In the past, using an iPhone in Montana meant either having to get one through AT&T with a billing address in another state and roaming in Montana, or getting a second-hand iPhone, electronically unlocking it, and using it in a legal gray area in conjunction with a local cell phone carrier.
But that all looks to be changing this year and next. And it looks to be more of an upside deal for Verizon and a downside deal for AT&T.
Apple and Verizon aren't saying much officially, but the rumors are that Apple will start making a model of iPhone that works on Verizon's network. It's a bit clearer with AT&T; that company is buying the assets of another cell phone company in Montana and switching that network to their own, the type of network the current iPhone now uses.
First, Verizon's deal: The Verizon CEO has been quoted in recent news reports about how his company could handle the iPhone traffic without any problem, but the final decision is up to Apple (wink, wink).
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Surveys show that many of the 80 million current Verizon customers would switch to an iPhone if they could, while business analysts say that Verizon needs the money from carrying the iPhone in the thin-margin cell phone industry.
All that hinges on a new model of the iPhone that will work on Verizon's network. A new version of the iPhone operating system is being announced by Apple in June, and rumor has it that the Verizon iPhone might be announced at the same time, too. If so, it would likely be 2011 before it's available.
Second, AT&T: Specifically in Montana, AT&T is buying the assets of Alltel and changing that network, meaning that Alltel users would have to change handsets in 2011, and the iPhone would be available.
Problems for AT&T that may drive people to Verizon include getting locked into an AT&T contract and the fact that AT&T continues to rank as the company with the highest in number of dropped calls. Other consumer gripes are the speed of AT&T's network, slowed with iPhone traffic and the reason for Verizon saying the iPhone won't be a problem.
So how soon will Montana get the iPhone for real? Let's see what Apple and Verizon say in June, and then the race for the Montana iPhone might be on.
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Mark Ratledge is an information technology consultant. His Web site is at markratledge.com.