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Verizon iPhone 4 is Official: No LTE, But a Personal Hotspot

In case you havent paid attention to the Wall Street Journal-generated (and deafening) buzz thats been going on the past few days, the iPhone 4 is coming to the Verizon Wireless network and its 93 million customers. The official announcement was made at a special event in New York City on Tuesday, ramped up with fanfare, but the shindig offered very few surprises.

Except this: Theres no LTE which comes as a surprise to many but the HotSync personal mobile hotspot is included, for tethering up to five Wi-Fi devices. The latter could be the big differentiator from the AT&T version (despite what Verizon execs like to say about the network differences). After months if not years of blocking it, tethering finally became available for the AT&T iPhone this summer for an extra $20 per month.

Verizon could capitalize on the lukewarm market reaction to that announcement by going large on the data plan announcements a solid boon for the open Web, Net neutrality types, content owners and video freaks. Conventional wisdom would say that given the tethering function, its unlikely the word unlimited” will be included. But rumors have been flying to the contrary.

The speakers did use the event to big up the networks performance and capabilities. “We have more than enough capacity on our network,” said Dan Mead CEO of Verizon Wireless in his opening remarks. In a dig at T-Mobiles HSPA+ is 4G” campaign, he noted that Verizon could call its network 6G.” If it wanted to. He might as well have added, just sayin.”

Well have to wait for the upshot though: Data plans were not announced. Regardless, the gadget will set you back 200 clams ($199.99) for the 16 GB version, and $299.99 for 32 GB, which is comparable to AT&Ts pricing.

And what of the 4G decision, or lack thereof? Incorporating existing LTE chipsets meant making design compromises” that Apple would not make, said Tim Cook, Apples COO. So the decision was made to roll out the phone now rather than wait for 4G chipsets to get sleeker leaving the implication hanging in the air that an LTE version is in the pipeline.

Its the iPhone 4, a CDMA version, which took two years to negotiate and build, apparently Big Red and Apple started chatting about this back in 2008. “We had been talking to Verizon for a while,” Cook said. “This is just the beginning of a partnership with Verizon.”

The deal is multi-year and the CDMA version is non-exclusive to Verizon, execs said. And it only makes sense to expect the CDMA iPhone 4 to pop up in other markets globally 93 million customers is a nice chunk of addressable volume, but compared to the GSM base that Apple has amassed, its a drop in the bucket and hardly equates to economies of scale from a manufacturing standpoint.

After playing second fiddle to GSM on a global stage, its looked for quite some time as though CDMA is a dead-end technology thats still being deployed in a greenfield way only in price-conscious emerging markets not exactly Apple-friendly targets. Verizon itself said when it made its LTE announcement so many moons ago that the decision to build an LTE network meant sunsetting CDMA for data (not voice though, at least not for a while). But for Verizon to carry a CDMA-only version of the iPhone speaks to plans for the aging technology for operators everywhere. Loading up the CDMA network with iPhone traffic is a good way to maintain value in an existing asset. Maybe its hedging, but more likely its a realization that LTE is not going to, overnight, supplant demand for 3G, even for CDMA operators, who have more of an incentive to move quickly to 4G than their HSPA-based competitors.

Verizon customers will be able to preorder the iPhone starting Feb. 3, and it goes on sale with general availability on Feb. 10 in Verizon stores. After that, key distribution partners” and indirect channels will be able to get their hands on it. Verizon employees will start training this week and Verizons already thinking about logistics and inventory adjustments. To that point, Cook didnt estimate how many phones Verizon could sell, but characterized it as a “tremendous opportunity.”

Few other details were given at the event as to any Verizon secret sauce essentially, its the iPhone 4 we all know and kinda sorta sometimes love, optimized for CDMA. The Verizon version differs in network technology and therefore has a quirk or two like not being able to run Web and voice at the same time, as is the case with any Verizon CDMA smartphone. Design-wise, it has an extra seam just above the mute switch. Cook declined to answer whether Apples upgrade cycles would be the same for the GSM and the CDMA versions.

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