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Don’t care about a Verizon iPhone Here’s why you shouldThis week, Verizon issued press invitations to a Tuesday, January 11 press conference. What will be on tap? If the Wall Street Journal and other media are correct, the event will be the coming-out party for the long-awaited Verizon iPhone 4.

While the WSJ believes that Steve Jobs may join Verizon Wireless President & COO Lowell McAdam on stage, it’s anything but a certainty. In fact, well-known blogger John Gruber of Daring Fireball doubts that the Apple CEO will show, choosing instead to save his appearances for brand-new device debuts, not retooled existing models.

Either way, it seems that AT&T’s exclusive hold on the iPhone is about to end. And that is a very good thing — no matter which carrier you plan to stick to.

• iPhone owners in poor-coverage areas have long been saddled with slow or sluggish network performance. These consumers, who have been putting up with high costs for bad service, will finally have an alternate option.

• Others who choose to remain with AT&T will also benefit. A distribution of iPhone users across two different carriers will help ease AT&T’s network load, offering relief for the data chokeholds that can often make these devices crawl.

• What is perhaps the greatest benefit is the possible savings that iPhone competition could yield. It’s a bit early to tell what that could look like, if at all, but retail competition generally inspires better offers and service, as providers vie for customers.

Historically, Verizon and AT&T tend to charge the upper tier of cellular fees, particularly for exclusive devices. But what will happen when America’s #1 and #2 carriers are pitted against each other for the same userbase? It’s doubtful that initial fees will be impacted much, but over time, it may wind up working in consumers’ favor.

For now, the end users’ choice likely won’t hinge on price, but other factors. Some subscribers will want to (or have to) stick with AT&T, while others are committed to switching to Verizon as soon as possible.

If this describes your situation, then the decision is pretty clear cut. But for those of you who are unsure of which carrier to go with, here are a few factors to consider:

1. Do you travel abroad much? AT&T is a GSM carrier, like most of the world. This alone is one reason why many AT&T iPhone users jailbreak and unlock their handsets, so they’ll be operable on other carriers’ networks.

Although the iPhone 4 uses a MicroSIM, which is smaller than standard SIM cards, a lot of users get a standard SIM — from, say, T-mobile USA or a European GSM carrier — and just trim it down so it fits the phone.

This makes it possible to travel to a different country, purchase or rent a SIM card for a local phone number, and use that in the AT&T iPhone (instead of paying pricey international roaming fees).

By contrast, this isn’t possible with a CDMA iPhone (like the one that may come to Verizon). CDMA phones don’t use swappable SIM cards, so the end user’s only choice will be to stick to Wifi for data or pay international roaming fees.

There’s one alternate possibility: A “world-mode” CDMA/GSM Verizon handset. This would offer the best of both worlds — good coverage at home and the potential to use it abroad. Thing is, no one knows for sure if this actually exists. There’s some gossip suggesting this is what we’ll see on Tuesday, so we’ll have to wait and see.

2. Do you travel domestically much? Service can vary a lot by region, so you’ll want to check the maps and see which carrier offers the best coverage in the places you frequent. (Yes, that includes your kitchen, basement and your office, one town over.)

3. Will Verizon push its usual “bloatware” onto the iPhone? Verizon tends to load handsets with unmovable VZW-specific apps or hobble certain handset features. This may or may not show up on the iPhone — we imagine it all depends on the deal it struck with Apple.

But it’s worth noting that Steve Jobs is not known for compromising his end users’ experience, so it’s possible the iPhone dodged this bullet. But if this is a big issue for you, you’ll want to pay particular attention to what the final handset has (or doesn’t have) before signing on the dotted line.

4. Do you want 4G as soon as possible? Between these two major carriers, AT&T has been late to the game. The carrier spent much of 2010 focusing on bolstering its 3G and “3.5G” (HSDPA) coverage, and has only recently started making bigger overtures in developing its 4G/LTE aspirations. Meanwhile, Verizon has shown much more initiative and dedication to its next-generation network.

According to Tony Melone, executive VP and CTO of Verizon, “We’ll cover two-thirds of the U.S. population in the next 18 months, and by the end of 2013 we’ll offer our 4G LTE network from coast to coast – everywhere that we offer 3G today.

In order to get there, we’ll add more than 140 markets in 2011, including Detroit, Raleigh-Durham, Memphis, Milwaukee, Honolulu, Boise, Mobile, Little Rock, Sioux Falls and Salt Lake City.” At, CES, the carrier also announced that it plans to launch 10 different 4G/LTE-capable products this year alone, including phones, tablets, notebooks, and mobile hotspot devices.

Of course, neither carrier is talking about a 4G iPhone yet — which makes sense, given that a 3G Verizon iPhone hasn’t even been formally announced yet. But there is no reason to think that Apple is blind to this very hot area of cellular technology.

So we figure it’s going to happen; it’s only a matter of time. (Hopefully sooner rather than later.) But which carrier will get it first? Or maybe the better question is, which network will be the most robust and offer the strongest coverage whenever it does land? For what it’s worth, at this point, our bet is on Verizon.

While it may seem like a long way into the future, consider this: A standard contract is two years. Sign up now, and you may be stuck in a contract on one carrier when the 4G iPhone finally does arrive on the other. So if you’re an early adopter who wants the best 4G network from the get-go, you’ll want to choose carefully now.

I know it seems like a lot to digest, and the Verizon iPhone isn’t even out yet. Truth is, much depends on what they announce on Tuesday.

(Wouldn’t it be crazy if it wasn’t an iPhone at all, but a CDMA iPad instead? That’s certainly one of the rumors floating around out there.) And the game could change yet again come June. This evolutionary step in iPhone development could very well be eclipsed by the next-generation iPhone 5 in just a few scant months.

Phew! No one said following iPhone news was easy. But hey — if it’s a cross we must bear in order to have some choices in the market, we’ll take it.

What factors will influence your choice of AT&T vs. Verizon? Is it coverage, price or both? Would you be willing to break your contract, if necessary? Sound off in the comments.

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