Verizon iPhone chatter is getting harder (than usual) to ignore

Alright, stop us if you've heard this one before -- but seriously, we've noticed an uptick on the tip lines here at Engadget in the last couple weeks that's becoming difficult to ignore. It's one thing to say "hey, the iPhone is launching on Verizon," but we're noticing a particular confluence of facts that has us intrigued: it'll drop sometime in Summer, possibly in concert with the announcement that Verizon's first commercial LTE networks have gone live, and -- tread carefully here, because this is pretty difficult to believe and we don't want to get your hopes up only to have them smashed into a million pieces -- it'll supposedly even be a 4G launch device. We've gotten surprisingly specific details both from Verizon employees and tipsters whose companies are supposedly under NDA with Verizon to test enterprise deployments of the handset later this year, and they're all sending basically this same message. Read on!

Now, assuming there's even an iota of truth to this noise, we can say with some confidence that this thing won't be an LTE exclusive -- it obviously makes sense to include LTE as a publicity stunt (even if it's only used for data and not voice), but considering how limited Big Red's 4G footprint will be in the near term, there's little doubt that this would be a CDMA / LTE dual-mode deal capable of working anywhere in the carrier's network. Phones like the EVO 4G have certainly proven that there's interest in a high-end smartphone that's configured this way.

Thing is, this isn't how Apple typically works -- at all. Three generations of iPhone prove conclusively that Cupertino is all about stringing the world along with incremental handset upgrades that are just barely evolutionary enough to make you want to shell out the cash, and what we've seen of the fourth-generation model suggests that strategy isn't slowing down any time soon. Demand for a Verizon iPhone is high enough so that it seems Apple could easily get away with a considerably less revolutionary CDMA-only model in 2010, saving LTE for a year or two down the road when the network is bigger, silicon is more efficient, and heck, who knows, maybe carriers will have even figured out voice implementations by then. If there's any carrier in North America that could singlehandedly twist Apple's arm into fast-forwarding Apple's R&D roadmap, though, it'd have to be Verizon with its 90 million-plus subscriber headcount. We suppose anything's possible as long as enough backs get scratched, and CEO Ivan Seidenberg has always struck us as the type of exec that'd just love to give AT&T a very public "screw you."

Either way, it might just be a matter of Apple and Verizon agreeing on numbers. Both companies are known to be stubborn in negotiations, and we can see either of them walking away (just as Verizon famously did prior to the original iPhone launch) until the John Hancocks are on the dotted line. Stay tuned -- this should be an incredibly interesting Summer.