Consumers up early for new iPhones

Consumers up early for new iPhones

September 22nd, 2012 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

David Powell , second from right, and Joseph Stewart, far right, look over their options for new iPhones outside a Verizon store on Gunbarrel Road on Friday morning.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

What's new with the iPhone 5?

* Screen - half an inch bigger

* Weight - noticeably lighter

* Data - 4G LTE [Verizon only]

* Camera - upgraded

* Processor - Twice as fast

* Video chat over cellular

* iOS 6: Maps - Google Maps out, Apple Maps in

* iOS 6: Passbook - A digital purse for e-coupons and tickets

Phone connections

AT&T has gone from exclusive cellular carrier for Apple's iPhone to an also-ran in Chattanooga, where it will play second-fiddle to Verizon in the iPhone 5 speed game.

The newest creation to emerge from Cupertino, Calif-based Apple supports the latest 4G LTE standard. Tests have found that LTE offers speeds that can meet or exceed home-based WiFi.

For now, Verizon is currently the only carrier to offer LTE in Chattanooga, according to spokeswoman Tiffany Deluccia.

While AT&T supports the HSPA+ 21 standard - which it calls 4G - the carrier's Chattanooga-based customers won't be able to try out their new iPhone 5 on LTE before 2013 at the earliest, according to spokeswoman Cathy Lewandowski.

AT&T has rolled out LTE in Nashville, and has announced that it will deploy LTE in Knoxville and Memphis by the end of 2012, Lewandowski said. However, the company has not announced when LTE will be available in Chattanooga.

Sprint customers will be stuck with slower 3G speeds, as the company's WiMax service is not available in Chattanooga either.

T-Mobile, which won't offer the iPhone 5, supports the HSPA+ 42 standard - which like AT&T's network is nearly as fast as LTE in some tests.

What looks a lot like the iPhone 4S, costs $300 and draws hordes of bleary-eyed customers out of bed before the sun rises?

Answer: it's the iPhone 5, which brings a slightly bigger screen, faster 4G speeds and a new operating system to Apple's tried-and-true design.

"The big difference with this phone is LTE," said Verizon spokeswoman Kelly Parks, referring to the speed at which the phone can download data from the Internet.

Advertised as being 18 percent thinner with a better camera, it's nonetheless difficult to visually differentiate from the previous model.

It's also difficult to obtain. A check of AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and Best Buy stores by early afternoon revealed that all stores had sold out, with no estimate of when new stock would arrive. One analyst, quote by Reuters, estimates that Apple will sell 8 million of the devices over the weekend.

Perhaps because of Apple's checkered history of producing enough devices to meet demand, hundreds of Chattanooga-area customers woke up early on Friday - or stayed up late on Thursday - to get their hands on the popular device. Dozens shifted nervously outside the Gunbarrel Road Verizon store under the watchful eye of a private security guard, as bouncers minded the door. Another 20 customers waited at Verizon's Clevealnd store.

While not quite a nightclub atmosphere, workers' matching polo shirts and the store's tightly-regulated entrance lent the gathering an exclusive air. AT&T provided coffee and other refreshments to early risers.

At 8 a.m., the doors opened and customers rushed - one at a time, when their name was called.

"The wait is over," CNN declared on its website.

One student at Verizon's Gunbarrel Road store, who declined to be named, studied for a test as she waited in line. Behind her, babies slept in strollers and fans from different Southeastern Conference football teams swapped tall tales.

David Powell was the first in Chattanooga to get the new iPhone. He'd arrived alone at the darkened parking lot at 2:30 a.m. He wanted to be sure that he'd get Apple's new creation.

"It was pretty calm," Powell said. "I was surprised there weren't more people here."

The widespread criticism surrounding Apple's decision to replace the popular Google Maps app with a reportedly buggy version of its mapping software was of no concern to those gathered behind him.

Sandy McCuistion was a late arrival. He thumbed around on his now-ancient iPhone 4S as he waited at the rear of the line.

"I'm getting an iPhone 5 for my wife," he said.

His wife, Christa McCuistion, got to stay in bed.

"It's for her birthday," he explained. "She's got a Droid, and after two years it's about shot."

Verizon has been quick to note that it is the only carrier in Chattanooga to offer 4G LTE. Sprint offers traditional 3G service, while AT&T and T-Mobile offer a boosted version of 3G called HSPA+. Though they call it 4G, most analysts consider LTE to be "true" 4G, said the Verizon spokeswoman.

"There are a lot of different carriers who say they have 4G, but not all 4G is the same," Parks said. "Ours is about twice as fast as our competitors."

On the other hand, Sprint and Verizon don't allow customers to use voice and data simultaneously, while AT&T does.

At the AT&T store, the lack of LTE didn't seem to be an issue, as the line continued to snake around the parking lot as the day wore on. Shawn Ali, 24, arrived at 8:30 a.m., cautiously eyeing the cars whipping through the parking lot. There were 30 people in line ahead of him, and his chances of scoring a new phone were in doubt.

"If I don't get it today, I'll have to wait two weeks," he fussed. "They have sort of a supply and demand thing where they want everybody to want it, but they don't want everybody to have it."