that, and they chose not to. The short of it, tech­ni­cal­ly: AT&T does data over LTE, and when you make a phone call, does data and voice over 3G. Ver­i­zon does data over LTE, and when you make a phone call, drops to CDMA, but with too few anten­nas in the phone, they can’t keep work­ing the LTE for data, so presto, no data while talk­ing.

Turns out it does mat­ter to me, so we’re stick­ing with AT&T. Also, the Future will be awe­some, and you can see how by Googling “VoLTE” (Voice-over-LTE), which is com­ing Real Soon Now. Hon­est.

Update #3. Ordered two new iPhones. Had to use the Apple site, because AT&T’s was borked, and had to order them one at a time, because the Store’s sys­tem can’t han­dle more than one car­ri­er sub­si­dized phone at a time, so, what­ev­er. They ship in two weeks, and take five days to ship, and may require a sig­na­ture. That’s… like, Octo­ber 3rd or some­thing. Arr.

By Danny

My name is Danny, and I grew up living overseas, but have settled in Kansas, where it turns out some of my family started, back when. I am helping to raise my own family, and hoping to be proud of what I've done when it's all over.