Can I... No, you Cannot Use GSM iPhone with Verizon CDMA network, buy Verizon iPhone 4 (jailbreak and unlock won't help)

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Frequently Asked Question

"Can I use iPhone on Verizon?"

This question was asked everywhere all the time. I see it at least once a day on Yahoo! Answers.

The short answer: no!

The long answer: No. Existing iPhone (any version) are HSPA (GSM), which is NOT compatible with Verizon's CDMA2000 network AT ALL. But you can buy iPhone 4 CDMA in February 2011.

On January 11, 2011, Verizon has announced a version of iPhone 4 (still called iPhone 4) for its CDMA2000 network. It has some subtle differences from the GSM version. It will be available in February 2011.

You can NOT take your GSM iPhone and use it on a CDMA network, or vice versa.

Let me explain why.

Definitions

GSM - Global System for Mobile (communications), a popular mobile phone system standard around the world, widely used in Europe and Asia, covering possibly 80% of mobile market. (see wikipedia for more info)

CDMA - actually CDMA2000, it is a mobile phone system standard around the world, popular in the US. It uses the technique called Code Division Multiple Access but also other techniques (see wikipedia for more info)

CDMA vs. GSM

Apple's iPhone, all 4 generations of them, are GSM phones, and thus only talk to GSM networks.The only exception is the newly announced iPhone 4 for Verizon, which is CDMA.

GSM network is only one type of mobile network out there. The other type of network is CDMA2000 (or just CDMA as it is sometimes known).

In the US, AT&T and T-Mobile uses GSM.

Verizon and Sprint uses CDMA2000.

GSM phones, (which includes all iPhones except this just announced CDMA variant) is physically incapable of talking to CDMA2000 network, and thus, cannot be used on Verizon or Sprint.

Unlock and Jailbreak an iPhone
Unlock and Jailbreak an iPhone

What if I jailbreak the iPhone or update the iOS?

First, we have to define what Jailbreaking is.

Jailbreaking an iPhone means rewriting some of the firmware and the iOS so you gain access to settings that are normally not visible as a user.

When you buy an iPhone from Apple or AT&T, they are "locked" to AT&T as the carrier, and will not work with a non-AT&T SIM card.

If you jailbreak the iPhone, it will unlock the phone from AT&T exclusivity, allowing you to use other GSM carrier's SIM card, such as T-Mobile.

However, the transceiver inside iPhone is a GSM transceiver, and is physically NOT CAPABLE of doing CDMA2000, whether you jailbreak or not.

Thus, jailbreak has no effect on whether iPhone will work on Verizon or not.

Similarly, updating the iPhone to latest iOS has no effect as iPhone just does NOT have the hardware to talk CDMA2000 inside, no matter what firmware you use.

Verizon Wireless Logo
Verizon Wireless Logo

Will Verizon get the iPhone?

It just did. On 11-JAN-2011, Verizon officially announced it is getting iPhone 4 for its CDMA system.

Previously, I had made predictions on what sort of phone this would be.

There are 3 possible versions of this alleged iPhone 4C. No one knows which one will be the actual release.

Possibility A: Verizon is supposed to debut their 4G network, known as "LTE", in 2011. The new Apple iPhone 4C will be 4G/LTE compatible, making it a threat to Sprint's HTC Evo 4G. In that case, the phone may actually be named iPhone 4G instead.

UPDATE: A recent comment by Verizon head (as documented by Engadget) said that LTE has drawn Apple's interest and helped Verizon land the iPad (bundled with a MiFi mobile hotspot) in Verizon stores would imply that Apple is very interested in Verizon's LTE network.

Possibility B: the iPhone 4C will just be a CDMA version of iPhone 4, but with support for the latest revision of CDMA2000 / EV-DO Rev A / VO which supports simultaneous voice and data (something CDMA2000 had NOT had before)

Update: This story was broken by Wall Street Journal to be a CDMA only phone specifically for Verizon.

Possibility C: the iPhone 4C will be a dual-mode "world phone" that supports both GSM and CDMA2000, like the Motorola Droid Pro or the Blackberry Tour. So will it be called iPhone 4W instead? The WSJ story specifically denied that the new phone is a dual-mode phone. So this possibility has a low rating.

I bet on Possibility B myself in October 2010... 60% for B, 30% for C, 10% for A.

However, with the additional update, I'll revise to 40% for A, 40% for B, and 20% for C in November 2010.

So my prediction for "probability B" was correct all along. My revision in November was rather dumb.

What's Changed? Should I Get It?

That is a very good question. The exterior looks the same, however, it is mentioned that some buttons have moved slightly to improve the antenna (remember antenna-gate?), so existing iPhone 4 cases may NOT work properly. Do NOT buy any iPhone 4 case for this iPhone 4 (C) until you verify that all the "holes" are at the right places.

For more information. please see the Unofficial Verizon iPhone FAQ.

Should you get one? Depends how bad you want it. You know a new iPhone (5?) is coming out in June 2011. There is no reason why it will not come in both GSM and CDMA flavors. Can you wait another 6 months, as you've waited years? (For speculation on what the next iPhone will be... see here)

Furthermore, Android phones are now beating the iPhone in terms of hardware. First dual-core Android phones with LTE was demo-ed in CES 2011 with improved graphics and screen. iPhone 4 is not king of the hill as it once was. That may change in the summer.

Android Logo
Android Logo

What Phones Are Comparable to iPhone on Verizon?

Get an Android phone.

Droid X, Droid Incredible, Droid 2, Samsung Fascinate (Galaxy S), are all good choices. The new dual-core Android phones like Aviax, Thunderbolt, Evolution, and so on are also very impressive.

Android phones are also far more customizable than an iPhone, but being a younger OS, it is somewhat less stable and enjoy a bit less app support from developers. 

On the other hand, you can overclock an Android phone, load new ROMs that run faster or have more features, customize the icons of apps, load a new "shell" altogether, and much more.

If you like tweaking your phone, you should be happier with an Android phone than an iPhone. But that is my personal opinion.


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4 comments

Andy 5 years ago

Very detailed. Thanks.


Sagi 5 years ago

Great comprehensive description!


Pat M. 4 years ago

Verizon Wireless is selling the Apple iPhone 4S that works on the Verizon network.


Bryan 4 years ago

The Verizon iPhone is an iPhone 4, available in the same capacities as the AT&T version of the iPhone. However, there are some hardware differences beyond support for CDMA instead of GSM. http://www.techiecop.com/cellphones/apple-iphone

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