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January 08, 2011

Verizon's Big Year Is Much More than Just iPhone

After years of living in the barren AT&T wilderness, iPhone fans and desperate would-be switchers are eagerly awaiting the widelyreported planned announcement that Verizon will finally make it to the iPhone 4. Depending on who you read, it's thought the availability of iPhone in CDMA wearing a new carrier's clothes could boost Apple by another 10 million units. A good number of those will no doubt come from existing iPhone users switching to AT&T, while many more could be net new - a patient bunch who kept their loyalty to Verizon, and avoided AT&T, no matter their curiosity into the iOS. Part of me wants to be skeptical that this will goose sales as much as anticipated, but I've long learned to always pick the "over" when it comes to Apple.

That said, the iPhone is just one bit of good news for Verizon, which is becoming a go-to partner for some of the more intriguing devices elsewhere in the early adopter tech geek ecosystem. The ChromeOS-based CR-48 notebooks from Google come with a bundled Verizon 3G card, which offers freeloaders like myself 100 MB of bandwidth a month before even paying a dime. More costs extra, of course. Additionally, Verizon is going to be the go-to-market partner for Motorola's new Xoom tablet, which I saw demoed at CES this morning, and was awarded best in show.

CES was draped in banners from Sprint touting their 4G experience. It's what I use on the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Samsung Epic 4G as well. Sprint has done well for my family, after we switched from AT&T and iPhone simultaneously this summer. But Verizon looks like the much-desired partner for the elite products, and when exclusives come up, Verizon is there.

Following up on my introductory post last week to the CR-48, I gave the notebook a run as being my primary device all of CES. I turned on the 3G access from Verizon yesterday morning, and took the laptop everywhere, avoiding power plugs, to test the battery, and disabling WiFi. Unsurprisingly, the laptop gave at least 8 hours of use without a charge, and the 3G speed from Verizon has been plenty fast, from the hotel, from the otherwise-congested CES event, and now at the Las Vegas airport.

Obviously, the CR-48 trial units are early days for the device. One would assume that if Google wanted to provide a strong experience for users, they chose partners carefully - as did Motorola. Verizon will also be there with the new Droid Bionic, which is expected to ship after the iPhone hits stores, possibly as soon as the end of the month.

My experience with Verizon on the CR-48 has been nice. While I haven't tested out a wide variety of geographies, I've never suffered for coverage, and the CR-48 is smart enough to tell me just how much data I have left on the free plan before I'd be asked to pay up. I've managed to crank out 75 MB of use in two days, so I have 25 left. If I were to turn off WiFi permanently, and just use the device over 3G, obviously, I would need a bigger plan and would be sending some dollars Verizon's way. The convenience of anywhere high-speed Internet can't be understated, of course. Behind Diet Coke, it's probably my #1 addiction.

We've learned to live in multi-vendor homes with tablets and phones and laptops everywhere. But for the most part, I think folks are sticking with a single carrier. Is it common to be paying out to T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and Verizon each month? Probably not. If Verizon manages to continue as the go-to partner for Android, and can add on its share of tablets and notebooks, as well as the iPhone (finally), you could be seeing the kind of subscriber and revenue growth for them that AT&T has been getting the past few years thanks to Apple's exclusivity.

As for me? I've still got 24 MB on this free plan, and once I hit zero, it's either WiFi, or I add Verizon to my list of monthly bills. My wife will love that.