By Richard Koman / Mobile Tech Today. Updated November 23, 2009.
Is an iPhone an acceptable device for business users? Verizon Wireless and AT&T have been involved in a public multimillion-dollar spat over the question with dueling television advertising campaigns -- and a lawsuit to boot. Now Apple is stepping into the fray with its own ads.
Verizon started running ads last month claiming that AT&T's 3G network is inferior. "If you want to know why your 3G coverage works so well on Verizon Wireless, there's a map for that," Verizon's ad said, riffing on Apple's "there's an app for that" tagline.
"If you want to know why some people have spotty 3G coverage, there's a map for that too," the ad concludes.
New Apple Ads
The ads showed two maps -- one of Verizon's 3G coverage, showing almost total coverage of the 48 states, and one of AT&T's 3G coverage, which is depicted as limited to major cities. AT&T responded to this attack with big guns -- a lawsuit filed in federal court requesting an injunction and a temporary restraining order against the ads, which it termed "misleading." AT&T's request was rejected.
Meanwhile, AT&T, the exclusive carrier for the iPhone in the U.S., launched its own television and print ads defending its 3G network. Now Apple is joining the battle with ads that tout the iPhone's -- and AT&T's -- ability to let users simultaneously speak on the phone and download data. The ads will run on House on Fox, Dancing With the Stars on ABC, and How I Met Your Mother on CBS.
AT&T's GSM network allows simultaneous voice and data connections, while Verizon's CDMA network does not. The new Apple ads promote the AT&T network as superior for business users and consumers. In one ad, an announcer says, "Say you're on a call with a client and he asks, 'Did you see my e-mail?' You can say, 'Yup, got it right here.'"
Apples and Oranges
Another ad promotes the idea that users can look up movie-theater locations and make dinner reservations while talking on the iPhone. Both Apple ads finish with the tagline, "Can your network do that?"
AT&T has been running its own ads with actor Luke Wilson, directly taking the phone company's case to the public. Wilson stands on a large map of the U.S. depicting most of the country covered in orange for AT&T coverage.
"Recently Verizon has been making a big deal about maps. I'm here to set the record straight. AT&T covers 97 percent of all Americans; that's over 300 million people." The ad then features Wilson tossing around postcards from areas where AT&T has coverage.
Shifting the Balance of Power
Unlike the Verizon ad, this AT&T ad doesn't specify 3G coverage, just "coverage," so while it purports to contradict Verizon's claims, the claims are really apples and oranges. A second ad continues the postcard tossing and repeats the 97 percent and 300 million people claims.
So who's the winner here? "I think Verizon's ads were pretty successful for reinforcing the idea that AT&T network is weak," Greg Sterling, principal analyst with Sterling Market Research, said in a telephone interview.
"Carriers are in a tough spot now that handsets have become so prominent in the consumer decision," Sterling said. "The balance of power has shifted pretty dramatically toward the handset manufacturers, and Verizon is doing a pretty effective job in making the network a competitive advantage."