Imagine that video rental shops worked like libraries; there’s a whole network of affiliated branches, and if this library doesn’t have it, they can get it at the cousin library across town and deliver it for you. And as long as we’re imagining, take it a step further: they can get it for you for no extra cost, absolutely instantly.
So that’s the way video rentals work, and they all stock VHS cassettes, and that’s that. But now a sea change occurs: somebody invents DVDs. All of the video rental shops start building their stock of DVD titles, and while doing so they take advantage of their affiliation network, so if your favored shop doesn’t have Joe Dirt on DVD, they can get it from the shop across town.
But one little shop bucks the trend — even though DVD is the future, they decide to stick with VHS. And that works out okay for them, because while the other rental shops are investing heavily in building a DVD library, they’re making room by selling off their VHS cassettes, and this little dark-horse shop is gobbling them up like popcorn, and their library is huge.
Now it’s ten years later. Every video rental shop around the world has switched to DVD, but this little shop is still on VHS. It’s impossible to buy a VHS deck in stores, so this shop rents or sells you a VHS player when you sign up for membership, but that’s okay actually — some people find that kind of convenient.
But now something interesting happens — a big, new, hit movie comes out… but only for DVD. This little shop is caught-flat footed, because they simply can’t compete here. So what do they do? They advertise!
This shop starts running ads, talking about how the local Blockbuster has a tiny library of titles, and it’s absolutely terrible how small their library is. Now, in a sense that’s true; any individual Blockbuster may have a small library available, but keep in mind the affiliate network — when you get a DVD at Blockbuster, you may be getting it from any one of dozens of DVD rental places all over the world.
So what does any of that have to do with anything?
Well, VHS is the creaky old CDMA digital cellular technology. DVDs are GSM, the modern cellular network architecture that almost every cellular carrier around the world uses. Our hit DVD is obviously the iPhone.
And the tiny dark-horse video shop, that’s Verizon.
Now, don’t read this as a defense of AT&T. Personally I haven’t had all that much trouble with them, but I know plenty of people who reflexively spit upon hearing those letters, and it’s pretty clear that AT&T has been using their iPhone windfall to make money hats rather than investing in their network infrastructure, and that’s clearly subpar. But while I dislike incompetence and don’t care for spin, I absolutely loathe deception, and that’s what Verizon’s ‘map’ ads amount to, in my opinion.
The ‘Verizon map’ in those ads is, by necessity, a map of Verizon-owned-and-operated coverage zones; they have to be Verizon-owned-and-operated, because nobody else is running CDMA these days, just like nobody’s using VHS or Windows 95. The ‘AT&T map’ to which they compare themselves, meanwhile, is of AT&T-owned-and-operated coverage areas, which is not at all representative because AT&T has reciprocal carriage agreements with GSM carriers throughout the US, and roaming agreements with GSM carriers around the world.
Personally, I can’t stand Verizon — they have a policy of installing Verizon-controlled firmware on every phone they support, which tends to cripple the phone by removing built-in features to encourage you to use Verizon’s expensive and inferior network-based equivalents. Ever try to copy a ringtone to your Verizon phone using standard Bluetooth file transfer? If you did, I’m betting it didn’t go so well. But Verizon does have a lot to offer customers, and if they want to be taken seriously they should compete by explaining the benefits of Verizon rather than deceiving people about the non-deficiencies of their competitors.