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The primary factor to consider when evaluating a switch from AT&T to Verizon is reception. Everything else should be secondary. The difference between the AT&T GSM network and the Verizon CDMA network means that you must purchase a new iPhone if you switch between carriers. You could face charges well in excess of $500, between Early Termination Fees (ETFs) from AT&T and device purchase and service initiation fees from Verizon. If your reception with AT&T has been satisfactory and you are early in the contract on a new iPhone 4, it probably makes no sense to switch.
Really determine whether AT&T or Verizon offers better reception in your normal service area. Don't simply go by their coverage maps. Ask a friend or colleague who has Verizon service about their experiences. Verizon offers a 14-day Return Policy, although you will pay a $35 restocking fee. If you are at all unsure about Verizon's reception, hold off porting your number for a day or two until you have tested coverage with your new iPhone.
If you have consistently poor reception with an AT&T iPhone in your regular service area and you are late into -- or completely out of -- a contract with AT&T, you are likely a prime candidate to switch.
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Be prepared to cough up the bucks. If you are still in contract, you will owe AT&T an ETF. You will also be obligated to pay Verizon for your new hardware. You may also face overlapping bills from both carriers for up to a month, depending upon when you initiate the switch in your billing cycle.
Don't expect to save money off your monthly bill through switching, unless you take advantage of a family plan or corporate deal. Generally speaking, AT&T and Verizon have very similar iPhone service fees. See this article in MacWorld for a comparison of both carriers across their various plans and services.
Check this handy widget from Wolfram Alpha to calculate any potential Early Termination Fee from AT&T.
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The Verizon iPhone 4 does benefit from the lessons Apple learned with AT&T's iPhone 4. Rumors suggest that Apple is developing a next-generation iPhone with multi-band support for both types of networks, but for now an AT&T iPhone cannot be used on the Verizon network, or vice versa. AT&T uses GSM and Verizon offers CDMA. These two systems are not compatible.
Network technology dictates the primary difference between the two carriers. You cannot talk and surf on the Verizon network. With AT&T, you can simultaneously access the Internet while you are on a telephone call. Switch to Verizon and you will lose this capability.
Verizon's iPhone benefits from improvements to the antenna design. AT&T consumers suffered the brunt of the issue when the iPhone 4 was introduced, and Apple has re-engineered the antenna to address lingering concerns.
A new feature available on the Verizon iPhone is the Personal Hotspot. Multiple Android phones offer hotspot functionality, so it's not revolutionary. It allows you to connect other network devices to your iPhone and share its Internet connection wirelessly. Your Verizon iPhone 4 effectively becomes a Wi-Fi access point.
If you are looking for a mobile phone to take advantage of faster 4G or LTE networks, the iPhone 4 is not it. The Consumer Reports blog offers reasonable arguments to hold off until the next generation of hardware.
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Mobile Number Portability
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandated Local Number Portability (LNP) in 2003. What it means for you is that AT&T must allow you to port your number to Verizon, as long as you stay within the same service area. Verizon does not charge porting fees.
The only rule to keep in mind when porting your number from AT&T to Verizon is:
Initiate the porting process with Verizon!
Verizon provides a handy online form to check your eligibility for a port and to keep up on your porting status. Porting your number between these two carriers should complete the same day, although in some circumstances it can take longer. If AT&T is deluged with requests to port out numbers, their systems may move slower than normal.
You may have to pay for overlapping service from both carriers. Try to port your number at the end of your billing cycle to pay for as little overlap as possible. If you port your number on the first day of your billing cycle, AT&T may require you to pay an entire month's bill. Factor this into the total cost of the switch. The port out of your number should terminate your service with AT&T, but play it safe and call their customer service to be sure.
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Migrate Your Apps & Data
Apple has made the migration process from old iPhone hardware to new extremely easy. There are a few details to watch, so hold onto that old iPhone until you've had a chance to validate all your data. If your apps were all purchased through the App Store, they should all transfer along with their data. That means settings, contents, notes and even high scores will migrate with your apps.
See the Apple knowledge base Article: HT2109 for a general description of the process. Basically, you want to transfer purchases and fully backup your old iPhone using iTunes on your computer. Connect the new iPhone and you will be prompted to restore from a backup, and you'll choose the latest backup you just made. Here are some useful screenshots from a typical iTunes restore process.
Apple's HT2109 article does stipulate that this applies when using the same carrier, so there is a possibility that your text messages or other carrier-specific settings may not restore. Also, when you restore a backup of one iOS device to another, passwords for email accounts are not transferred. You will need to manually enter mail account passwords on the new iPhone under Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars.
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Your Old iPhone
The most effective way to offset the cost of your new iPhone with Verizon is to sell your old iPhone. Craigslist and eBay will offer you the best value for your device. Do some research and determine what the going rate for a used iPhone is before listing it. If you sell on Craigslist, be safe and meet in a public place and consider bringing a friend along. The website Gazelle is designed to take used electronics devices such as smartphones off your hands with minimal hassle. You might also consider unloading your entire AT&T contract including the phone through a site like CellSwapper.
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