After more than a decade as a customer of the company now known as AT&T, I finally switched everything to Verizon this month. Although I had given up on AT&T long ago, I waited for the iPhone 5 to come out before buying new equipment. Now that I have moved over, I have no regrets. The process was amazingly smooth, and, at least where I live, the Verizon network is two generations superior.
A long ride downhill with AT&T
I have been using the same network since 1998. I signed up with Houston Cellular, which later became Cingular, and then AT&T. I was thrilled when Apple announced that the iPhone would come to AT&T, since it meant an easy transition from my old BlackBerry. Service with that first EDGE iPhone was not so bad at first, but quickly began degrading as the device became more popular.
I skipped the iPhone 3G, but moved to a 3GS in 2009. No matter, my new hometown of Wooster Ohio was still stuck with AT&T’s old 2G EDGE network. Although EDGE worked perfectly fine in many locations, AT&T’s back haul in Wooster must be pretty terrible: Data basically went nowhere, even outside, and there was no service in any downtown building.
I stuck with AT&T for the iPhone 4, and avoided the Verizon model that came shortly afterwards. Since I travel extensively, a GSM cell phone had appeal that a CDMA unit did not. This changed with the unified iPhone 4S, which supported both (unlockable) GSM and CDMA if it was purchased on Verizon. But I made a snap decision that Friday to stick with AT&T once again.
Over the last year, Verizon’s LTE service has been expanding remarkably quickly, leaving AT&T and Sprint struggling to keep up. My little hometown is still stuck with 2G AT&T service, even as Verizon expands LTE into the area. The difference is startling: AT&T can barely manage 40 Kbps In an optimal spot, while Verizon LTE is twice as fast as my home broadband, at nearly 20 Mbps!
Last year, I purchased a Verizon LTE MiFi, and have been extremely satisfied with their service and coverage all over the United States. I also went with a Verizon iPad 3, and was pleased to find that it’s unlocked GSM radio worked perfectly in the UK. Since the iPhone 5 shares much with the iPad, I believed that a switch to Verizon for LTE service would be a dramatic move for the better.
Other reasons to go with Verizon
Besides the inherent superiority of the Verizon LTE network in my hometown, there are many reasons to choose the Verizon iPhone 5 over the AT&T or Sprint models. Although I had to move to Verizon’s shared data plan, pricing was cheaper than my limited-unlimited AT&T plan, and Verizon throws in tethering for free as well. Then there’s the fact that Verizon has been more willing to unlock their phones for travelers like me.
Being a long-term AT&T customer, I was pleased to have unlimited data service on my iPhone. But, ironically, just last month, AT&T finally sent me the dreaded text message that my data speed would be throttled if I exceeded 3 GB transferred in a month. So unlimited service now meant 3 GB. This gave me a strong data point when comparing Verizon’s shared plans.
I was able to sign up for a 6 GB shared plan for two iPhones on Verizon for $20 less than my previous “unlimited” plan on one iPhone, plus a minimal 250 MB plan on a second with AT&T. Plus, AT&T charges $20 per month for tethering, while Verizon throws it in for free.
Then there is the unlocking factor. AT&T will only unlock a phone once it is off contract, while Verizon has always been happy to perform an international on lock as long as an account has two months of payment behind it. Once the iPhone 5 was released, it was discovered that Verizon, in fact, had completely unlocked the phone and promises to leave it that way. This is a huge positive factor!
Update Feb 2013: I can verify that my Verizon iPhone 5 is indeed unlocked and works great with a SIM for the Vodafone Australia 3G GSM network!
Between the value of Verizon’s shared data plans, free tethering, and an unlocked phone, I would not hesitate to recommend it to any customer. I have no experience with Sprint, although I did work for the company way back in 1997, but I am concerned about their ability to roll out an LTE network to compete with Verizon and AT&T. And AT&T has left a bad taste in my mouth. I will not recommend them.
Making the switch from AT&T to Verizon
Since I was on the West Coast, it was no big deal to wait up until midnight on September 14 to order a pair of Verizon iPhone 5’s. I originally tried to use the Apple Store app on the iPhone, but they can’t handle service changes there. So I headed over to the Verizon website and was amazed with the speedy response time, considering the millions of iPhones that must have been ordered at the same moment.
I filled in the information required by Verizon, including my AT&T account information, so that they would handle the number porting on my behalf. Since I still had a little bit left on my AT&T iPhone 4S contract, I was concerned with making the switch. But, rest assured, Verizon handled everything for me.
The Verizon website was almost too fast, and the clunky graphics made me feel like I was back in 1999. But the order seems to go through, so I went to bed. The next morning I had an email waiting for me, informing me that my preorder had been received. But the link to “check status” lead to a confusing message that my order did not exist! I emailed Verizon, but it took them two days to get back to me with a unsatisfying reassurance that my preorder had been received.
Despite my unsettling initial encounters with Verizon’s preorder process, I was pleased to receive the shipping notice on September 19 that my phone would arrive before 3 PM on release day, September 21. Lo and behold, the doorbell rang at 2:45 PM, and there were two shiny new iPhone 5 boxes!
Porting from AT&T to Verizon
As mentioned above, Verizon handled the entire process of porting my numbers from AT&T. This includes terminating my contract, which caused AT&T to assess a substantial fee, charged to my credit card.
I was concerned how the number porting process would be handled. Would I lose AT&T service a few days before? What I have to go to a Verizon office? Or perhaps even an AT&T office?
Happily, the process was remarkably smooth. My AT&T phone works just fine even as the phones arrived on my doorstep. It was only when I activated them in iOS that my number magically moved over. Moments after activating the Verizon iPhone 5, my AT&T iPhone 4S showed “no service” and that was that.
I remain somewhat concerned that AT&T will not successfully close out service on my old phone account, but I will update the space if I have any trouble.
Out and about with the Verizon iPhone 5
Going from AT&T EDGE to Verizon LTE is startling there were many places in town that I simply had no service at all, and even those that worked were usually too slow to use. But the new Verizon service is speedier then home everywhere I go. No doubt AT&T LTE (or Sprint for that matter) would be just as quick. But AT&T and Sprint don’t offer that service anywhere near where I live!
I have not encountered a single area of “no service” in a few weeks of use. I have also not encountered any difficulty uploading or downloading in a flash, and I expect that the phone will work just as well as I travel. My experience with Verizon’s LTE network on my iPad and hotspot have shown that their service really does work exceptionally well, even in troublesome places like San Francisco airport.
That being said, I hope Verizon is ready for the crush of new customers their network is about to receive. They have long committed to moving all smartphone customers to LTE, and the iPhone 5 appears to be shifting customers in their direction dramatically. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if their network does suffer somewhat under this heavy load, though the inherent strength of LTE should help alleviate the overload issues faced by AT&T’s GSM network.
I have been exceedingly impressed by the ability of Verizon LTE to penetrate inside buildings. I credit this to the inherent superiority of the 700 MHz band rather than any decision taken by Verizon. Again, we will see if LTE lives up to its reputation or mobile phone companies have to resort to microcells or 802.11u in the future.
I am in exceedingly impressed with the iPhone 5 and the Verizon LTE network. Making the switch was smooth and simple, the Verizon could have done much better in the order status department. I look forward to seeing how this service holds up as more and more customers make the same decision I did.