Why the next iPhone should be on Sprint

Recent reports insist Verizon will finally get the iPhone in January. Coincidentally (or, if I were a conspiracy theorist, maybe not), it's likely Verizon will launch it's long-awaited LTE 4G network in November. Finally, apparently Apple already has a CDMA iPhone. Expressed mathematically, that'd be 1+1+1=4G iPhone in January.

I say, I hope not. I'm hoping Apple expands beyond AT&T with Sprint instead of Verizon or, at least does what Samsung just did with the Galaxy S series — make an iPhone for all the major carriers.

Why should iPhone be on Sprint? Here's five reasons:

1. Fool me once, shame on you

When Steve Jobs first pitched the idea of the iPhone in 2006 to Verizon, he pretty much got his turtlenecked face laughed in. In those days, carriers controlled their cellular fiefdoms with fascistic zeal, forcing handset makers, software programmers and application developers to scrape, bow and comply. Jobs, after the disaster that was the Motorola ROKR in 2005, understandably wanted final cut on a phone with Apple's name on it. Just as understandably, Verizon wasn't ready to grant it.

AT&T, the little sister carrier at the time, wasn't so picky and the rest is… you know. So, why would Jobs want to go back to where he was first denied? Is the best revenge coming home, so to speak, as a success to a chastised former master, or is the best revenge a dish served cold — i.e. ignoring Verizon and signing on to boost the fortunes of another willing and drooling carrier.

2. 2+2≠4G iPhone.

The only reason Apple would go to Verizon would be to get a jump on a 4G phone. Only a 4G network satisfies all the technological tendrils Jobs wants to spread (tethering, FaceTime, iTunes HD video streaming, and who knows what else they're cooking up in Cupertino), and a Verizon 3G iPhone, based on the minority CDMA networks (more than 80% of the world uses GSM, on which LTE is based), is about to be a technological dead end. And there's no guarantee a Verizon 3G iPhone wouldn't overwhelm Verizon's network — remember, iPhone already represents nearly a third of all mobile Web traffic, and growing — the way it overwhelmed AT&T's network. So, a Verizon iPhone, if true, must mean an LTE iPhone.

But it is unlikely the first Verizon LTE devices would include an iPhone. According to Jeffrey Nelson, a Verizon spokesperson recently quoted in industry newsletter FierceWireless, "…[T]he first devices that will be available to access the new network are likely to be PC cards and USB dongles, for high-speed laptop connectivity. Other types of devices, including those designed for individual consumers, are slated for the middle of next year." So a Verizon iPhone in January means 3G CDMA, which makes no sense for Apple.

3. It's the network, stupid.

If one were going to launch a 4G phone, one would want to go with a mature 4G network, and right now, that means Sprint's WiMAX. Verizon's stated LTE plans for this year is 25 to 30 markets. By comparison, Sprint's WiMAX network (and whether WiMAX is actually a true 4G network is a discussion for another post or for commenters) can already be accessed in 37 U.S. markets, climbing to nearly 50 by the end of the year.

Plus, globally, LTE networks either just have or, more likely, will launch in conjunction with Verizon in November. WiMAX networks already are available in 148 countries and will cover more than 800 million people around the globe by the end of this year, a billion people by the end of next year, satisfying Apple's need for world domination.

Plus plus, by January, Sprint's network will have two 4G phones operating on it, the HTC EVO and the Samsung Galaxy S Epic. Each of these phones has a front-facing videophone capabilities and Sprint TV, so it will have been adequately broken in and ready for the network-straining video services Apple will want to promote.

4. It's the capacity, stupid, Part 1.

Think of the airways used by both cellphones and over-the-air TV signals as warehouses. Cellphone carriers essentially buy warehouses to hold its inventory, or users. In March 2008, Verizon spent $9.6 billion for a slice of the 62 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz range for LTE. But this warehouse of spectrum is more like a closet, not nearly spacious enough to adequately store the expected inventory of iPhone LTE users. Verizon's share of this spectrum slice is 10 channels. According to people smarter and wearing a larger propeller hats than mine, this is not a enough room to support the kind of speed LTE is theoretically be capable of, which likely spells unhappy inventory.

5. It's the capacity stupid, Part 2.

By comparison, Sprint's WiMAX network (actually run by a company called Clearwire, in which Sprint is the majority stakeholder) is more like a two-car garage. Prior to the 700 MHz auction, between 1999 and 2003 Sprint spent around eight times less than Verizon to acquire a 100-plus MHz swath in the 2.5 GHz band for its WiMAX 4G network, which translates to a minimum of 30 and up to 90 4G channels in each of its WiMAX markets, three to nine times more warehouse capacity than Verizon or AT&T. That means Sprint can accommodate a lot more data and video-streaming inventory. And Sprint already is either in the planning or implementation stages of improving its gen one WiMAX network, and already has mapped out a third generational improvement that would double its current 3-6 Mbps speed and increase its already robust capacity.

So, if I were Apple, I'd tell Verizon what they can do with its network and head over to Sprint.